WebRef Update: Featured Interview: Jumping on the Cluetrain with David Weinberger
Jumping on the Cluetrain with David Weinberger
How can businesses tap into the power of the Internet? The answer may surprise you! In the "Cluetrain Manifesto", a quartet of visionaries explains what draws people on-line and how business can connect with them. Called "the most important business book since 'In Search of Excellence'" by InformationWeek, the "Cluetrain Manifesto" candidly redefines Web marketing in a highly readable, sometimes poignant, often hilarious book. Co-authored by Rick Levine, an engineer at Sun Microsystems, Christopher Locke, formerly of IBM, MCI and Carnegie Mellon, Silicon Valley publicist Doc Searls, and David Weinberger, Web publisher, consultant and National Public Radio commentator, the book insightfully and provocatively reminds us of how business and humanity work best. Join me for a chat with co-author David Weinberger.
Question: How did you all meet and decide to collaborate on the Cluetrain Manifesto?
David Weinberger: We each knew at least one other of the four of us. I think the longest relationship is Chris [Locke] and mine; we've known each other for 10+ years in various capacities. We shared the sense that the importance of the Web was being missed by most of the media coverage. The media were focusing on the dot coms and ecomm and Internet gazillionaires but were missing why we (the 100M of us) were on the Web. It's not to do e-catalog shopping. It's to connect with one another. To talk. In our own voices. About what we care about. And to make bad jokes. We're having a party and the news reports were missing it entirely - like covering the Mardi Gras by reporting on the gross profits of local liquor stores. So, we wanted to put up a site that said some of those things plainly: the Web turns both markets and businesses into conversations. Yeah, it seems so obvious now. Duh!
Q: Ford recently provided access to computers and the Internet for its 350,000 employees. Do you think they get the message of the Cluetrain Manifesto?
Weinberger: Either they get it, or they'll get it. They've unleashed forces they can't control even if they want to. It's the opposite of Taylorism because they're putting 350,000 people out on the Web to browse, a highly undirected activity, hugely inefficient from a micro level. But, in fact, one that will make the company far more efficient - hmm, is that the right word? - in the market. These workers are being told that in order to be a good worker, they need to engage with the community, they need to listen, they need to speak. They are NOT being given playbooks and stacks of messages on 3x5 cards to recite. They're being set loose to talk. Hence, every employee now is a spokesperson. What trust that evidences, and evinces! And what a great understanding that companies aren't the things behind the walls but are the people who live in the community (now the global community).
This is very much in line with what the CTM is about. Markets are conversations - literally people talking. And businesses are conversations. And by "conversation" I don't mean anything fancy. Conversations are people talking. But what's interesting about them is the set of values they embody. A conversation is open- ended, creative, among equals, and requires listening as much as talking. And they're about something that the people talking care about; they necessarily have passion of some sort. The Web is enabling conversations on a global scale. They are encouraging us to talk in our own voice, rather than in the "professional" and "business-like" voice and vocabulary we've been trained to use at work.
It's this promise of freedom and authenticity that is responsible for the sense of fire people have about the Web, I believe.
Q: What can Web developers do to facilitate these conversations?
Weinberger: Obviously, there are many many different types of Webs and many more that have yet to be invented. Yet, most business sites fall prey to the old way of thinking about their relationship with the market. Businesses have been able to control - or at least have the illusion of control - their markets by engaging in messaging: "We'll come up with a tag line and a jingle, and that's all we'll ever say to the market. And whatever the market wants to ask us about, we'll sing the jingle back to them. And over the course of 25 years, when they hear our name, they'll hear the jingle." Which works, unfortunately, because of a trick of human psychology. But the Web enables us to talk with one another, and we talk about INTERESTING things, things we care about. And we talk in our own voice. Not jingles.
So, the first question Web designers should ask is: Am I building a site that's trying to open a conversation or one that's trying to shut one down? Am I putting up glossy brochureware in order to keep people from getting a peek into the reality of the company? Am I trying to avoid ever having a customer talk to an employee? Am I channeling people into the pathways that WE want them in? Or, am I building a communication site, a site where conversations of various sorts - real ones, among real people - can occur?
Revised: May 9, 2000