November 14th, 2006
"Cluetrain Revisited: What a Long Strange Trip"

Rocky Mountain Internet Users Group Minutes of the 14 November 2006 meeting, "Cluetrain Revisited: What a Long Strange Trip"


Microstaff (www.microstaff.com) provides refreshments

Copy Diva (www.copydiva.com) provides the audio-visual equipment

NCAR (www.ncar.ucar.edu) provides the facility

ONEWARE (www.ONEWARE.com) sponsors these minutes.


About 30 people attended tonight's meeting. Josh Zapin facilitated and Jeremy Kohler recorded the minutes.

Upcoming Meetings in 2007

Jan 9, Mar 13, May 8, topics to be determined. Send topic/speaker suggestions to Josh.


The Cluetrain Manifesto appeared in 1999 as a monumental tome in the history of the Internet. While the rest of the world was ogling the Internet as this amazing global communications tool and the whiz-bang technologies behind 24x7 online shopping, streaming videos, and peer-to-peer music sharing, Cluetrain professed that the attraction of a digitally connected world wasn't a global "Home Shopping Network," but rather an intrinsic human desire to connect and communicate.

Lobbing theses such as "Markets are conversations" and "Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy," Cluetrain was a wake-up call to business-as-usual. Where typical command-and-control corporate hierarchies were designed to keep a tight rein on information (and thus the conversation), Cluetrain predicted that the Internet would undermine such controls. For example, thesis #12 said, "There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone." With bold strokes, The Cluetrain Manifesto expressed in the strongest terms possible that we were on the cusp of a new world of relationships.

Today we're certainly seeing this undermining of communication control, along with many other aspects of "Web 2.0" that Cluetrain professed. Seven years later, let's see what one of Cluetrain's authors has to say about it all.


Chris Locke (clocke@gmail.com) is coauthor of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices, and The Bombast Transcripts: Rants and Screeds of RageBoy. His next book, Mystic Bourgeoisie, is in progress. Chris has delivered keynote talks for Accenture, Dersdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, First Union Bank, Gartner Group, PeopleSoft, SAP, and Sun Microsystems. He has worked for Fujitsu, Ricoh, Japan's "Fifth Generation" artificial intelligence project, Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, CMP Publications, Mecklermedia, MCI, and IBM. His writings have appeared in Forbes, The Industry Standard, Information Week, Harvard Business Review, Publish, Wired, and Release 1.0. His work has been covered in Business Week, The Economist, Fast Company, Fortune, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.



Back in 1999 David Weinberger, Doc Searles, Rick Levine and I got together and got into a trip about hyperorg.com and a lot of philosophical stuff about the Internet. I would say it really goes back a good seven years before that. Some of us had clients who were getting into the ecommerce mania, and we had lots of ideas being exchanged and not much work to do. Then I said, let's do something together -- at the time, we didn't even really know how to present any of it. Then I grabbed the HTML page for Martin Luther's 95 Thesis and just wrote over it with theses of our own.

Thesis #1: Markets are conversations

Thesis #3: Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

There was lots of speculation about ecommerce coming from a clueless press and a clueless business world -- this wonderful thing had no validation. So Cluetrain was to put in a word here that everything people are saying is wrong, and frankly we weren't very nice about it.

Thesis #7: Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.

This was about the control of information and how that was going away.

Three weeks after it went up on the web it hit the Wall Street Journal. A reporter was told about the web page, he looked at it, called me from a bar, and then put a story in the paper. Just for perspective, MySpace was released the same month and "blogging" was coined the same year. At the time, Google had eight employees and YouTube was still six years away.

The book hit in January 2000 even though we had no intention to do a book. But an agent who had seen the theses called us and talked us into it. We threw a crappy proposal together, the agent told a bunch of publishers to open up the Wall Street Journal, and the book was accepted with great enthusiasm. We had a lot of press on top of the internet buildup, which was a good early example of what the Internet was capable of. It was reviewed in Slashdot and the New York Times, and hung in Amazon's top 100 the whole year. I eventually had to pay the IRS $100k in taxes.

Today, googling "cluetrain" gets 1.74 million hits (and "cluetrain sucks" gets zero). At one point Jeff Bezos cited Cluetrain on Amazon's front page regarding a debate over one-click ordering, and eBay CEO Meg Whitman made Cluetrain required reading for all new eBay hires. Now of course these are people who seemed to know what was going on, and they were into Cluetrain.

