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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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  • Robin Carey's picture
    Feb 13 Posted 9 years ago RobinCarey Josh,

    I had to leave but your summary was right on.  Like you I appreciate Doc's naivete but I do think he's right about the end of advertising as we know it.  On the selling company's side is a wealth of information that in the past was only available after the Nielsens came in.  So there is no longer any reason not to listen to the customer, without the intermediaries, especially when that listening can be aggregated and made more real.  When the customer's attention is at such a premium why not give him the impression that he is being heard?  Does this mean the end of the campaign?  Or does the campaign become something more like three-dimensional chess, one move here and another move there?  (But not adversarial.)  I think what is going to become more clear is not, as was alluded to at the meeting, that there will no longer be a transaction but that the transaction will take place only after the customer is fully engaged, and at that point the transaction makes perfect sense to both the customer and the vendor.
  • JDeragon's picture
    Feb 13 Posted 9 years ago JDeragon

    We’ve come to know Doc personally and all we can say is his mind sees the obvious while the masses see and engage in the clutter of the moment. Doc’s heart is as deep as his mind is broad and his perspectives are worthy of attention to those wishing to lead rather than follow.

    Seeing things as they are and speaking to the obvious is frank, honest and given his reach and influence his perspectives are disruptive. Disruption is what we need to maximize the social web benefits in front of us by letting go of the paradigms behind us.

    What say you?

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