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a conversation with the cluetrain manifesto authors
the end of business as usual
page two of seven | previous page

chris locke: in alien ground

People of earth, we come in peace!

I have always wanted to do that.

I want to start with a funny story about stereotyping because David Weinberger and I had this great radio interview this afternoon with Richard Littman of Great Ideas Radio on business radio WWRC AM 570.

I arrived at this address by cab and went into the lobby. There is no directory or anything, but there was a guy at the reception desk on the phone. There is an open elevator, but I'm wondering whether I should get on it. I don't know where I'm going, so I stood there, going and back and forth from one foot to the other until he got off the phone. He said, "Second floor." I got on the elevator and went up to the second floor thinking, "How did he know?" I got to the second floor, walked all the way around and there was nothing there except an alcohol and drug rehab center. I came back down and said, "No, I'm here for a radio interview." Must have been my ponytail. Well, it's behind me, like my career.

We are all pretty strange people. We live in a split apart world where you hear people talking about 'my job' and 'my life' as if those were two different things. Here's a clue: if you are doing something that you don't feel is your life, if you are doing it for money, stop doing it. That's really insane.

Do you know Joe Bob Briggs? He does this "drive-in movies will never die" schtick. I'm know I'm chewing up my time here, but I was reading his newsletter once and he said, "Here's how to get financially independent." Most people think you save up your money, then you get to a point where you can quit your job. He says that's all wrong. Here's what you do. You walk into your boss and you say, "I quit." Then you get financially independent. I thought those were words of wisdom from Joe Bob.

Let's go back, because the thing about being split between mind and body—this is Cartesian dualism, putting Descartes before the horse. You have been there, right? We have this with commerce, too. We have it in our whole society. The whole economy of the world is driven by commerce, yet, when you talk to people, no matter who they are, there is this notion of filthy lucre lurking someplace in the background. There is this idea that commerce is not like literature, it's not really legitimate. There is something wrong with that because it's what we spend most of our lives doing.

Cluetrain came out of thinking about the Internet and thinking about the way the Internet was being talked about in the press—the fact that the big debate was whether it was going to be $4 trillion of E-commerce by 2003 or $3 trillion by 2004. That was the extent of the analysis. We were thinking, "You know, there is something there. There is something wrong with the fact that there is no qualitative discussion about what's different here." It's more fundamental than E-commerce.

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What is commerce?

I started flashing back. What was commerce like back around the Neolithic campfires? People made stuff, they bartered it, they traded it. By the time you get to the dawn of civilization, you have trade routes coming together where people are bringing back weird shit from the East, you know, like parrots, monkeys and snakes. There is a whole list in the book; it took us a long time to write that part. People went to the market not to buy snakes and monkeys, but to hear stories about where they came from. You went to the marketplace to hear stories from vendors, but also to talk with each other. You didn't just say, "Let's see I need a dozen eggs and a pound of coffee, so I guess I'll go down to the market." You went down to the market because the market was what was happening. All of the news and information, the entertainment, it was all there. Language grew up there, and civilization grew up at this crossroads. There was no separation, at that point, between commerce and culture. Strangely, significantly and revolutionarily, if that's a word, the Internet brings that potential back in the 21st Century. Nobody was picking up on that story, the fact that we could talk to each other directly again.

David Weinberger will talk about what happened next, but what I want to say is that from that ancient marketplace things started to get more distant and separate, and for obvious reasons. Mercantile trade started to cross large distances, from the craftsmen you move to the factory and mass production. Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution. It had two parts. The first part was sort of figuring out interchangeable parts and steam and waterwheels and stuff like that. The second part, what we call the Second Industrial Revolution really started with two dudes, Frederick Taylor—who I hate; I know the guy is dead, but if he was still alive I think I would find him and throttle him—and Henry Ford, who they thought was a communist, strangely enough, because he wanted to pay people five bucks a day.

The point is, you started with interchangeable parts and moved to interchangeable workers through the assembly line. Then you had to sell all this stuff, so we developed broadcasting and broadcast advertising, which was really what broadcasting was all about, and that's about interchangeable consumers. You can see that there is a progression here, except that we are the end of the progression.

