You’vebeenstaringatyourmonitortoolong. Relaxandcurlupwitha book.TechRepublichasyourreview.

By Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David WeinbergerPerseus BooksPublished January 2000224 pp., hardcoverISBN: 0-7382-0244-4Price: $16.10 at .

I used to work for a company that often sent its workers to seminars where progressive ideas such as empowering employees and taking creative risks were discussed. As soon as we returned to the office, however, we stepped right back into the same old, rigid hierarchy in which most employees were supposed to check their brains at the door.

According to Locke et al.’s The Cluetrain Manifesto, the digital revolution has led to a business revolution in which companies now must do more than just pay lip service to progressive ideas. The Internet has empowered employees to share their brainwork directly with customers, and it has empowered customers to share their complaints directly with each other.

A central theme of the book is that companies that ignore or try to squelch those online dialogues will face dire consequences. As the authors say, “Organizations must encourage and engage in genuine conversation with workers and markets—or go belly up.”

Ninety-five theses to change the nature of business
The Cluetrain Manifesto is possibly the first book written as a sequel to a Web site. In the spring of 1999, was the digital door on which the authors nailed their ninety-five theses concerning the end of business as usual and the beginning of audience-responsive business.

Here are some highlights from the site:

  • 1. Markets are conversations.
  • 2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  • 3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  • 7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
  • 20. Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.
  • 28. Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what’s really going on inside the company.
  • 74. We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.
  • 77. You’re too busy “doing business” to answer our e-mail? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we’ll come back later. Maybe.
  • 94. To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, and no rules to slow us down.
  • 95. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

The Cluetrain Manifesto expounds those theses through anecdotes, observations, and object lessons. Sometimes the tone is strident; the insights, ironic; the predictions, provocative. Frequently the book is funny. Overall, it’s easy reading, but the ideas are big and bold. For example, “Being wrong is a lot funnier than being right. The right type of laughter—laughter at what the mistake reveals about our situation rather than laughter aimed at a person who dares to be human—is enormously liberating. In fact, laughter is the sound that knowledge makes when it’s born.”

Much of the book is about sound, especially the virtual tone of voice of today’s organizations, “Voice is how we tell the difference between people, committees, and bots. An e-mail written by one person bears the tool marks of their thought processes. … Voice, or its lack, is how we tell what’s worth reading and what’s not. Much of what passes for communication from companies to customers is washed and diluted so many times by the successive editing and tuning done by each company gatekeeper that the live-person hints are lost. Authenticity, honesty, and personal voice underlie much of what’s successful on the Web.”

The recommendation
My only significant complaint about The Cluetrain Manifesto is that several points are unnecessarily repeated throughout the book. On the other hand, many of the points bear repetition. After all, we’re talking about a revolution, a change of historic proportions, one in which businesses must finally evolve from autocracies spewing propaganda into new, user-friendly organizations that truly embrace openness, decentralization, genuine information, fallibility, and all the other things that make us human.

Thomas Pack is a freelance technology writer.

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