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January 11th, 2000

The ClueTrain Manifesto

01/11/00 RMIUG Meeting Minutes - The ClueTrain Manifesto

Dan Murray opened the meeting at 7:00pm. About 100 people were in attendance.

The speakers are three of the four authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto:

The first speaker was Christopher Locke clocke@panix.com, editor-in-chief of personalization.com, editor/publisher of the widely acclaimed web magazine, Entropy Gradient Reversals, and president of Entropy Web Consulting in Boulder, Colorado. He brings vast Net and pre-Net experience to exploring how the real web opportunity differs in kind from business as usual. As Christopher describes, "The in-your-face rhetoric of the manifesto was meant to be challenging to companies who think the Web is just 'TV with a BUY button.' "

The web page was the first Cluetrain Manifesto in Dec 98. What bothered him was the self-congratulatory ecommerce trade press saying that it would amount to a mega trillion dollars by 2004. It was all a projection of cash register receipts, without a bit about how different ecommerce is.

The Manifesto is just what's known to those already online. Other companies think it's TV with a Buy Button (MCI). The Manifesto cuts through the self-congratulatory rhetoric.

How many have seen Manifesto on web? The net is not TV. It's more like ancient Mesopotamia. Cities grew up at the confluence of trade routes and people went there to buy stuff, meet, hear stories. It's been hard in the last 200 yrs to have speech. The Industrial Revolution was a big interruption in the human story. Media has been mass marketing, a special case of mass production. We talk among ourselves online completely diff than corporate-speak. Compare email and press releases, it's easy to tell them apart. Email is from human beings, press releases are from a committee. Email is natural communication, not like the packaged messages we get from corporations.

Economic argument: If we are talking to each other in human speech, we will not be responsive to the pitch from corporations. It will create opportunities for companies that understand it's different. It's not about 30 second commercials.

The second speaker was Rick Levine rick@mancala.com, President of Mancala, a Net startup in Boulder. Previously, Rick was web architect for Sun Microsystems' Java Software group and was responsible for the creation of much of the public web interface for java.sun.com and the Java Developer Connection. He is author of the Sun Guide to Web Style, one of the creators of the ICE protocol for content syndication on the web, and creator of the HatFactory e-commerce testbed site.

My dad was a potter. We each have a voice, real plates have a makers mark, leave fingerprints. Each one had a unique style. Same thing in the code we write, spreadsheets, sales. Our voices identify us as human and unique.

I've been buying lots of software, so I had to negotiate with a salesman in the sharkskin suit. The pitch is spouted, but it's been indoctrinated, poured into the back of head. He takes them to lunch in his Dodge Daytona truck. When he talked about his truck, he became a real person.

If we dampen down our unique voice, people will stop connecting with us. Java group had no PR, and budget and time forced the tech people to have to talk to the customers, who thought they disappeared when they hired PR. Trust the people doing the work to talk to the customers. Conversations between builders and customers - How do you make it scale? How do you deal with notion of liability? We're scared someone will say something that will get us sued, drive down stock price, promise something that can't be delivered. There's nothing we can do to stop the conversations. When Saturn wrote a memo that they wouldn't fix the warped brakes, memo was posted on web, bad press.

When Cannon cam made a feature film, zoom didn't stay in focus. Canon came out with a letter saying, you're right, we'll give you a free replacement or we'll fix it.

How do we get everyone in the business to understand how important this is, scale to a million customers. With the net, we can't stop people talking to each other, so what do we do?

The third speaker was David Weinberger self@evident.com, the publisher of JOHO (Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization). He is a regular commentator on National Public Radio and a columnist for KMWorld and Intranet Design Magazine. He has written for Wired, The New York Times, and Smithsonian.

How is the web changing the insides of organizations? The same things we talk about outward communication, happens inside the organizations. Business first became machines, now they are webs.

