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a conversation with the cluetrain manifesto authors
the end of business as usual
page three of seven | previous page

david weinberger: a world turned inside out

Hello. I want to talk about the two conversations. It's what the book is focused on.

There are two conversations going on. One's in the market and one's inside the organization. The market conversation is really interesting because somehow we went from the ancient markets with the figs and the crocodiles—or whatever it was that Chris was talking about—a market that was filled with the sound of human voice and where civilization actually grew up, to the 20th century, now the 21st, when it got turned into "marketing." It got turned into a verb; something that's done to people. Rather than being a place, it's something you do to people, and you do it to them against their will. Doc Searls, one of the co-authors The Cluetrain Manifesto, is the author of the insight and the phrase, "Markets are conversations." That's always been the case, although the conversation has been throttled by contemporary marketing.

We have also gone from customers to consumers. Consumption, which is what we all do, was a disease until the 1920s. Massive consumption was not a good thing. It was people coughing up blood.

The difference between a customer and a consumer is that customers want to talk with you because they are interested in what you are doing. They share a passion. They share your passion for what you are making and selling. Consumers, on the other hand, don't want to hear from you. They want to flee. The last thing they want to do is hear from a marketing person, and that's the case for all of us. What's happened, as Chris said, is we had the Industrial Revolution with replaceable workers using replaceable parts, and now replaceable consumers. Not customers, but consumers, and what gets marketed to consumers are "messages." The only flaw in this is that there is no market for messages.

Nobody wants to hear those messages. We hate them. We flee. We run. The reason we invented the channel changer was not so that we could watch more TV programs, it's so we wouldn't have to watch the ads. We hate messages. An ad comes on, we change channels. If we see a billboard, we look away. All of marketing, however, is aimed at inflicting messages on an unwilling populace. That's why the metaphors of marketing are almost all war metaphors. We have campaigns and targeted marketing. We strive for saturation. These are all warfare metaphors because the fundamental premise of marketing is that the people you are talking with hate you. They don't want to hear from you. We have the whole culture now devoted to acts of war on the people you are trying to convince. The little jingles are supposed to make everybody happy, but it's war. That's why people hate marketers and we all want to flee.

Well, now the markets are networked so we can talk with one another. The ads will still be coming, we are still going to be listening and the jingles are going to be there, but now we are in a position where we can find out the truth about the ads in five minutes. In that sense, the ads aren't as effective anymore. Sure, they affect us, but we can route around them.

I'll give you an example of messages from Rick Levine, our other co-author. There was a Saturn owner who went on USENET and said that after his 15,000 mile check, he got charged $131. The dealership mechanics did a bunch of stuff he didn't think they were supposed to do. "Did I get ripped off?" Actually, he put it a little bit more crudely than that. About 20 messages went back and forth from strangers around the world who chipped in and made jokes, laughing at Saturn. They gave their opinions, until somebody chimed in saying something to the effect of, "I'm doing this on my lunch hour, so I'll be quick. I am a Saturn auto mechanic at a dealership in Toronto and yes, you probably were ripped off, that's a bit high. Here's what our manuals say we should do, here's a site where you can go to check it out on your own, here's what you probably should have paid." Here are a bunch of Saturn owners who can find out instantly whether their service is accurate. If you want to know whether the Saturn ads are right, whether Saturn dealers are humane and everybody is happy and they love their customers, you can find Saturn owners and you will know instantly. You know those advertising campaigns about whether your Maytag washers will break? In two minutes you can find out on the Web whether there is any truth to that advertising.


The networks are much, much smarter than the companies can be. Here's another automotive example. My brother's Audi—that's the car, not the belly button. Sorry, I probably shouldn't even have been thinking about that—has an alarm system. It used to be that when you opened the trunk, the alarm would go off. One day he noticed that it wasn't going off, so he got a little concerned and took it to the dealer. Two weeks later, the dealer came back and said it's supposed to be that way. Well, clearly it's not, so my brother found a site run by an enthusiast who loves this car. It said that if you are having this problem, check the manufacturer's run on the lock, and, if you have a trunk lock in such-and-such a run, you very likely have an electrical problem. He went back to the dealer who wasn't trying to cheat my brother; he would have been happy to help, he just didn't know. Network markets are smarter than the companies themselves. It's pretty remarkable.

We are in the position of having smart markets that are having conversations full of passion, honesty and jokes—the three values of the Web are passion, honesty and jokes, the three cardinal virtues—which you can compare to the single-minded branding messages coming from companies. The aim of branding is to strangle the conversation so that we'll have nothing to talk about except, "Don't squeeze the Charmin." They don't want to talk with us; they want to stop any conversation and replace it with a branding message.

That's where we are now, but those forces of strangulation can't hold up. Everybody will be on the Web. It will be as common as the telephone, and we will talk and tell one another the truth.

Exactly the same thing is happening inside the organizations through Intranets and email. That's the second conversation. The "undernet"—the set of Web and Internet connections that are made in an organization, despite the corporate Intranet which is pushed down from on high. There is an undernet where people again tell one another the truth about the company. They route around the corporate newsletter that says, "Everything is always happy here. We have no unhappy customers. Our stock is doing great and the products are on time." That's what you get from the newsletter, from the corporate voice of the CEO. Everybody knows it's not true, and now we have a way of finding one another and talking. We can form teams that address the real needs of customers quickly. This is amazing.