It was great for business. From Ford's day through the early 1970s was the heyday of mass production, sometimes called economies of scale because, if you could lower the unit price and sell more widgets to more people, you won, right? That's how mass production functioned. It was a hegemony of a closed United States, and certain big players had a lock on it. What's interesting about advertising is that, in order to sell more of those products, you wanted to reach the widest possible audience, so you needed the lowest common denominator of message. You didn't want to have really unique messaging; instead, you wanted to please all of the people all of the time, if it was possible. You had this very vanilla sort of mass advertising to sell mass-marketed products.

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Something happened around 1970, the period in which Tom was reporting in some of the industrial cities that he mentioned. It was the dawning of the global economy, which simply meant that we had bombed the shit out of any potential industrial competitors in World War II—that's not really a political comment, just a fact—but they had recovered. Who knew? They weren't supposed to be able to rebuild, but they did. Germany, Japan, Europe, Southeast Asia all of a sudden started coming into our markets and taking little niches, little positions here and there. General Motors, for instance saw Volkswagens and Hondas and said, "Oh, those are just for students." Interestingly, notice that they said that about the Internet, too.

All of these little niches came in from the edges, and, all of a sudden, you had an explosion of product options. Later, you had an explosion of service options as well, and the market loved it. Wow, you have all these choices! Those American companies said, "Buy American, and be loyal." We said, "Yeah, right. The music sounds better, the car handles better, the ashtray doesn't fall off, the gas tank doesn't blow up . . . we like that."

Another thing that happened because of that was there was a tremendous need for new knowledge. In Henry Ford's day, he knew everything that went into the car. Everything. He just cut work orders that went down through tiered layers of lieutenants to drive production down to interchangeable monkeys who could do the Tayloristic processes. That wasn't possible after you got all this competition, because you needed tremendous process knowledge and you needed innovation. That wasn't in the boardroom; it was in the work force, and it needed to be pulled up into the organization. Hierarchical command and control bureaucracies were not good for doing that, however.

Guess what is good for doing that? Networks are tremendous ways to pull that knowledge into an organization and make if more functional. David is going to talk about how we came to say that there are two conversations going on—one inside the company, one in the marketplace—and how these conversations are integral. It's a healthy thing for them to come together, but corporations have been, in effect, like the Berlin Wall, preventing the two from connecting. We don't want these people inside the company talking because PR hasn't vetted their stuff. We haven't sterilized it yet. But you need them to talk because that's where you are going to get your new ideas from—the people inside. You are also going to get those ideas from people outside.

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There is great resistance to this within the corporation because it abridges the long-standing habits of power, and those habits are very deeply ingrained. In the marketplace, the effect has been to create this vanilla broadcast messaging that drives everything in our culture.

The content—I have this great story about the word "content." I used to go to these Catskill Mountain auctions. The auctioneer had a great sense of humor. Every once in a while he would grab a box of something, loft it over his head so you couldn't see what was in it and say, "What am I offered for this box of contents?" Every time I hear the word "content," I think about that guy who really captured the essence of what "content" is all about. Sometimes you get a box of rocks that way. Anyway, we have had content like television and mass media of all sorts, the main point of which was not the content, it was the carrier wave for advertising that said, "Buy our great shit. It's great shit. It's fantastic shit." We have never been able to say, "Yeah, but it's shit." Now we can say that. And we can also say, "No, it's actually great. It's really a good one of those things." Once in a blue moon, anyway.

The Internet comes along at an interesting historical moment. The Internet didn't create those trends up to this point; it just happened to co-evolve in a magical way. DARPA did not think, "How can we totally f*** up the global economy?" I don't think they were that advanced. If I had been there, I would have helped them accelerate it a little bit.

The Internet comes along just at the right moment when you need to draw as much knowledge as you possibly can out of workers at every level of the organization. It comes at a time when consumers—there is a word I was never going to use again, "consumers"—in every other sphere of life have gotten tremendous breadth of choice, warmed to it and demonstrated their liking for it. In terms of information, however, we are still giving them ads and sitcoms.

The Net was embraced not because Marc Andreessen came up with the graphical user interface (GUI) which you'll hear a lot of people call the big watershed of the Internet since you could now click on pictures. I don't think so. I remember installing this stuff back in 1994 and 1995, and it was not easy. There were hurdles to leap and people leaped them.

