The Cluetrain Manifesto

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The Cluetrain Manifesto is a set of 95 theses organized and put forward as a manifesto, or call to action, for all businesses operating within what is suggested to be a newly connected marketplace. The ideas put forward within the manifesto aim to examine the impact of the Internet on both markets (consumers) and organizations. In addition, as both consumers and organizations are able to utilize the Internet and Intranets to establish a previously unavailable level of communication both within and between these two groups, the manifesto suggests that changes will be required from organizations as they respond to the new marketplace environment.

The manifesto was written in 1999 by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. A printed publication which elaborated on the manifesto was published in 2000 by Perseus Books (ISBN 0-7382-0431-5) under the same name.

The authors assert that the Internet is unlike the ordinary media used in mass marketing as it enables people to have "human to human" conversations, which have the potential to transform traditional business practices radically.

The book and website both challenge what the manifesto calls outmoded, 20th-century thinking about business in light of the emergence of the Web, clearly listing "95 theses", as a reference to Martin Luther's manifesto which heralded the start of the Protestant Reformation.

The term "cluetrain" stems from this quote:

"The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery." — Veteran of a firm now free-falling out of the Fortune 500

The main idea of the 'Cluetrain' theses[edit]

A single paragraph summarizes the essential position taken by the writers:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

A reading of the '95 theses' can lead to a number of divisions or aggregations, it is possible to make a somewhat arbitrary split of the listed theses as a basis for understanding the content of the printed publication and a simplified structural view of the main suppositions of the authors.

Theses 1–6: Markets are Conversations[edit]

Historically, the authors state, the marketplace was a location where people gathered and talked to each other (thesis 1): they would discuss available products, price, reputation and in doing so connect with others (theses 2–5.) The authors then assert that the internet is providing a means for anyone connected to the internet to re-enter such a virtual marketplace and once again achieve such a level of communication between people. This, prior to the internet, had not been available in the age of mass media (thesis 6.)

Thesis 7: Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchy[edit]

The ability of the internet to link to additional information – information which might exist beyond the formal hierarchy of organizational structure or published material from such an organization – acts as a means of subverting, or bypassing, formal hierarchies.

Theses 8–13: Connection between the new markets and companies[edit]

The same technology connecting people into markets outside of organizations, is also connecting employees within organizations (thesis 8.) The authors suggest that these networks create a more informed marketplace/consumer (thesis 9) through the conversations being held. The information available in the marketplace is superior to that available from the organizations themselves (thesis 10–12.)

The authors, through the remaining theses, then examine the impact that these changes will have on organizations and how, in turn, organizations will need to respond to the changing marketplace to remain viable.

Theses 14 – 25: Organizations entering the marketplace[edit]

With the emergence of the virtual marketplace, the authors indicate that the onus will be on organizations to enter the marketplace conversation (thesis 25) and do so in a way that connects with the ‘voice’ of the new marketplace (thesis 14–16) or risk becoming irrelevant (thesis 16).

Theses 26–40: Marketing & Organizational Response[edit]

The authors then list a number of theses that deal with the approach that they believe organizations will need to adapt if they are to successfully enter the new marketplace (thesis 26) as it is claimed that those within the new marketplace will no longer respond to the previously issued mass-media communications as such communication is not ‘authentic’ (thesis 33.)

Theses 41–52: Intranets and the impact to organization control and structure[edit]

More fully exploring the impact of the intranet within organizations, theses forty-one through fifty-two elaborate on the subversion of hierarchy initially listed as thesis seven. When implemented correctly (theses 44–46), it is suggested that such intranets re-establish real communication amongst employees in parallel with the impact of the internet to the marketplace (thesis 48) and this will lead to a 'hyperlinked' organizational structure within the organization which will take the place of (or be utilized in place of) the formally documented organization chart (thesis 50).

Theses 53–71: Connecting the Internet marketplace with corporate Intranets[edit]

The ideal, according to the manifesto, is for the networked marketplace to be connected to the networked intranet so that full communication can exist between those within the marketplace and those within the company itself (thesis 53.) Achieving this level of communication is hindered by the imposition of ‘command and control’ structures (thesis 54–58) but, ultimately, organizations will need to allow this level of communication to exist as the new marketplace will no longer respond to the mass-media ‘voice’ of the organization (theses 59–71)

Theses 72–95: New Market Expectations[edit]

Theses seventy-two through ninety-five aim to identify the expectations (theses 76, 77, 78, 95) and changes (thesis 72) that exist within the new marketplace and how those expectations and changes will require a corresponding change from organizations (theses 79, 84, 91, 92, 94).

