Book of the Week: The Cluetrain Manifesto – The End of Business as Usual

“The Cluetrain Manifesto The End of Business as Usual” is a business book that has been publishedThe_Cluetrain_Manifesto
by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger. It has been published by Perseus in 2000.


  • The Internet changes everything.
  • Markets began as conversations.
  • The Internet turns marketing into a conversation again.
  • The Internet subverts hierarchies.
  • Online markets are very different from mass markets.
  • Companies need to gain a sense of humor.
  • A sense of humor involves humility, honesty, values and a point of view.
  • Companies are afraid.
  • Fear keeps companies at a distance from their customers.
  • The Internet forces companies to get intimate with their customers.

What You Will Learn

  1. How the Internet has broken mass markets into individual conversations
  2. Why your company consequently must create intimate relationships with communities of your customers and
  3. Why the Web is subversive, unless you use it correctly.

The Cluetrain Manifesto was one of the seminal books of the bubble era, but reading it now is like waking with a hangover and looking at all of the empty bottles, each of which seemed like a great idea at the time. The Internet changed everything, all right. Those who can bite back the irony long enough to see the big picture and keep reading will find some valuable practical advice on using the now-not-so-new-technology of the Web to do business more effectively. I recommend this pivotal book for the sake of your sense of perspective (or to give you a critically necessary background if you are too young to remember when Amazon was just a river).

Turning Marketing Back into a Conversation
Markets are nothing more or less than conversations among human beings with human voices. Voices come naturally and sound natural. People who hear a voice can recognize that the speaker is a human being. By contrast, mass marketing is not a conversation — it is an address. The Internet restores the element of human conversation to marketing. This fact has several consequences:

  • “Hyperlinks subvert hierarchies,” so conversations join people in new ways.
  • People use the Internet to get information from each other instead of from vendors.
  • Companies can and must communicate conversationally with their markets.
  • Positioning means taking a position, reflecting values the market cares about.
  • The Internet allows customers to find new suppliers instantaneously.
  • To develop loyal customers, companies must join the customers’ communities.
  • Employees also use the Internet to communicate.
  • As a result, corporations (and unions) can no longer control information.
  • A healthy Intranet makes it possible for workers to organize in new ways.

Companies that fail to grasp the implications of the market as conversation will surely stumble. Old-fashioned command-and-control management just won’t work in the new wired world. Whether addressing customers or employees or a wider audience, company leaders have to recognize that a company isn’t what it used to be. In the brave new world of the Internet, companies are little more than legal fictions. Although the legal fiction may have legal significance, it usually has no practical identity. The people who use its products or services don’t care about the legal status of the entity with which they deal — people only care about people. Markets are conversations. Companies have a choice — lock themselves off behind a wall of corporate rhetoric, brochures and outmoded, mass-market communications — or come down to earth and talk to people directly, by participating in the great, networked conversation of the market.

The Bizarre Bazaar of the Internet
The Internet is not a mass market. It’s more like an ancient bazaar. It’s full of entertainment, talk, argument, oddball spontaneity and strange, colorful characters. The Internet is a creative force because it allows so many things to happen, so many people to come together just to play. The World Wide Web encourages freedom.

Many companies are afraid of the Internet, recognizing that change threatens their control. But there’s no rolling back the tide of change. The Internet is a global force. Interestingly enough, it became arguably the most important force affecting business precisely because business ignored it for so long. Executives and managers did not build the Internet. Creative people did it by playing with ideas and possibilities, by asking “What if?” and trying the “if” to find out what happened. The Internet was a big forum with no censors, no barriers to conversation, and — for a long time — no advertising. In the early days, the Internet wasn’t even illustrated. It had no pictures. The closest people came to images were little drawings made out of ASCII characters. Without the richness and texture of multimedia, what did the Internet offer that kept people coming back: simply speech — the opportunity to converse. Although there were no official gatekeepers, the community of people following a conversation did not suffer fools gladly. Anyone with a weak argument, poor mind or flaccid commitment could expect to be “flamed” severely. This imposed a sort of discipline on the net, the kind of discipline that demanded the best conversation people could provide.

Television was a deadening, mind-numbing force that congealed people into a homogenous mass. The Internet was just the opposite — when Joe Six-Pack came online, he woke up. He got savvy, learned how to question, how to get information, how to turn the tables on the corporation. The Internet connects people, not to a stream of corporate marketing material, but to each other. By bringing them together, allowing them to talk to and learn from each other, the Internet empowers people, rendering the old principles of mass production, mass marketing and mass media obsolete.

But most companies haven’t got a clue. They approach the Internet audience as an undifferentiated mass market, which it is not. Business is now more about differences than similarity, diversity instead of conformity, heterogeneity instead of homogeneity, breaking rules instead of making them. It’s more important to be fi rst than be right. The best is the enemy of the good — the perfect is the enemy of the better. The Internet demands the truth. People can’t be packaged. Companies need to understand that the Internet is not a collection of market segments, but a loose coalition of communities and “knowledge ecologies.” In the old days, companies broadcast a message. Now, they must learn to invite people to participate in a conversation. Companies must make themselves inviting.