The reason for the "hockey stick" style growth of the Internet and the Web, I really believe, was because here was something different. There was a delta from television. It's like slow TV, at best. I mean really slow TV, so that wasn't it. Getting pictures wasn't the draw; you can get pictures on TV a lot quicker than on a 56K modem. It was because we could connect with each other. We could hear what we were saying for the first time. It was never true that The New York Times printed "all the news that's fit to print." Everybody knows that. By the way, Tom Petzinger didn't make me say that; it's not a Wall Street Journal comment. No, there was a tremendous desire to connect with other people who had very specific interests.

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Notice, again, that these are niche markets. In fact, what's going on with the Web, from a market perspective, is that there are micro-markets emerging from the bottom up. Before, business has looked at mass markets from the top down. Still, lots of businesses today are looking down from the top, doing this demographic thinking about who they can "target," right? In 1960, Ted Levitt said that GM never did focus groups to ask the market, "What do you want?" They came up with two product options and asked, "Which one do you like better?" There is a big difference. Demographics is about saying, "Here's what we think they will buy." You design something, then say, "Let's go find out who we can sell it to." You do the market research and ask, "Who are they?" You don't have a clue.

I have done a lot of thinking about Amazon.com; not about its patents, but about books. Think about the people who bought The New Pioneers by Tom Petzinger. Most of them have no idea who they all are and have never spoken to each other. They have no way to speak to each other, but they constitute an emerging micro-market—a very micro micro-market when compared to General Motors—but they could be a very significant market for Tom Petzinger. If he could connect with them, and if they could connect with each other, they might have a lot of very important things to talk about.

It's not even a self-aware market yet. My next book, by the way, will be called "Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices." Look for it. I'm actually serious. It's turning into a serious book, which is sort of freaking me out. But, anyway, I think that the next market is going to be news, information and entertainment from the bottom up. It's going to go to companies and individuals who can coalesce those markets which don't yet exist, but which are going to gravitate and come together around kernels of good writing, good analysis, good insight, good entertainment, good whatever it is that brings people together. That's going to turn over billions, if not trillions, of dollars. In the next five years, something is going to happen again that is as astounding as what we have seen with the Internet in the last five years. It's going to happen with respect to these bottom-up micro-markets emerging with a completely different set of opportunities than what existed in the top-down, broadcast, mass marketing, mass advertising economy that we are leaving. And I think we are leaving it for good. Thanks.

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tom petzinger, jr.: sharing oxygen

I think if somebody did a study of voice on the Internet versus E-commerce dollars on the Internet, they would find that for every dollar spent with a credit card swipe—which is what The Cluetrain Manifesto thinks is how corporate America views the Internet—for every dollar thus spent, there are 10 or maybe 100 "I loveyou's," or "See you later's" or "Go to Hell's." It's conversation, as well as a marketplace.

In my five years of writing "The Front Lines," I went to 35 states and 120 cities. I took pride in never profiling someone unless I went into their space and shared oxygen with them. There were two exceptions to that. One I won't bore you with, the other was with The Cluetrain Manifesto authors. I dialogued with them by email and a little bit by telephone. I got to know them as well through those media, or very nearly as well, as I might have in person. I wrote the forward to their book without ever having met them. In fact, tonight was the first time I met face-to-face with these two individuals, but I feel that not only do I know them and their work, I know their minds a little bit, and their hearts, too.

David Weinberger is somebody I feel as if I knew in advance—somebody I had that deja vu feeling about. When I learned that he does regular commentaries about Web culture and about knowledge on National Public Radio, I immediately remembered three or four different commentaries I had heard that really stayed with me. He had to point out to me that I had quoted him in my book and didn't connect him as a Cluetrain author. It was a quote I had seen in Wired about the future of organization charts.

David comes to the world of the Web at a very high level, from philosophy of all subjects. There is hardly any philosophy here tonight. It's a good thing we don't have any philosophy teachers in the house. What you won't read about David in the flyleaf of the book or in his official bio is that he was the guy who went to Woodstock and said to his girlfriend, "I'll run into you there somewhere." True story. Talk about a massive conversation! As soon as he heard Melanie singing "I've Got A Brand New Pair Of Roller Skates," he decided it was time to get out while there was still time.

He doesn't boast about this fact, but there was also a spell of a couple of years when he wrote comic material for Woody Allen. The last time he saw Woody Allen was at the advance screening of Annie Hall. Allen asked, "What did you think?" and David said, "You know, it's okay. You have trouble figuring out who to root for, but it's okay." Seven Oscars later, that was the last time he saw Woody Allen.

Let me present David Weinberger.

[continued]

Page two of seven | Next page

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