Book review: The Cluetrain Manifesto

And there it is: I finally read The Cluetrain Manifesto! It was on the top of my reading list for ages but somehow other readings always seemed to step in the way. The final trigger I guess came when a couple of months ago I attended Dachis Social Business Summit in London and JP Rangaswami, one of the speakers, mentioned having been invited to write a chapter for the 10th anniversary edition of that book. “That’s it”, I thought, “I’m definitely getting that book.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a particular part of Chapter 3 that really stroke a chord. Now it’s time for a more complete reflection on this masterpiece.

Let me first start by sharing this: I devoured this book! I took every opportunity to read it and everyday I couldn’t wait to get home and read it a bit more.

My view of The Cluetrain is this: it’s a provocative, insightful and disruptive reading, written in a sharp style that at times makes you laugh and others makes you wonder (and worry). It’s the sort of book that either you identify with (and just want to go print a t-shirt saying something like “Hey corporate world, we the market/employees have a voice, so shut up and listen”) or you dismiss as utopia. I’m still thinking about the design of my t-shirt 🙂

The “elevator pitch” to sum The Cluetrain would go something like: with widespread Internet access and new web-based platforms, markets (each of us) and workers (also us) now finally have a voice. Markets and businesses are now conversations.

And it’s just amazing to realize that the book is ten years old. Ten years ago, when Facebook and Twitter did not exist. Ten years ago, when “social media marketing” and “community manager” were not on the daily buzz radar. Ten years ago, when reports of social platforms giving voice to oppressed populations or coordinating humanitarian efforts were unheard of.

The special 10th anniversary edition (I greatly advise you to get this one) starts with a reflection of the authors, somehow disappointed by the fact that their “predictions” are taking longer than expected to come into fruition.

 Yet ten years have gone by, and customer reach still does not exceed seller grasp (Doc Searls)

But does this mean that the authors were wrong on their view of markets and businesses as conversations? I don’t think so, and neither they seem to think. It just may take a bit more time for things to happen:

I was an optimistic in 1999. Ten years later, I am an optimistic who feels the need to defend optimism… and an optimist who believes we have to fight for the inevitable (David Weinberger)

Being particularly passionate about the future of work and businesses I couldn’t help being particularly caught by this quote:

…the future business of businesses that have a future will be about subtle differences, not wholesale conformity; about diversity, not homogeneity; about breaking rules, not reinforcing them; about pushing the envelope, not punching the clock; about invitation, not protection; about doing it first, not doing it “right”; about making it better, not making it perfect; about telling the truth, not spinning the bigger lies; about turning people on, not “packaging” them; and perhaps above all, about building convivial communities and knowledge ecologies, not leveraging demographic sectors (Christopher Locke)

It may seem that we are miles apart from this reality, but I believe this is not an all-or-nothing-at-all situation. Some companies already understand the power of conversations (internal and external) and others don’t. Some are taking the power of the Web as the highway and the social platforms as the vehicles for the journey of (re)humanizing businesses. Others are just looking for a new way to push meaningless stuff.

What the authors have to consider is how important the book was for so many other authors that followed, for so many workers that rediscovered they had a voice, for those that realized they were not alone in thinking that “they were on to something special with this Web thing” and for those that paused to consider “what if they are right?”.

For me it can all be summed up to this: how often do I get to read a book that fires my brain cells like a fireworks display, that satisfies my thirst for knowledge and understanding and that stimulates my inner optimistic self like this one did? Not often, I assure you…


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