Where I Went Wrong with the Theses

Thesis #29: Elvis said it best: We can't go on together with suspicious minds.

Thesis #74: We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.

Thesis #95: We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting. (I got that right, actually.)

I was once on a panel on internet investing, sitting next to a guy from Yahoo. At the time I recalled that back in 1995 I tried to buy Yahoo for MCI, and they offered to sell it to us for a million cash. MCI declined. But had they bought, Yahoo would have failed.

The Inevitable Pushback

John Dvorak wrote a truly stupid, dumb article called "Cult of the Cluetrain Manifesto." He didn't get it, just like the other critics. He called it "lunatic fringe dingbat thinking."

My Answer to All the Critics: Web 2.0.

Buzzword: At first I thought "Web 2.0" was BS just Like Office 2.0 and blowhard industry people speaking about it at conferences. But eventually I realized there is something to this.

Unix Model Comes to the Web Bigtime: there were small modular tools that you could use to sort, slice, dice, redirect...and you can put them together like tinkertoys. PERL helped standardize this. Web 2.0 is like that with bigger tinkertoys. Lots of opensource API's that can be wired together. Very cool and funky.

Renewed Enthusiasm: The cool and funky tools got people's attention and energy. Today my business card appears when you punch up my address info in Google Maps.

Utter Silliness: Then of course people started to wrap business plans around this stuff.

Social Networks

LinkedIn - I hate it. Its' an anal retentive way of doing stuff, with canned text etc. Yuk.
MySpace - Funky as it is, I actually build pages on MySpace. Flickr - That's a different sort, used by the likes of Esther Dyson. Orkut - A Google spinoff that for some reason has morphed into a Brazilian MySpace. It's a cool bottom-up phenomena. del.icio.us - Read David Weinberger's "Everything is Miscellaneous" when it comes out. Open (bottom-up) tagging loses granularity, becomes top 40ish. So you really need a librarian.
Technorati - Weblogs are growing exponentially, doubling in number every five months. We kind of saw this coming in Cluetrain. But at that time, you couldn't really explain it anyone.

When business bought into the Internet, that was what brought it out to everyone. "The internet is TV with a BUY button?" Everyone thought it was stupid at the time.

Here's a question for you: What is the same about DBase, WordPerfect, and Lotus 123 -- the "big three" from long ago? Answer: They came empty and needed to be filled up with text. That had to do with the coming of the web. Once you had machines that could process this sort of stuff, the web was inevitable. The web also solved hardware interoperability so everyone could talk to each other. But I digress.

Economist.com: "The life and soul of the internet party," Oct 6th 2005. David Sifry writes about Web 2.0 and says Cluetrain turned him on to this stuff.

Firefox is another significant development since Cluetrain. 200 million downloads of an open source project is a spectacular example, the best one. Thousands were contributing to it and its extensions. This is quite amazing, nontrivial stuff here. The bottom-up quality of people saying we're going to do it for ourselves is still there, it hasn't gone away.

Now the bad stuff: Net Devolution

Remember Snakes on a Plane? Someone called me once to tell me to check out this movie. It was going viral and I got so into it I bought the book before the movie came out. We all knew it was BS from New Line Cinema, but it didn't matter and it was really fun.

MySpace dating ads are despicable stuff being marketed to children. The sleazy part of the internet is worse than the sleazy part of the real world. Images of "beauty" is defining beauty in a very despicable way.

Rupert Murdoch owns everything, and I hate him.

YouTube, the good: it's the only TV I have and I get see all the news and stuff. YouTube, the bad: all these morons come out of the woodwork and put up dumb videos of themselves. YouTube, the ugly: just like the MySpace dating ads, there's some imagery I'd rather not see.

Sites I Use A Lot

There's a lot of incestuousness where technology feeds technology that facilitates talking about technology...I'm not talking about that stuff, although it certainly affected my career. In 1993 a guy who wanted to start an internet business report found out I had some writing skills and made me the editor. This thing was electronically distributed in Word. Then Ziff Davis and CMP Publishing wanted to acquire us even though there was nothing there. CMP bought us, and that's how I got into the internet. There was craziness all around me. Michael Leeds buys a list of links for $1 Million because he thinks he's buying the Internet.

