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The Cluetrain Legacy and Social Media


Yesterday I asked you to answer my Have you read “The Cluetrain Manifesto” poll

The question was based on a quick question I posted on Twitter. I have been thinking about this book and its impact on the web and social media concepts we take for granted.

As you can see from the chart here, most people today haven’t heard of it.

So what is this “Cluetrain” I speak of? Why am I so concerned that nobody who joined the web this decade seems to have heard of it?

In 1999 a group of the webs biggest and brightest got together to write a “call to arms”. A manifesto of 90 some ideas, rants, statements, essays, that together put forward the theme that the internet changes everything and that business had better wake up.

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—”and getting smarter faster than most companies.”

You don’t have to buy the book, you can read the whole thing online if you like. But I do like to dip into my much-thumbed dead tree copy.

The “cluetrain” wording is from the famous saying:

“The clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery.”

Rather than broadcast, interruption marketing that business up to then focused on, they asserted that “markets are conversations”. How many times have you heard this, or “join the conversation”?

They also talked about the technology, like intranets, but for me it was the impact on marketing thinking that had the most lasting impression.

The ideas will be familiar now. Through social media we almost take for granted some of the ideas that were debated at the time.

I talk a lot about flagship content and authority. This manifesto sums up both! At the time it was huge. Those associated with it were seen as thought leaders on a massive scale. Of course there were lots of people against it too.

That was nearly ten years ago. As we have seen, many barely know the name let alone have read it. Those that have read it have a good number who haven’t read it all the way through or are not terribly impressed.

Is the Cluetrain influence fading? Is it just us oldskool types who remember it fondly?


With that in mind, is it still relevant? I had to ask!


“I haven’t reread it recently, but YES it’s still relevant”

Seth Godin

“Yes the Cluetrain is still relevant. Things like that don’t stop being relevant.”

Dave Winer

“Cluetrain is relevant, and there are still people who haven’t quite adopted the concepts within, but I think of Cluetrain as an earlier iteration of what is ready for discussion now. If we all accept that conversations matter and that humans are driving the business in new ways, there has to now be an “applications layer” discussion to take what we accept and move it forward as protocols and applications that businesses and individuals can execute against.

Put shorter: once we get it, now what? “

Chris Brogan

“it’s more relevant than ever. At least the ‘markets are conversations’ part”

Robert Scoble

“I cant be bothered with the Cluetrain stuff, no one who’s a real player even knows about that stupid sh’t, let alone cares.”

Loren Feldman (to be fair to Loren, this was not in answer to my exact question but seemed relevant so I got his permission to include it here)


This leads me to some questions for you, dear reader!

  1. Does what I have said above lead you to want to read Cluetrain for yourself?
  2. Is Cluetrain relevant today?
  3. Have the authors diminished in authority or will this always be a positive legacy?

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments …

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Comments

  1. I definitely think that it’s still relevant. I only read it last year (although I’d been aware of it and the theories behind for a few prior to that).

    Much of what it says can be overhyped, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some fundamental truths at its core.

    I think my favourite quote related to the Cluetrain (indirectly, in that its from one of the book’s authors, Clay Shirky) is this;

    So forget about blogs and bloggers and blogging and focus on this — the cost and difficulty of publishing absolutely anything, by anyone, into a global medium, just got a whole lot lower. And the effects of that increased pool of potential producers is going to be vast.

    April 2004

  2. I definitely think that it’s still relevant. I only read it last year (although I’d been aware of it and the theories behind for a few prior to that).

    Much of what it says can be overhyped, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some fundamental truths at its core.

    I think my favourite quote related to the Cluetrain (indirectly, in that its from one of the book’s authors, Clay Shirky) is this;

    So forget about blogs and bloggers and blogging and focus on this — the cost and difficulty of publishing absolutely anything, by anyone, into a global medium, just got a whole lot lower. And the effects of that increased pool of potential producers is going to be vast.

