Had a great time mixing it up with the BlogTalkRadio folks a couple nights ago, talking Cluetrain after 10 years. Here’s the show. Big thanks to Allan Hoving for lining up and co-hosting it with Janet Fouts and Jim Love. Janet tweeted it live. Afterwards Jim put up a very interesting follow-up post, in the midst of which is this:
The message in Cluetrain is as fresh today as it was 10 years ago. ” We are not clicks or eyeballs, we are people ….deal with it.”
For those of you who missed it, the book started as a website, with 95 Theses splashed on a web page, in tribute, homage or just a scandalous rip off of Martin Luther’s famous set of 95 Theses. If you don’t know about the original, shame on you. Martin Luther was the renegade priest who started the Protestant Reformation by nailing 95 Theses to the door of a church. Equally important but often ignored, he translated the bible from latin to the language of the people (in his case, German) and opened it up for all to read. He also got married — remember he was a priest. To some he was a heretic. To others, he was a reformer who democratized an autocratic organization.
Whatever you think of him, he changed history. Not on his own. He didn’t invent the movable type that made it possible to print those bibles and distribute them widely. He wasn’t the only figure questioning the institution — there was, at the time, a growing movement that were dissatisfied with what they felt was corruption and a lack of integrity in the church at the time. It related to practices like the selling of indulgences — the ability to buy your way out of sin. A number of people saw the church as a decaying, archaic and for some, even a corrupt institution. They’d lost faith in it — literally.
Luther had the courage to say what he did. In a world where the Catholic church was all powerful, this took a lot of guts. But that doesn’t explain the power of what he accomplished. No, he hit the zeitgeist of his era, he was a man of courage at the right place in history. His ideas took off like a brush fire and the world was never the same.
It’s important to note, however, that this is the view from 500 years later. It’s all compressed now and we can look back and see Luther’s document as a turning point.
The older I get, the earlier it seems. It’s funny that we chose 95 theses because that worked for Luther, but basically that’s why. (We also called it a manifesto because that worked for Marx. Karl, not Groucho, though the latter was much funnier. I also went to a Lutheran high school. Coincidence?) I don’t think any of us was taking the long-term perspective, though. We just wanted to say what we thought was true and nobody else seemed to be talking about.
But I’m thinking now that it will take many more years. Perhaps decades, before some of what we said will sink in the rest of the way.
Some marketers got it. Jim is clearly one of them. The Cluetrain Manifesto is required reading in the course he teaches. But the future is unevenly distributed. As David Weinberger likes to say, it’s lumpy. Cluetrain’s subtitle is “The End of Business as Usual.” I think that end will take a long time. We’re trying to hasten it with VRM, but that will take awhile too.
The short of it is that Business as Usual is insulting to customers. Take for example the form of Business as Usual that Bob Frankston (more about him here) calls the regulatorium. You get one of those when a big business category and its regulators become captive of each other. For example, it was in revolt against a tea market regulatorium that citizens of the Massachusetts colony threw the East India Tea Company’s tea in the harbor. The colonists succesfully revolted against England, but customers still haven’t had a proper revolt against the belief by many companies that captive customers are more valuable than free ones. If Mona Shaw and her hammer are the best we can do, we’ve hardly begun.
The liberating impulse is independence, just as it was in 1773. Thanks to the Net, free customers are more valuable than captive ones. To themselves, to sellers, to the economy. We won’t learn that until we become fully equipped, as customers, to act on our independence.
At the end of the show Jim said he thought liberation would be a group thing. Customers getting power in aggregate. While I don’t disagree, I believe it is essential to equip individual customers with tools of both independence and engagememt. By that I mean tools that are as personal as wallets and purses, and just as handy and easy to use. We don’t have those yet.
But we will. And once we do, things will change radically. Count on it.
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