Cluetrain Revisited

Maybe it’s my search for my digital happy days, but I have just finished reading again one of the most seminal pieces of literature to come out of the go-go 90′s, The Cluetrain Manifesto. Looking at the contents 13 years after its first publication, three concepts immediately jump out:

  • Belletristic foretaste of our times
      • Clients are having conversations directly with employees and are finding out what is really going on within corporations. Some companies have even tried to take advantage of this dialogue to foster customer loyalty. Crowdsourcing has been applied by certain enterprises to create vastly more meaningful products and services for their clients. Applications such as Twitter enable companies to turn negative feedback into a vehicle by which a corporation can show they care about their customers.
      • Those companies who either do not conduct open and honest dialogue or do not see the importance of such conversation described in the book eventually learn to regret their stance. The examples are numerous and have become a daily occurance.
      • The transparency discussed in the book is more prevalent today. The combination of exponential growth within the technological realm with a universal use of social media has ensured that nothing is secret anymore. The ugly flip-side to this scenario does not require description.
  • Revolutionary zeal as a 90′s zeitgeist
    • The irreverence in Cluetrain’s writing style was partially representative of the time the book was written. Many of us felt the power of something new being created and took liberty in a certain bravado. Such cockiness was lost in the dot-com bust, and we are continuously reminded to be wary of such exuberance today. The Facebook IPO, in spite of the hope that Zuckerberg might be our economic white knight, is a good example of such caution.
    • The description of the primary means of communication back then such as eMail, mailing lists and websites seem very quaint today. Based on the current and future growth of mobile (here) in comparison to the computer (near), one can say that the bespoke had their better days behind them. eMail is actually viewed somewhat negatively today.
    • Unfortunately, one can question how open the web’s architecture is today. Big money has taken this technology over, which is a good segway to my third point.
  • We lost the war
    • What happened to the conversations? Yes, we do have social media to converse with the near and far, but are we really conversing? I see plenty of comments being made daily, but they are primarily asynchronous and are very often of the lowest common nominator variety.
    • Does the web imitate life, or is it the other way around? One can find a correlation between the constant need to profess ones opinion, a societal polarization based on ones individual stance, and the manifestation of this state through media moguls such as Fox News. This malady reminds me of how the Communists ruined a great architectural style (Bauhaus) through cheap mass-production
    • Neil Postman wrote about our attempts to amuse ourselves to death, and we see that we have just changed the media.
    • The biggest loss we have had with the development over the last 13 years is the lack of ability to consume any detailed analysis. Instead of a written document, reports are prepared exclusively within PowerPoint. All development is expected to be intuitive as accompanied material stays unread. Mood boards have replace concepts or strategies. Although I possibly run the risk of appearing to display Luddite characteristics in public, it has to be said. I find this development regrettable.