    April 2004

  3. Cluetrain is a virulent meme that rises to grossly flawed theory. It is the bible of today’s hyperlinked People’s Temple. It is an empty promise that empowers and binds this Cult of Amateurs.

    Amanda Chapel
    Strumpette

  4. Cluetrain is a virulent meme that rises to grossly flawed theory. It is the bible of today’s hyperlinked People’s Temple. It is an empty promise that empowers and binds this Cult of Amateurs.

    Amanda Chapel
    Strumpette

  5. @Ciaran – Excellent quote 🙂

    @Amanda – Interesting point of view

  6. @Ciaran – Excellent quote 🙂

    @Amanda – Interesting point of view

  7. 1. Yes, it does make me want to actually get round to reading it. I’ve been meaning to for ages, maybe this could be the (ahem) tipping point…

    2. The bits I’ve read seem very relevant. I would imagine most of it is still news to most people.

    3. Why, have they done anything naughty since?

  8. 1. Yes, it does make me want to actually get round to reading it. I’ve been meaning to for ages, maybe this could be the (ahem) tipping point…

    2. The bits I’ve read seem very relevant. I would imagine most of it is still news to most people.

    3. Why, have they done anything naughty since?

  9. To answer (3), my question is based on the assumption if this is some of the authors claim to fame and over half of people questioned haven’t heard of it.

  10. To answer (3), my question is based on the assumption if this is some of the authors claim to fame and over half of people questioned haven’t heard of it.

  11. ‘Through social media we almost take for granted some of the ideas that were debated at the time.’ – if this is true, I would say that’s a pretty good legacy.

    Sometimes success can make you invisible – like Hoover’s trademark becoming the standard word for, erm, hoovers. I remember the surprise of discovering that Hoover was the name of an actual company. A bit like discovering a company called Washing Machine or Chocolate.

  12. ‘Through social media we almost take for granted some of the ideas that were debated at the time.’ – if this is true, I would say that’s a pretty good legacy.

    Sometimes success can make you invisible – like Hoover’s trademark becoming the standard word for, erm, hoovers. I remember the surprise of discovering that Hoover was the name of an actual company. A bit like discovering a company called Washing Machine or Chocolate.

  13. It’s a bit like Darwin’s Origen of the Species or The Communist Manifesto. Its message is widespread and it is understood (although perhaps with significant distortion) even though it’s rarely read.

  14. It’s a bit like Darwin’s Origen of the Species or The Communist Manifesto. Its message is widespread and it is understood (although perhaps with significant distortion) even though it’s rarely read.

  15. The Cluetrain is probably more relevant now than it has been when it was written. Social sites are at a peak and I just can’t wait to see what happens next. I think it’s a controversial book because it’s ideas are geared toward a sense of sharing and community we haven’t been accustomed to, as a society, in decades. Ten years ago, what company in their right mind would dare speak with their clients, out of the safe box of a multiple-choice survey?

  16. The Cluetrain is probably more relevant now than it has been when it was written. Social sites are at a peak and I just can’t wait to see what happens next. I think it’s a controversial book because it’s ideas are geared toward a sense of sharing and community we haven’t been accustomed to, as a society, in decades. Ten years ago, what company in their right mind would dare speak with their clients, out of the safe box of a multiple-choice survey?

  17. Like you, the marketing stuff is what stood out for me – moreso than the technology stuff, like intranets, although as the person who ran a global intranet for a Fortune 1000 company, I can speak from experience that intranets also helped create conversations between departments all across the org chart. Think of it as “internal marketing conversations”. At least then when we spoke with customers our company was all in on the conversation.

    I let someone borrow my cluetrain book in 2000 and never got it back, I haven’t read it since. I guess it’s time to grab a copy again.

    DM

  18. Like you, the marketing stuff is what stood out for me – moreso than the technology stuff, like intranets, although as the person who ran a global intranet for a Fortune 1000 company, I can speak from experience that intranets also helped create conversations between departments all across the org chart. Think of it as “internal marketing conversations”. At least then when we spoke with customers our company was all in on the conversation.