The Industrial Revolution, Age of Broadcast, Age of Marketing is only possible because of broadcasting being available. The same message is delivered to many replaceable consumers. Consumption used to be bad (tuberculosis). Market is defined by the fact that you will respond to a single message. This is the heart of modern marketing. The flaw in the ointment is that we're sick of the messages. They have to be forced on us on lights, on blimps, on escalators. Marketing knows that we don't want to hear the message. It's all war metaphors taking about penetration, tactics, hostile takeovers, acquiring customers, 28 seconds with a 2 second payload.

What's changed, we're not in mass market anymore. We hate it and find it degrading, but we can still sing the jingle. Now we can hear everyone making fun of it, commenting on it. But it's not TV like AOL (sloooow TV). Saturn dealers say they love us, but we can subvert that by seeing chat, email, newsgroups to see if they are lying to us or confirm that they are the best. We can find out from other customers if Maytag never breaks.

The book doesn't give the answers to marketing to figure it out. If you are marketing, marketing is arson, which means you're competing with other companies. If you only allow thin flow of strictly controlled information, it keeps people out of the company. Others have figured out that marketing and business is a conversation. The job becomes trying to start (and listen) to interesting conversations. How can you stimulate these conversations is marketing. What you have in common is you both like the products. PR Marketing and management keep you from conversation.

Q&A What are examples of companies that have the guts to do this? Chris - Microsoft was the first in '95. MS newsgroup server. Chris posted that he could read with Netscape but not MS Internet Explorer. One guy said MS won't like this. Two MS guys jumped in and said it was totally legit. Companies are paranoid with notion of control. Bureaucracy, mass marketing is ok if you know it all at the top. Two new ideas in the Manifesto: 1. Markets learn faster than corporations. There is no legacy, no overhead, little tools, put them together. The learning curve has jumped up like a hockey stick. 2. Conversation in marketplace is mirrored inside the corporation on same technology: TCP IP. Both speak the same language, but there is a Berlin Wall that prevents the movement of communication outside the company.

David - Western Digital is a hard driver manufacturer. Their support line was an unmoderated discussion board. Everyone's first message says "You suck", in two hours tech support answers, and also, the enthusiast answers, yeah that happens, this is how you fix it. The community jumps in to the rescue to support the company.

Audience - Amazon doesn't make the product, but the reviews help decide whether to buy books.

Q. I didn't read the web site or the book. What is the Cluetrain Manifesto??? A. Came from a quote by an executive at a Fortune 500 company. "The cluetrain stopped there 4 times a day but they never took delivery. " It consists of 95 theses. The two best are: conversations and links subvert hierarchy. It's not TV. Conversing with each other changes the whole equation. They came to the party late and we're not listening to the old style message. Trillions of ecommerce dollars will go into new pockets who get it. Put the internal and external conversations together to make it work.

Q. Symantec - That's the only way you have to communicate with them. It dampens the communication because people don't want to feel stupid in public. A. There's a real potential to expose confidential strategy by reporting bugs. Used to have one person who sat in the newsgroups, answered questions without bs. One person can set the tone for the whole company.

Q. Disclosure - embrace the fact that it will reveal strategy? A. Chris - Tear down the firewalls? Let anyone in? Car companies have secrets for next year's design, but why not make it public with everyone's input. FBI had made everything top secret. So much was classified that they didn't know what was really secret. Now they spend millions to declassify it to find out. Rick - Don't expose everything in public. But company should admit that there is a problem and release in public.

Q. What about hackers? A. There are lots of gray areas. Secrecy is just paranoia. Companies are terrified that people will get past the firewall and find out there is nothing to steal.

Q. Problem is that lots of people don't know how to say anything clearly. How to get them to communicate well. A. Chris - Kill the MBA's. David - people know how to talk until they have to imitate a corporate person. Some people can't write as well as others. It's more important skill than ever. You can learn how to write. The problem is people try to speak like they're not, not like they are. Chris - Rhetoric is as tough as C++, but companies don't want it or don't know that they need it. They fall into the notion of how to improve customer service, but that's the wrong approach. DARPA didn't make Internet for what we do now: pet cats and Pokemon. We use it not to check email for offers. It's not customer service or advertisements, stop the show and notice that there's something else going on in the universe. Participate in what is really happening.