The technology to facilitate communication[edit]

The authors proposed that the Internet provided new means for both the markets and organizations to communicate. Technologies listed within the printed publication and used as examples of the style of communication available were:

  • Email
  • News groups
  • Mailing lists
  • Chat
  • Web pages

Newer technologies (such as blogs and wikis) could be added to the list. However, according to the manifesto, it is within the new Internet-enabled conversations that the new marketplace would join in conversation with networked employees.

The impact of the Internet and the manifesto's expectations[edit]

There is little doubt that the Internet has changed the way people communicate across the world; whether the world has been changed exactly as 'The Cluetrain Manifesto' charges is another thing. There are certainly new ways of communicating; in some cases businesses have benefited and in some others businesses have been hurt badly.

Whether human beings have gained the type of power ascribed to them when they talk human to human across the Internet is still to be proven. Some bloggers have caught the limelight from time to time, just as the proponents did with 'Cluetrain', and perhaps they may be onto something, but not exactly what they stated in the manifesto.

Fundamental to 'The Cluetrain Manifesto' was the premise that the Internet provided a new and unique forum for communication that would ultimately shift the nature of business communication and marketing. Essentially, the change that is central to this text is one of breaking down corporate barriers and forming a conversation between those within and those outside a corporation — online marketing would be more about holding conversations with people rather than broadcasting half-truths about products and services.

The authors of the manifesto suggested that such a shift would occur through substantial and pervasive changes in current company-to-consumer interaction. Communication would shift from mission statements and marketing media aimed at consumer segments to open dialogues or conversations between businesses and consumers.

Since publication, however, some state that the use of mass-media marketing has not fundamentally shifted from its use within organizations as the key means of communicating with consumers. Advertising on the Internet has grown over the intervening years, it remains, in some cases, an online version of the same style of mass-media marketing.

Although a number of companies have aimed to achieve customization of marketing material to the point where it is tailored to a single individual, in many cases this remains a one-way dialogue which is the antithesis of what the authors propose as the ideal.

However — there is an undeniable sea-change taking place with companies who are starting to reach out and ask to join conversations — earning the right to speak with citizens rather than just expecting it.

It is unlikely the authors of the manifesto had exact timeframes expected for all aspects and the popularity, engagement levels and acceptance of commercial communication will continue to be limited until the principles of the manifesto are applied more.

Reception[edit]

During the height of the 'Cluetrain Internet buzz' there were both supporters and opponents making their point online. The conversation spawned by the 'Cluetrain Manifesto' website, in some instances, was taken to be almost a religious argument. Quite notably the technically oriented people, who were adept in building websites, writing blogs and making themselves heard on the Internet, were often the most ardent adherents.

Some people interpret the public reception of 'Cluetrain' to be cultish. For example John C. Dvorak who admits he does not understand the concepts presented in the book. John C. Dvorak in PC Magazine:

"I don't get it."

Dvorak then continues on:

". . . the apparent faith in this odd vision of an idealistic human-oriented internetworked new world/new economy marches forward. I imagine all these folks holding hands in a large circle, rolling back and forth, with some in the middle of the circle, spinning and chanting and hugging, all naked. I'm betting that most of these folks go to Burning Man and all of them write blogs about it and how cool it was. They link to each others' blogs and read what they say about each other—all highly complimentary."

Other opponents to some of the concepts presented in 'Cluetrain' point to the fact that the Internet cannot be conceptualized simply as "a conversation" or that the human activity online cannot be so neatly compacted into the notion of a clear and concise 'conversation'. While it is true that there are some clear and concise conversations online, the Internet at this current stage of the evolution can also viewed as a chaotic and or fascist system as well. Along with email, blogs, and other forms of communication there is also spam, deluges of corporate ads, filters manipulating the viewing of websites, as well as the noise of many voices simply shouting to be heard above the babble and confusion these voices create of their own accord.

On 30 April 2009, Andrew Cherwenka writes that he expected changes presented in the book to happen in less than a decade. Andrew Cherwenka in The Huffington Post said: "Sadly, in many key ways, it's still business as usual."

On 22 May 2009, David Knowles in MarCom Professional wrote that the ideas within The Cluetrain Manifesto have been discussed since the release of the book and that conversational marketing "is just another channel in the marketing mix. It’s not a replacement for methods that continue to be effective when used well."

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