    I let someone borrow my cluetrain book in 2000 and never got it back, I haven’t read it since. I guess it’s time to grab a copy again.

    DM

  19. Chris — I guess I will have to get it and read it. My problem I have so many books on my desk that I need to get through. @grantgriffiths

  20. Chris — I guess I will have to get it and read it. My problem I have so many books on my desk that I need to get through. @grantgriffiths

  21. Some of what’s in there we now take for granted, but the ideas are still new and shocking to many businesses, who still don’t get it. It certainly was shocking and new for nearly everyone when it first came out. This is one of the most important business books ever written.

    The people who are successful in business online today are following many of its ideas, even if they’ve never read it or know about it.

    Everybody talks about “the conversation” and even says “markets are conversations” but that phrase came from Cluetrain. That phrase was a prophecy which has come true. Anybody who naysays against this isn’t even seeing what’s happening.

  22. Some of what’s in there we now take for granted, but the ideas are still new and shocking to many businesses, who still don’t get it. It certainly was shocking and new for nearly everyone when it first came out. This is one of the most important business books ever written.

    The people who are successful in business online today are following many of its ideas, even if they’ve never read it or know about it.

    Everybody talks about “the conversation” and even says “markets are conversations” but that phrase came from Cluetrain. That phrase was a prophecy which has come true. Anybody who naysays against this isn’t even seeing what’s happening.

  23. Chris,

    I haven’t read it yet. Being a programmer by trade I barely ever read old documents, because within a year they are no longer relevant in this industry.

    It sounds like the cluetrain was very innovative at the time it was published, and may still be relevant today. However, having not read it my question is:

    “Would I learn anything new by reading it or has everything in the cluetrain already been discussed to death online and offline since it’s release?”

    PS. I understand there is value in reading older books, but as it is I don’t have time to read all the excellent current marketing information being produced. It would have to contain something AMAZING that I have never read before to make it on my TODO list.

  24. Chris,

    I haven’t read it yet. Being a programmer by trade I barely ever read old documents, because within a year they are no longer relevant in this industry.

    It sounds like the cluetrain was very innovative at the time it was published, and may still be relevant today. However, having not read it my question is:

    “Would I learn anything new by reading it or has everything in the cluetrain already been discussed to death online and offline since it’s release?”

    PS. I understand there is value in reading older books, but as it is I don’t have time to read all the excellent current marketing information being produced. It would have to contain something AMAZING that I have never read before to make it on my TODO list.

  25. Chris, I read the book a few months ago and I’m glad I did – coming as I do fairly new to the world of the web (I was locked behind a corporate firewall before last year) it helped to explain some of the values and attitudes that underpin this web we now take for granted, in particular the emphasis on authenticity and transparency.

    I didn’t agree with their take on everything but it did help me get a better sense of perspective – and an awareness of context, history and underpinning values.

    Joanna

  26. Chris, I read the book a few months ago and I’m glad I did – coming as I do fairly new to the world of the web (I was locked behind a corporate firewall before last year) it helped to explain some of the values and attitudes that underpin this web we now take for granted, in particular the emphasis on authenticity and transparency.

    I didn’t agree with their take on everything but it did help me get a better sense of perspective – and an awareness of context, history and underpinning values.

    Joanna

  27. Hi Chris.

    I haven’t read it and haven’t been insprited to.

    I’d be motivated to perhaps if you quoted some stuff that convinced there were insights still relevant (I haven’t read it so don’t know).

    It seems to me that almost all the IM stuff is founded on old ideas. This is not a criticism, just pointing out that a new medium for communication doesn’t change much. Comments aren’t all that different to talk back radio. Long sales letters (which I find intensely annoying and immediately click past) are taken directly from snail mail. Word of mouth is hardly a new concept. Getting attention (Seth Godin’s point – and one whose importance is hard to underestimate) is as old as advertising or even story-telling.

    So there’s lots of hype talked about this stuff, but in practice I don’t see anything much different.