Q. Hot area is personalization at web, call center forms an image of individual. Is it good or bad getting it crammed down our personal throats. A. Amazon - hypertext network of knowledge buying habits of millions of people. Collaborative filtering forms a body of knowledge that we wouldn't know about otherwise. It goes beyond purchase circles. Top 10 books at Microsoft, which organizations are buying this book? They did that. Opt in email lists for anyone who likes a particular author. David - Chris is the only one who uses personalization that way. I don't mind if they track so they will tell me more of what I like, not junk I'll never buy. But I do feel abused by the bank who sends out offers with automatic typos. Rick - Imagine a storefront that changes when it senses you're hungry, and customized whether it sends the odor of chicken or falafel. Chris - Is it neat or a trick? David - Amazon, ATM's are clear, unlike teller. As long as they don't pretend that there is someone in the ATM that likes me. Rick - Can we tell the difference between real and fake? Chris - we can tell because they're not trying to sell us something. Conversations are open.

Chris - If we are wrong, this will be yet another Internet blip. If we aren't wrong, there are trillions of dollars riding on the difference of web from TV. Maybe the public does want to see Sean Connery playing Doom with Indiana Jones. Broadband works like Blair Witch, bandwidth is great and there will be competition for attention. Rick - We're not assuming that people always want conversation. Sometimes need to veg, or appreciate without comment. Make it easy to ask a questions and get an answer. David - We have no friggin idea (last 2 chaps in book). Cultural desire to rush into answers is fear and denial because we can't know yet. Resist the answers cause we don't know. Chris - we refuse to give a prescriptive advice.

Q. It's going to take up a lot of employee time. How to manage? A. Rick - Yes it will take time. Cost of support takes time. There are other benefits to this. There is cost and value to conversations. If you don't record them, you're wasting time. Chris - Deconstruct the question. We're busy with real work don't bother us. Market says we don't care what you're doing, we're the customer, we won't be here when you release.

Q. Not just customer to company. Also customer to customer. A. Those will be repeated. Mesopotamia - what is it about conversation that we like? There is something very meaningful that goes on even before we could speak. Animals have an effect on environment one animal at a time. Man's evolution lead to capitalism and democracy. The systems most successful rely on multitude of small decisions having a big change. Everyone has a voice. Chris - There is profundity in conversations. It's not just marketing value. People want to communicate to each other more than data exchange. In Manifesto, we talk about markets, aimed at business. Something profound has broken loose in the pipes of 21st century. Humanity is rising against an aspect of commercialism.

Q. Is it like Third Voice? A. Sticky notes are graffiti, not conversation. It got a lot of discussion, and Third Voice started a bonfire. This was inconceivable in TV world.

Q. Not everyone is interested in it ongoing concern, they want to strike quick and get out. Short term for the quick fix vs the longer term where water seeks it's own level. David - More ATM's are better. But I don't want to have a conversation about paper or toner. I'll just buy the cheapest. That's fine as long as the rules are clear, and if I can get email if it's broken. Chris - What about the get rich quick, IPO, get out, who cares about customer? There are more businesses where it's still a challenge to engage the conversation, viral marketing, provocative conversations, if you don't do third voice type, you won't get your quick hit.

Q. The open nature of standards makes the Internet successful, since its owned by the people. What about the open source movement? Customers help design and build the code. Chris - Eric Raymond says Open Source is like Cluetrain. Open Source Marketing: oxymoron or next book? haha. Invite the competitors in. Rick says it sucks, more like linux. There's still money to be made.

Q. Isn't that what Netscape did that with mozilla.org? Chris - I think I remember that company. It didn't work? or they just bought Time Warner. It's after the fact, a year too late, and the code is not that great. There were other reasons for making it open. They were in deep doodoo.

