The Cluetrain Manifesto

by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger
ISBN: 0738204315

I first read Cluetrain when the paperback came out in 2000. I was eager to read it because it was something different, something alive, and I believed what the authors said about the internet being “inherently seditious”.

The book is widely known now by its mantra, markets are conversations. We’re living in a world where it is harder and harder not to recognize that fact: web 2.0 put the tools in more hands and upped the expectations of the people formerly known as the audience.

I’m struck by how relevant the book still is, given that in internet time at seven plus years of age, it’s at least a generation old. I think more and more people would now nod their heads at the way the authors describe the internet:

From the beginning, something very different has been brewing online. It has to do with living, with livelihood, with craft, connection, and community. This isn’t some form of smarmy New Age mysticism, either. It’s tough and gritty and it’s just beginning to find its voice, its own direction.

But the part of the book that really stuck with me from years ago wasn’t about the sedition or the outrage, it was the story about permission. Chris Locke talks about being in Japan, researching computer science topics, and having a researcher ask him, “Who gives you permission to read those books?” He goes on to talk about the belief that “only power is sanctioned to speak” being behind the question, and how it put him on the “long road from permission to practice” to be curious, to speak, and to write.

Which isn’t to say I don’t still enjoy the ranting about so-called professionalism and how it’s a trap we lead ourselves into, because I do. I still nodded my head along with the argument that voice is a human thing, it’s “how we can tell the difference between people, committees, and bots.” The book’s definition of community still holds up (“a group of people who care about each other more than they have to.”) I more fervently believe that “Stories are how we make sense of things” than when I read it before. [Thank you, Thomas King.] The idea that questions aren’t used to predict the future, but they do create it makes even more sense now.

I mean, how can you not like a book that tells you, “next time you wonder what you’re allowed to say at work, online, downtown at the public library, just say whatever the hell you feel like saying.” The advice it gives still resonates, and the world it asks us to imagine is the one I want to work and play in:

Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting that what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge. Imagine a world where what you gave away was more valuable than what you held back, where joy was not a dirty word, where play was not forbidden after your eleventh birthday.

Read this book and dislodge that axe wedged in your head. It should be required reading for anyone anywhere near marketing, and just about everyone working in a big company. Still worth reading, a net generation later. Highly recommended.

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