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February 13, 2008

Cluetrain Revisited: Doc Searls, still radical 10 years later (liveblogged)

by Josh Bernoff

Doc Searls started his talk at the Cluetrain @ 10 event talking about the genesis of The Cluetrain Manifesto. This was fascinating to me. He started with reflections of the overblown 90's (Push, Pointcast). "Customers treated as plankton." A reaction to the overblown venture investments in "capturing eyeballs" in the 90s.

The genesis of a lot of those ideas as he described (e.g. 95 theses, "markets are conversations") sounds as if it wasn't all that thoughtful. And didn't take that long to write. But what made these ideas so fresh and powerful (my opinion here) is that it was obvious to them long before anyone else was even thinking about it. The cluetrain authors were unafraid to talk about it frankly. And -- this is important -- they had each other to bounce things off of.

Does it hold up after 10 years? Rereading it -- and listening to Doc -- it does. The strident tone seems a bit "of its time" -- that is, they were screaming about things you don't have to scream about any more. But the content seems as true as it did when it was written.

But Doc has remained way out in front of what's happening, rather than consolidating the gains we made in getting to the Cluetrain world.

I love Doc's take on Web 2.0. He implies that O'Reilly's emphasis on the software is misplaced -- and wants to know why he uses advertising as his first example. I concur. The real change is about people and how they relate to business -- software is the enabler. Fascinating, as Doc points out, that Google search "Web 2.0" search yields ads about Advertising.

He's still got a problem with advertisers and advertising -- including on Facebook. Searls' updated theses (numbering is not a mistake -- he skipped a few)

1. Advertising as we know it will die.

2. Herding people into walled gardens and guessing about what makes them "social" will seem as absurd as it actually is. (Facebook is his example.)

3. We will realize that the most important producers are what we used to call consumers. (Yup.)

4. The value chain will be replaced by the value constellation. (Many connections.)

5. "What's your business model?" will no longer be asked of everything. (What's the business model for your kids?)

6. We will make money by maximizing "because effects". ("Because effects" are what happen when you make more money because of something than with it.) E.g. search and blogging.

8. We will be able to manage vendors at least as well as they manage us. (Agreements between companies and customers shouldn't be skewed in favor of the companies.) At Harvard Law they call this VRM -- vendor relationship management -- which is what Searls is working on (projectvrm.org).

10. We'll marry the live web to the value constellation. (The Live Web isn't just about stars. Relationships of anybody to anybody.)

Examples: The personal RFP -- find me what I need (driven by buyer not seller) I should be able to manage my own health care data. I should be able to inquire and relate to whole markets on the fly.

Here's my take on all this. I am pleased that Doc is still rattling cages. And I think he makes a lot of good points.

Respectfully: I think this is still a little naive about companies and how they behave. "Companies should" statements don't typically get companies to go along. So I wish there was more engaging with companies in this speech.

As the cluetrain audience here will hear from me in a few hours, I think Doc is still a radical -- a bomb-thrower, a provocateur. But to create real change, you have to be a revolutionary -- someone who engages with the powers that be to create major change. We need radicals. But we need revolutionaries too.


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Chick Foxgrover

Josh, I think you provided much of needed dimension in your part of the day's talks. When Doc talks it's as if he wants to be talking about something larger than business and markets, but it still boils down to company management theory and simple comsumer transactions. If Cluetrain adherents can make advertising sound clueless then why are we treated to such "revolutionary" ideas (car rentals or diaper ordering) that add up to no more than getting products and services more efficiently and to individual taste. As a later speaker pointed out much of this talk derives from management theory and psychology that is decades old.

But I enjoyed your and Jake's description of how the vocabulary of the current wave meets actual current business practices, how it can be applied. Refreshing and useful.

Also there is an interesting dilemma embodied in much of the exposition of these ideas. Doc seems to want relationships but anonymous, carefully controlled relationships, at least from the consumer side, but leave the term relationship a vague connotation of just a different way of doing business and not necessarily a recognition of what relationships-at-a-distance and relationships between individuals and institutions really consist of. naturally the nature of those realtionships is changed by the immediacy of communications brought about by new technology but certainly there are more interesting consequences than just better service.

It seems to me that Facebook is one (of many community sites) of the crucibles in which our society is working out how "proxy identity" or "trust-worthy discretionary multi identity by proxy" might work in the creation and maintenance of all kinds of relationships. A really interesting open experiment.

Well, my 2 cents in the bit bucket.

Thanks for sharing your insights and look forward to your book.

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