Q. Companies aren't asking me the right questions. The current search engines don't help me find what I really want in clothes. They don't have a way of collecting that information. No one bothers. Rick - The economics of business doesn't let them react. It has to be mass produced. So search engines direct you to what they can provide. Chris - be careful what you ask for. Privacy concerns are real. There is cross-tracking across sites. Rick - Addresses on warranty cards are sold as a database. Chris - Serve my needs but keep out of my pants. Chris - It's actually easier to tell by tracking because the consumer doesn't know.

Q. Observation: Sounds wonderful but I don't believe it scales. As a biologist I know humans are social primates who gossip. A troupe of humans can't exceed 250. I can't converse with a million people. The Usenet and online groups have a signal to noise problem that is overpowering and getting worse. I depend on search engines. You can't have enough employees to answer 1 million questions. Chris - Four authors was too many in the conversation. Six billion people in a room and drop acid and vibe, but it doesn't have to be like that. Try micro markets. Mass marketing is not what they're talking about. Even 250 is too many. Maybe the companies are too big already. Need smaller companies to meet the micro needs.

Q. Broadcast works or they wouldn't do it. Chris we are in a transition period with some of both.

Q. We need tools not yet invented. David - Bingo. Search Engines are pretty good after all. We don't know how it will evolve, but there is pressure from us the market to make sure it continues. Rick - We're not saying a conversation with a million people. Problem is that the answers aren't online. Gather the conversations. Dump the FAQ into a search engine and cut tech support by 75%. With one million Java registered users, you get a lot more questions answered. Chris - It's not the Marx communist manifesto. It's not a plea to all get on the bandwagon and make it work. It's already happened. If you don't get it, you're in deep doodoo. This is different than anything that came before.

Q. Any distinction between real conversation and virtual conversation. What is the difference between face-to-face and anonymous conversation? Like the kid from Florida who made the Columbine threat. A. Chris - It's not that it's digital, it's a narrative with the story come unbound. It freaks out those that want it pigeonholed like corporate paranoia. Lack of control, creativity scares them. Rick - What if there is a scale limit to the size of a company?

Q. Where does story telling fit into conversation? Let the customers tell their story. David - On a mailing list of a failed company, every once in a while someone asks "what went wrong?" No one really knows but that's the way we understand things. Companies should think about the company story, not one to be crafted, but to be recorded. Chris - Corporate cultures need the historian, the story teller. John Seely Brown at Xerox Parc: Xerox techs would work with customer to fix the machine. Get a cup of coffee, then they would tell themselves the story of what they had just done. To go a little further, humans need to tell it as a story to try to understand it. Commercially this idea is unexplored because it doesn't fit into 30 seconds. If a company doesn't have a story, it will die.

Q. Compare this with what they said about Radio, David - Who would pay for it, advertising was invented, and one-to-many. One-to-one didn't work; it was too hard. Chris - Could it be co-opted? Will we fight for it? I think it would be tragic if they turn it into TV. David - It will be TV and the underground will still exist.

Q. There is a parallel to market economics. How do make sure everyone will get what they need? Market economy just does it. We don't have to decide how the right information gets to the right people, because there's a magic force that will make it happen. Chris - It's like an economic argument: a new economic force in the world that makes it work. It's going on now, and it changes the world that corporations think they are working with.

Q. I won't get THE answer, but I'll get 100 answers. Rick - It's changing, it could be fun if you like the human race, terrifying if you need control. David - All good fun is terrifying.

Tentative schedule of upcoming 2000 RMIUG meetings: May 2000 - Serving Customers in the new Millenium -- How the Internet is Changing (almost) Everything Jul 2000 - Is Net Security Possible in a World of Stealthy Hackers and Destructive Viruses? Sep 2000 - Nonprofits on the Net and How the Web May Change Charitable Giving Nov 2000 - "SPAMfest 2000" - Unsolicited email: Who, What, Why, How, and Guerilla Methods to Fight it (on and off the RMIUG lists ;-) TBD - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About XML (but were afraid to ask via email for fear of being flamed...)

Dan adjourned the meeting at 9:00 pm.

Respectfully submitted by Tom Bresnahan.

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