    In brief: I’m a skeptic.

  28. Hi Chris.

    I haven’t read it and haven’t been insprited to.

    I’d be motivated to perhaps if you quoted some stuff that convinced there were insights still relevant (I haven’t read it so don’t know).

    It seems to me that almost all the IM stuff is founded on old ideas. This is not a criticism, just pointing out that a new medium for communication doesn’t change much. Comments aren’t all that different to talk back radio. Long sales letters (which I find intensely annoying and immediately click past) are taken directly from snail mail. Word of mouth is hardly a new concept. Getting attention (Seth Godin’s point – and one whose importance is hard to underestimate) is as old as advertising or even story-telling.

    So there’s lots of hype talked about this stuff, but in practice I don’t see anything much different.

    In brief: I’m a skeptic.

  29. Chris,

    while I’m amazed that so many people in the online business haven’t read it, I’m not surprised.

    In 1999/2000 a blindman successfully sued IBM and the Olympics Organising Committee for not having an accessible website. This was regarded as a legal precedent and reported all around the world.

    Last year Target was taken to Court for pretty much the same thing.

    What concerns me is that so many people entering the industry have no idea how we got here and the “groundrules” that are already in place thru hard won experience. (Groundrules is a poor choice of word I know, but I couldn’t think of another one quickly.)

    I can’t think of any other profession where you can start practising without knowing what came before.

    It’d be be like a doctor not knowing about penicillin, an architect not knowing the basics of how to keep a building up, or a lawyer not knowing legal history.

    The net has been around long enough for there to be case history and precedent, but it is continually ignored.

  30. Chris,

    while I’m amazed that so many people in the online business haven’t read it, I’m not surprised.

    In 1999/2000 a blindman successfully sued IBM and the Olympics Organising Committee for not having an accessible website. This was regarded as a legal precedent and reported all around the world.

    Last year Target was taken to Court for pretty much the same thing.

    What concerns me is that so many people entering the industry have no idea how we got here and the “groundrules” that are already in place thru hard won experience. (Groundrules is a poor choice of word I know, but I couldn’t think of another one quickly.)

    I can’t think of any other profession where you can start practising without knowing what came before.

    It’d be be like a doctor not knowing about penicillin, an architect not knowing the basics of how to keep a building up, or a lawyer not knowing legal history.

    The net has been around long enough for there to be case history and precedent, but it is continually ignored.

  31. I think it is worthwhile to read “old” books (funny how we’re calling something less than 10 years old, “old”) because it helps develop a structure for what you already know. I recently read The Tipping Point and The Long Tail and I was late in doing so. But, since I had heard of the concepts and read some of the discussions, when I read the book, a lot of dangling ideas in my head suddenly had a home to go to. Clue Train is like that…we are living its ideas…but reading the book, even though we might be late, will help our brains categorize and layer the info we already have. History, guys, is good to know.,

  32. I think it is worthwhile to read “old” books (funny how we’re calling something less than 10 years old, “old”) because it helps develop a structure for what you already know. I recently read The Tipping Point and The Long Tail and I was late in doing so. But, since I had heard of the concepts and read some of the discussions, when I read the book, a lot of dangling ideas in my head suddenly had a home to go to. Clue Train is like that…we are living its ideas…but reading the book, even though we might be late, will help our brains categorize and layer the info we already have. History, guys, is good to know.,

  33. Does what I have said above lead you to want to read Cluetrain for yourself? Yes, although I’ve read it once before..

    Is Cluetrain relevant today? – Definitely.

    Have the authors diminished in authority or will this always be a positive legacy? : I believe this will always be a positive legacy… even if it becomes irrelevant down the road.. which I doubt would ever happen.

  34. Does what I have said above lead you to want to read Cluetrain for yourself? Yes, although I’ve read it once before..

    Is Cluetrain relevant today? – Definitely.

