Book: The Cluetrain Manifesto (Optimize the leveraging of, umm, dynamic infrastructures, anyone?)

On Halloween in 1517, a disgruntled German priest put up a piece of paper on a church door, criticizing Catholicism in 95 thesis statements. It officially started the Protestant movement.

The techies of Silicon Valley did something similar half a millennium later. In 1999, they posted 95 theses online and called them The Cluetrain Manifesto. It had nothing to do with Jesus. The internet has empowered, informed and interconnected consumers, the authors said, and businesses must drop the opaque corporate-speak and sound human in order to talk to them. (You can tinker with these buzzwords on a website called The Corporate BS Generator.”)

“Markets consist of human beings…Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously,” the manifesto proclaims. Stop using words nobody understands – like “solution,” “progressive synergy” or “human capital” to make yourself seem smarter. Listen to the community and join in.

The Cluetrain Manifesto’s subsequent chapters offer an interesting perspective of what’s changed in the last decade and what didn’t, when it comes to confusing (or better, obfuscated?) corporate websites, brochures and other marketing materials.

Markets used to be places for people to exchange goods and talk about their vegetables and their cotton.

Uploaded to Flickr by Valodja

Then the industrial revolution separated the consumer from the product, and we got stuck with the obnoxious, abstract marketing. People no longer feel connected to the stuff they manufacture or the stuff they buy at a supermarket.

Doc Searls and David Weinberger have some beef with advertising (after all, about a thousand bucks is spent to advertise just to you, per year!) “Like it or not, they will teach us to sing the jingle and recite the slogan,” the authors hiss.

They compare PR professionals to used car salesmen. “An editor would rather insert a crab in his butt than a press release in their publication.” Right.

Learning the human language is the new hope for companies and PR people. The internet is taking us back to the markets of our ancestors, where conversation flows freely, where users share product information and advice without any intermediary. We set our own prices on eBay, choose our vendors, cut through the ad clutter by reading online reviews, and shun the ad-dominated TV [but that’s when the advertisers come after us and start inserting ads into our favorite shows. For an inside look at Madison Av’s wheeling and dealing, check out this free PBS documentary online, The Persuaders].

One example of a human-sounding business website that’s free of fluff and actually fun to read belongs to Fuse Pilates in Washington, DC. The site’s humorous and down-to-earth descriptions of teachers, classes and policies are the key reason I checked out their studio this past weekend, and, despite (or because of) the seething pain I’m currently experiencing, I was quite happy with it!

Markets are conversations, the Cluetrain Manifesto writers remind us. Lift the veil of secrecy from products and vows of silence from employees – that’s their advice.

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