Cluetrain Manifesto — Wisdom from 1999

In an earlier posting about being authentic in Twitter, I mentioned Cluetrain Manifesto, Body of Truth and The New Rules of PR and Marketing as resources for in-depth background on speaking in a human voice and telling better stories. As a great coincidence, I received an email from Simon Owens, who just wrote a story for Media Shift on PBS on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Cluetrain. Here is the message and a link to his story.

Hey Tom,

I read your post yesterday mentioning the Cluetrain Manifesto. I recently got a chance to interview three of the four authors of the manifesto for a PBS feature I wrote about the book’s 10-year anniversary. They each reflected on the last 10 years and how the rise of Web 2.0 — Twitter, social networking, blogging — fits into the relevancy of what they wrote.

Anyway, I thought this was something you and your readers would find interesting. Take care.



Beyond interesting, Simon’s story gives us pause to think about how we are communicating in old and new ways. It’s worth reviewing a few excerpts from Cluetrain. I’ll do a separate post shortly with a favorite excerpt from Cluetrain on jargon. In the interim, enjoy a few highlights.

The Cluetrain Manifesto¬ – Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Perseus Books, New York


A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter-and getting smarter faster than most companies.

Unlike the lockstep conformity imposed by television, advertising, and corporate propaganda, the Net has given new legitimacy-and free rein-to play. Many of those drawn into this world find themselves exploring a freedom never before imagined: to indulge their curiosity to debate, to disagree, to laugh at themselves, to compare visions, to learn, to create new art, new knowledge.

These new conversations online-whether on the wild and wooly Internet or on (slightly) more sedate corporate intranets-are generating new ways of looking at problems. They are spawning new perspectives, new tools, and a new kind of intellectual bravery more comfortable with risk that with regulation. The result is not just new things learned but a vastly enhanced ability to learn things…

While many such people already work for companies today, most companies ignore their ability to deliver genuine knowledge, opting instead to crank out sterile happytalk that insults the intelligence of markets literally too smart to buy it.

95 Theses (a few highlights)

4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
6. The internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information support from one another that from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
14. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
15. In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business-the sound of mission statements and brochures-will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
18. Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
23. Companies attempting to “position” themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.
24. Bombastic boasts-“We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ”-do not constitute a position.
34. To speak with human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
38. Human communities are based on discourse-on human speech about human concerns.
39. The community of discourse is the market.
Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.
43. Such conversations are taking place today on corporate intranets. But only when the conditions are right.
48. When corporate intranets are constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
61. The inflated self-important jargon your sling around-in the press, at your conferences-what’s that got to do with us?
89. We have real power and we know it. If you don’t quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that’s more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.

Posted by Tom Gable

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