    Have the authors diminished in authority or will this always be a positive legacy? : I believe this will always be a positive legacy… even if it becomes irrelevant down the road.. which I doubt would ever happen.

  35. As I’m new to the whole idea of social media, I’m definitely interested in reading Cluetrain. From the comments of everyone here, it sounds like it’s worth it!

  36. As I’m new to the whole idea of social media, I’m definitely interested in reading Cluetrain. From the comments of everyone here, it sounds like it’s worth it!

  37. Hi Chris,
    1. Does what I have said above lead you to want to read Cluetrain for yourself?

    If you had posted this before 3/24/08, I would have said, “Yes, I heard of the Cluetrain Manifesto, but I am sick of all these thinly disguised sales pitches (i.e. The Internet Business Manifesto, the Death of AdSense).”
    I had not realized that it was a ten-year old document.

    However, on 3/24/08, I made my own dead tree copy and got a clue.

    Believe it or not, many of these 95 points are part of the Radio Advertising Bureau’s Sales Rep certification program! Sadly, many radio ad reps ignore these precepts in the name of sales goals.

    I believe that you are misinterpreting your graph. Remember the “S” curve?
    You know it takes time for paradigm shifts to reach critical mass. After all, at the time of my comment, I was only the 222nd respondent.

    Cut yourself some slack, and check out why I think Cluetrain will rumble on for the next ten years:

    2. Is Cluetrain relevant today?
    Sales and Marketing are symbiotic systems that continue to evolve.
    The common ancestor of every phase of customer acquisition is the so-called door-to-door salesman.

    During each epoch, new strains of this beast branched off and tried to survive in the wild. Who else remembers the carpet-bombing vacuum cleaner salesman?
    His branch evolved into the highly sophisticated infomercial spokesperson?

    How about the Avon Lady calling? She and her kin now do home parties, network marketing and direct sales online.

    What prompted the evolutionary changes? I believe three things:
    Attention Span, Consumer Awareness, Disposable Income. Of these three, only Attention Span has decreased, making it more challenging for the marketer to grab mind-share (branding).

    Consumer Awareness evolves right along with every other human endeavor. This is the reason that scams eventually die, greedy companies fail and black-hat SEO gives only short-term gains. Marketers who relied solely on product-centric themes found their trumpet calls falling on deafened ears.

    Increase in Disposable Income is the honeycomb. No marketer wastes time peddling his wares to folks who can’t afford them. (Let’s leave aside one nasty strain: the predator.) Yet, marketers who focus on the honeycomb without regarding the bees risk getting stung.

    The Cluetrain Manifesto is the marketer’s analog to the beekeeper’s smoker. Calm the customers by showing that you care.

    #78 sums it up nicely: “You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.”
    Ironically, the Attention Deficit seems to apply to marketers as well, as they flit from tactic to tactic, disregarding long-term strategies.

    3. Have the authors diminished in authority or will this always be a positive legacy?

    Who knows where evolution will lead? Consumerism could be short-circuited by any number of tangential systems. An upsurge in spiritualism could relegate materialism to the dark closet of long-forgotten acquisitions.
    Materials themselves could dwindle to the point that unnecessary production will cease.

    On the other hand, a period of enlightenment could open the door to a new kind of supply and demand dynamic that is not based on wealth-building, but on interdependency building, a sort of idealized socialistic economy.

    But, we live for today.

    And the Cluetrain still leads the way!

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  38. Hi Chris,
    1. Does what I have said above lead you to want to read Cluetrain for yourself?

    If you had posted this before 3/24/08, I would have said, “Yes, I heard of the Cluetrain Manifesto, but I am sick of all these thinly disguised sales pitches (i.e. The Internet Business Manifesto, the Death of AdSense).”
    I had not realized that it was a ten-year old document.

    However, on 3/24/08, I made my own dead tree copy and got a clue.

    Believe it or not, many of these 95 points are part of the Radio Advertising Bureau’s Sales Rep certification program! Sadly, many radio ad reps ignore these precepts in the name of sales goals.

