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Cluetrain, it is no movement, just an observation


Interview with Christopher Locke

German newsletter baerentatze spoke to Cluetrains' co-author in January 2000

Is the Cluetrain Manifesto sweet talk for late 68'ers?

Chris Locke

If you mean "is this for nostalgic hippies" then no, I don't think so. I believe the developments we describe in the manifesto and book are quite real. There is certainly much corroboration from many quarters that would not fit the characterization -- my personal favorite being the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Ruth Perkins of that organization wrote to us: "Thank you for solidifying the thoughts and mission I’ve had for so long. I’m a wholehearted signer and practitioner of your manifesto."

However, I will admit that the rhetoric is colored by my own experience, and in 1968... well, let's not go into what I was doing in 1968. Take a wild guess!

How will mega fusions like AOL/Time Warner affect that development?

Chris Locke

I seem to recall a monster "convergence" deal between TCI and Bell Atlantic around 1993. It fell apart before it even came together. Then another huge merger in 1995 between Rupert Murdoch's Newscorp and MCI. I was at MCI when this happened and it made big headlines in all the financial papers.

I bet few people even remember those. The impact they had? Zero.

Maybe AOL and Time Warner will prove to be a perfect marriage. And maybe it will turn out to be -- as with the deals above -- the clueless leading the brainless.

What do the ringleaders do about pushing the Cluetrain?

Chris Locke

We initially wrote the manifesto to try to wake up business to how much it is misinterpreting the promise of this medium. We fleshed out both the critique and the analysis in the book, which we are doing all in our power to promote. By the way, we got a very sizable advance (US$175,000) for the book -- even though a book was not in our plans at all when we wrote the manifesto -- so there is little chance that this promotion will increase our incomes; we already pocketed the money! Our purpose now is to get these ideas into the cultural and business mainstream. The more people are talking about the changes we describe, the more these changes will accelerate.

Also, very gratifying to us, people seem to be taking heart from what we have written. They are using this stuff to give themselves permission to be human. Very dangerous. And lots of fun! maybe you do have a point in your first question.

What's your advice to corporations: how do they board the Cluetrain?

Chris Locke

I don't think corporations can "board the cluetrain" at all -- only the people of which corporations are made up. Companies can't "speak with a human voice" because companies aren't human. Humans are human.

Having said that, the humans in positions of great power within corporations can encourage more humanity among others with less power than themselves. If they are not quite that enlightened, the best thing they can do is to *get out of the way* of the inevitable changes that networks are creating in both workforce and marketplace. They can try to kick their addiction to command and control.

Is Cluetrain an international event? To what extent does it happen outside the internet?

Chris Locke

International? Definitely. Outside the Internet? No. We don't mean this to be exclusive of those people, communities and nations that are not yet online, but we are talking explicitly about market dynamics created by a particular sort of technology: TCP/IP.

Without the Internet, what we are saying would make no sense. The open exchange enabled by open networks is what creates the threat or the opportunity, depending on how you look at it. In the world of broadcast, markets had no voice. With the net, they do.

Also, the so-called first world, which *is* online, is exporting its "culture" to the rest of the planet, wired or not. We would like to someday soon be able to remove those quotation marks.

It appears that at this stage only an avant garde understands Cluetrain. How will it become a mass movement?

Chris Locke

Paradoxically, it doesn't matter who understands it, or how many. We are describing market forces that have their own power and dynamics. If companies communicate in language their markets don't recognize or care about, they will lose those markets. Then they will die. This doesn't require a movement. It doesn't even require conscious awareness on anyone's part -- whether in business or in the marketplace. There's more than a bit of the old idea of the "invisible hand" at work in this respect.

However, as I mentioned above, many people who *do* understand what we're saying seem to be taking comfort and encouragement from our words. Many feel that the conditions we describe give them new power to better their work situation and the overall commercial environment in which we live. Cluetrain is creating a new enthusiasm born of hope. Again, this has a catalytic, accelerating influence. And it's a wonderful "side effect." But none of this is strictly necessary. It's not a precondition for the market cataclysm ("apocalypso") we describe.

Anything you would care to say to our German readers?

Chris Locke

...grüß ich die wiedergeöffneten Munde,
die schon wußten, was schweigen heißt.

(Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus: I, 10)

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