So rather than proselytize the Internet, I'm just a guy who uses it and here are the sites I use a lot:

Amazon Books
Google Books
Google Scholar
worldcat.org - online computer library center, look up any book and find out what libraries have it.
boulder.lib.co.us - with a library card number, you can go into the catalog and use the "Prospector" to order a book from any other library and have it mailed to you for a buck. I can get almost anything dropped right at my door.

Tools I Use a Lot (for Pay)

highbeam.com - good for writers who are researching stuff. questia.com - thousands of full-text books to search. Good for text junkies like me. You can copy stuff (with citation) right into your word processor. ReadIris Pro OCR software (shhh!) - On Amazon you can see inside books, then you find something you want that you can't copy and paste. So...I do a screen capture and hand off the jpeg to OCR to convert into editable text. You can buy an OCR scanning pen too.

My Current Projects

mysticbourgeoisie.blogspot.com - this is just my rage.
"The unlikely story of how America slipped the surly bonds of earth and came to believe in signs and portents that would make the middle ages blush." Enlightenment Card - marketing of credit card designs with ommmms and such on them. nabaztag.com - a wifi rabbit product that does funky stuff (nabaztag is rabbit in Armenian). krugle.com - this is serious, my main source of income. It's a search engine for open source software, searches for code in a variety of languages. I run their blog. confusedofcalcutta.com - Fossil Fools. I went to India to talk to some developers, and met someone who was totally mad, who would turn around custom systems for people in two weeks. But he wanted to write a book called Fossil Fools about clueless business people, and so now I'm writing this book with him. This site is his blog.

And So in Conclusion...
What did people *do* back then? There will always be dumb shit. It's getting better all the time. The kids are alright.

Email clocke@gmail.com for a copy of the presentation.


Q & A

Q: Business reporting is still clueless and there's no investigation.
A: I agree. Everyone is still full of self importance and hot air, with not much substance. That's kind of our baseline model, like politics. At the same time, people are doing some nifty things, but there's a disconnect. The VC's are funding the "new bubble." Whatever. Take their money while we can. At the time of Cluetrain, there really was a revolution and the internet was a logical progression, but it was coming from a very different place than people were saying. By the way, you can read the whole Cluetrain book for free on cluetrain.com.

Q: What about Chris Anderson and the power to the bottom?
A: In 1995 at IBM I had an eZine and they told me I couldn't speak to any journalists. Anderson did a story in 1999 about people like me who got to the net early and didn't make a nickel on it.

Q: My perception was that these images of female beauty got that way in regular magazines like Seventeen. Why is MySpace any different?
A: It's similar, but -- and maybe I'm just getting old
-- I think the ads that you are for sale is just more overt in some way. I think it extends this stuff as far as you can get away with. It's the blatant selling of young human beings to each other. Now don't get
wrong: I once asked Al Gore about the Internet Decency Act and he said Have you seen what's out there? and I said Have you seen the bill of the rights? So I'm not into censorship. And now there are 100 million people on MySpace, not even mostly kids any more. But it's still disturbing to me because of all the kids there. So I hate it.

Q: Is this kind of advertising just an American phenomenon?
A: Nah, it's all global now. Everyone wants to make a buck.

Q: What do you thing about the a basic fear of the Internet in the printed media?
A: There was always an economic conflict so it's justified. Craigslist just about destroyed American newspapers by killing off their classified ad revenue. You know, I have a subscription to the New York Times but I throw the papers away and just use my subscription privileges to search their database, all the way back to the 1800's. Some of these economic problems are unsolvable.

Q: Some media outlets even refuse to give out their website.
A: Google bought YouTube with the prime directive to get you to leave the site as soon as possible.

Q: Tell us about Gonzo Marketing.
A: It came out right after 9/11 and I got a $250k advance for that one. But it didn't do too well. It has a chapter on public journalism (being more responsive to grass roots interest) and social marketing.

Q: And Mystic Bourgeoisie?
A: I don't know. In Fossil Fools, Google crashes and society collapses three weeks later. For Mystic, check out the website. It's taken me on a deep scholarly expedition into the roots of new age, starting 100 years ago. Lots of far right leaning racist stuff, Germany in 1900-1920, etc. interesting stuff, a lot like the sixties.


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