The old concept of a corporate voice, booming out obtuse jargon and impenetrable spin, is dead. Clear, firm nouns and verbs must replace the fuzzy, inflated vocabulary that has leached the meaning out of business conversations. Don’t say that you deliver an ‘equitable internal system of salary increments;’ say that you pay your employees fairly. Don’t claim to ‘maximize inherent customer variables,’ when you mean that you work hard to connect with individual consumers.

Your new corporate voice must be genuine. The best place for your customers to hear this true voice is on your company’s website. In that forum, you must demonstrate clarity, honesty, intensity and passionate interest in your consumers. The mere appearance of friendly warmth won’t sustain the conversation you are seeking. If you want to look like you care, you must act with real caring. Through your website, hear and respond to your customers, join their core communities and build trusting relationships. If you lie in this setting, you will be on the receiving end of the commercial equivalent of lying to your spouse: market rejection. The truth, and nothing but the truth, will work for you today.

Customers demand more of companies now, and so do employees. Corporate intranets are an internal force for revolutionary change. Most executives don’t know how to harness the potential power of “internal anarchy.” Empowerment comes from the bottom up, not from the top down. Thus, it is a mistake to believe in management, a kind of twentieth century myth. It is a comforting myth. People who believe it can believe that risk is low, because someone is managing risk. They can believe that things will go smoothly, because they are being managed. They can believe that life is fair, because someone is managing for fairness.

The myth of management is relatively new. For most of history, people assumed that chaos was the rule and control was the exception. The truth is, for most of history, people were right. No one can really manage a business. Executives can run a business, but they can’t manage it. Too many things are uncontrollable: competitors may cut prices, a big customer may fail and global economic forces may overthrow the foundations of your business plan.

The management myth gave rise to a management culture, which included professionalism. Professionalism demanded a certain uniformity in dress, a certain posture and a certain internal censorship to prevent unacceptable jokes and conversations. To keep their jobs, people abided by the conventions of professionalism. But they resented the demand for conformity, a demand that they give up their unique voices or their identities. Nothing is more fundamental to your identity than your voice. Your voice is more than the sound that comes out of your mouth. It is your choice of words, your tone, your mood, your enthusiasm — it is the expression of who you are and what you feel at any given point in time.

The myth of management and the culture of professionalism suppressed people’s voices. It couldn’t eliminate them, but it drove them underground. The Web restores the public’s voices. Although people may still have to abide by certain professional constraints while they are in the workplace, the Web allows them an opportunity to get together away from the workplace. People may be physical conformists in the workplace, but spiritual anarchists on the Web. On the Web, you can say things you can’t say in the office, and people will listen to your voice. And talk back. And the conversation will make you free.The Web will make you free.

Any customer or employee can use the Internet to communicate instantly with thousands of others. Discontented customers can let lots of other prospective customers know right away what they think about your company. Ditto disgruntled employees. You can’t control what people say about you.

The fi rst markets, those ancient bazaars, were full of talk and conversation. People got together spontaneously. The Internet has restored conversation to marketing. The “Message” — one-way communication — was an attribute of mass marketing. But people don’t want messages; they want conversations. Ironically, marketing has mainly been about sending messages to people who don’t want them, don’t want to pay attention and don’t care. Marketing has become a cat-and-mouse game. People try to discover ways to escape the messages that marketers keep trying to deliver. The Web allows the mice to turn the tables on the cat. People can take control of the message, so they can scrutinize it, discuss it, dissect it, ridicule it and play with it. The Web is a subversive force not only because it allows people to talk about products and experiences, but also because it allows them to compare a company’s performance with its messages — publicly, mercilessly and continuously. For companies, this means:

  • Public relations become private relations — Instead of pushing out hype that journalists ignore, the best PR professionals will provide information and stories journalists want.
  • Advertising is now “Word of Web” — Ads don’t work on the Web; conversations do, so make sure your websites allow dialogue.
  • Be what you say you are — You might as well. Your employees are part of the big conversation, whether you like it or not. You can’t stop even the lowliest clerk from joining a mailing list or a newsgroup and answering someone’s question or complaint.Everyone can see you as you are, and you can’t get away with lying.

What makes the Web so different and so powerful?

  • The Web is hyperlinked — Anyone can link anything to anything else on the Web, without asking permission. So the Web is constantly evolving and uncontrollable.
  • The Web is decentralized — Nobody is in charge here.
  • The Web works in hyper time — People visit it when they please, and move around it on their own time.
  • The Web is open — Anyone can come to the Web.
  • The Web is direct — People can talk directly to each other, without intermediaries.
  • The Web is a rich source — Information is abundant and accessible.
  • The Web is broken — And, no one will ever “fi x” it. It is big, complex and unmanageable, so how could it be anything but broken, and how could it ever be fixed?
  • The Web is borderless — It has no passports, customs checks or clear property rights.

So what do you do about all of this? Try to be honest. Don’t try to snow your customers or your employees. Be human. Play. And remember — the Internet changes everything.

About the Authors
Rick Levine is co-founder of and a former web architect for Sun Microsystems’ Java Software group. Christopher Locke publishes Entropy Gradient Reversals and has written for Forbes, Internet World, Information Week and The Industry Standard. Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal and co-founder of a Silicon Valley advertising agency. David Weinberger is editor of JOHO (Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization) and has written for Wired, Information Week and The New York Times.

If you are interested in what you read here, be sure to get you copy here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s