We can work with people we like. We don't have to work with the people who are on the org chart. What matters when you form one of these quick teams is you find a group of people you like working with because they are smart, because they know how to make things work, because they are committed, because they are creative and because they are funny, sometimes. Those are the people you choose to work with. You can do things through hyperlinking teams together through the undernet, through the Intranet and through email. How do we form one of these teams? How do we find people we like to work with? We listen to their voice. That's what's emerging on the Web—people's individual voices where they sound like themselves and they talk about what they care about. We can now find those people and work together.


If you want to see the difference between how things were and how things are, just compare memos to email. We are all trained to write memos exactly the same way. Every one of us who has written a memo—I think there are a number of us who are too young to remember memos, oh you happy few—you write your first memo and the manager who is mentoring you takes you aside and says, "Very good. Try to cut it down from 15 pages to one page. Take out the jokes, make your point in your first paragraph and, oh, by the way, we don't use language like that." All memos sound alike. You sweat over them, you work on them with other people, you show them to other people and, when you think they are going to be okay, you narrowcast them.

Email is a little different. With an email, you bang it out as quickly as you can. You don't even spell check it in most cases. It sounds like you. It's always funny, and sometimes it's devastatingly funny. Then you say to yourself, "Let's see, who should I send this to? I should send it to everybody I know, and I bet the CEO would like to get this." Boom, off it goes. You would never send a memo to the CEO; that's career limiting. How many of you are still in memo cultures? How many of you have written a memo in the past month? Don't be ashamed. Okay, be ashamed. Sorry. That's okay, it's going to get better. I bet, however, that you have written many, many, many more emails than you have written memos, and that's as it should be.

When we go into work we become different people. When we bring our children to "Bring Your Child To Work Day," many of them have been known to hide under the desk crying and wondering where Mommy or Daddy went because we're so different when we get to work. We adopt a very professional attitude. There's a lot of good things to say about professionalism, but one of the bad things to say about it is that all professionals sound alike. It's adopting a pose. You can see this instantly when you go to a trade show and somebody steps into the booth; the people working the booth take on the corporate voice. They are suddenly very professional and nothing can rattle them. They have the spiel, they speak the right words and they are all on message. One of them is a friend of yours, and she steps out and asks, "How did I do?" You don't have the heart to tell her, "You were an asshole!" What happened? Actually, I stole that from Chris' chapter, so thank you, Chris.

We all do it, and there is a reason why. There is a myth of management which runs very deep—management and business are synonymous. We can't separate them in our mind. You can't imagine an unmanaged business, but management has a mythic dimension. It's as if we can control the elements. We make our bargain that if we all agree to be good boys and girls, if we dress right and we stay on message and we do what we are supposed to, then we will be taken care of and everything will be fine. A giant asteroid won't smash into the earth; the CFO won't get sticky fingers and bring our company down in an instant; the government won't issue a recall on our product and the foreign economy won't collapse, taking our business with it. We live in the belief that we can manage our world, manage our lives, manage our environment. It is a peculiarly American, 20th Century delusion. Anybody else, anywhere on the planet, at any other time would say, "What? Are you out of your mind? That's hubris. That's pride. That's arrogance." Do you think you can manage all this and be safe? No. Life really stinks sometimes, and you can't control it. Yet, we make this bargain that we will subdue our voices; we will talk in a nice, rational tone because that allows us to maintain the management delusion that everything is in control here in Happyville.

Now comes the Web.


I want to ask you a simple question, which is: What is the Web for? It's not a trick question. It's like asking the $100 question on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" What is a telephone for? The answer is B, for calling people. That's all they mean. What are highways for? Highways are for going places. Now, what's the Web for? I haven't heard an answer. I don't know what the Web is for, so why do we see this hockey stick curve of acceptance—the most vertical acceptance line since fire? Why are we rushing to this thing that we have no idea what it's for?

Something deep is going on. There are lots of ways of looking at it, and I think that one of the best is that the Web offers us our voice back. Obviously, it's a connection. We are not on the Web because we want a better shopping experience. That's not why our whole culture stuck its finger in the electrical outlet. We are so incredibly excited about it, and it's not because now we have a shopping mall at home or because we have electronic catalogues instead of those stupid old paper catalogs. That's not what's doing it.

I think that what's doing it is connection. We want to connect with one other, and we want to connect with other people as ourselves. We want to be ourselves and talk like ourselves and be as stupid as we are and use the bad language that we use and make the stupid jokes that we do that represent who we are. The Web lets us do that in a way that we haven't been able to do for 100 years at work. That's why, when we get on the Web, we feel such a sense of liberation. That's why, despite the fact that everybody says they get too much email, I defy you to find somebody who will turn it off. Email is so incredibly exciting. To get email from strangers around the world on topics of shared interest—including flaming messages saying everything you have ever written is a load of shit—even those messages are exciting. To be able to touch so many people and strangers, on topics that you care about, and on the Web you only have to talk about the things you care about. You don't have to hype products or tout stuff you actually gave up on a long time ago. That's very, very exciting, and it's what I think The Cluetrain Manifesto is about. Thanks.


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Statements made at Netpreneur events and recorded here reflect solely the views of the speakers and have not been reviewed or researched for accuracy or truthfulness. These statements in no way reflect the opinions or beliefs of the Morino Institute, or any of their affiliates, agents, officers or directors. The transcript is provided "as is" and your use is at your own risk.  

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