    I believe that you are misinterpreting your graph. Remember the “S” curve?
    You know it takes time for paradigm shifts to reach critical mass. After all, at the time of my comment, I was only the 222nd respondent.

    Cut yourself some slack, and check out why I think Cluetrain will rumble on for the next ten years:

    2. Is Cluetrain relevant today?
    Sales and Marketing are symbiotic systems that continue to evolve.
    The common ancestor of every phase of customer acquisition is the so-called door-to-door salesman.

    During each epoch, new strains of this beast branched off and tried to survive in the wild. Who else remembers the carpet-bombing vacuum cleaner salesman?
    His branch evolved into the highly sophisticated infomercial spokesperson?

    How about the Avon Lady calling? She and her kin now do home parties, network marketing and direct sales online.

    What prompted the evolutionary changes? I believe three things:
    Attention Span, Consumer Awareness, Disposable Income. Of these three, only Attention Span has decreased, making it more challenging for the marketer to grab mind-share (branding).

    Consumer Awareness evolves right along with every other human endeavor. This is the reason that scams eventually die, greedy companies fail and black-hat SEO gives only short-term gains. Marketers who relied solely on product-centric themes found their trumpet calls falling on deafened ears.

    Increase in Disposable Income is the honeycomb. No marketer wastes time peddling his wares to folks who can’t afford them. (Let’s leave aside one nasty strain: the predator.) Yet, marketers who focus on the honeycomb without regarding the bees risk getting stung.

    The Cluetrain Manifesto is the marketer’s analog to the beekeeper’s smoker. Calm the customers by showing that you care.

    #78 sums it up nicely: “You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.”
    Ironically, the Attention Deficit seems to apply to marketers as well, as they flit from tactic to tactic, disregarding long-term strategies.

    3. Have the authors diminished in authority or will this always be a positive legacy?

    Who knows where evolution will lead? Consumerism could be short-circuited by any number of tangential systems. An upsurge in spiritualism could relegate materialism to the dark closet of long-forgotten acquisitions.
    Materials themselves could dwindle to the point that unnecessary production will cease.

    On the other hand, a period of enlightenment could open the door to a new kind of supply and demand dynamic that is not based on wealth-building, but on interdependency building, a sort of idealized socialistic economy.

    But, we live for today.

    And the Cluetrain still leads the way!

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  39. Missed the Cluetrain (or this post at least) when it first stopped at the station.

    1. I’ve skimmed through the list of ideas in the Manifesto, but haven’t taken the time to read it yet. I will during the next month or so. I had heard of it before reading your blog post, when it was referred to at Remarkablogger a couple of months ago.

    2. and 3. The only answer I can give here is that people are still talking about the Manifesto, so it does have some lasting impact.

  40. Missed the Cluetrain (or this post at least) when it first stopped at the station.

    1. I’ve skimmed through the list of ideas in the Manifesto, but haven’t taken the time to read it yet. I will during the next month or so. I had heard of it before reading your blog post, when it was referred to at Remarkablogger a couple of months ago.

    2. and 3. The only answer I can give here is that people are still talking about the Manifesto, so it does have some lasting impact.

  41. I think the C.M. is still very relevant, if only because so many corporations continue to shun those deliveries.

    Its ethos describes an attitudinal shift in our culture that IMHO reaches beyond the internet and has implications for all aspects of business – not just sales & marketing.

    Its contents will date, of course – but the authors will remain relevant in the context of the period.

    Those interested in applying this kind of enlightened thinking to organisational design should also read Maverick by Ricardo Semler (another great older book).

  42. I think the C.M. is still very relevant, if only because so many corporations continue to shun those deliveries.

    Its ethos describes an attitudinal shift in our culture that IMHO reaches beyond the internet and has implications for all aspects of business – not just sales & marketing.

    Its contents will date, of course – but the authors will remain relevant in the context of the period.

    Those interested in applying this kind of enlightened thinking to organisational design should also read Maverick by Ricardo Semler (another great older book).