The Cluetrain Manifesto celebrates it’s 10th year these days. I never read it in it’s entirety, but it’s one of those books that just keep popping up over and over again. It’s written with a clearheaded, crisp and prophetic style, which demands attention, and if you’re the least bit interested in what happened and is happening with the internet, and how it affects our lives and businesses, it’s one of those books you have to read – at some point in your life. It’s freely available on the web, and there’s an anniversary edition coming out next month, so now is a good time, if you’re like me and haven’t already dived into it.
I was recently encouraged to sign up for a blogging event in which 95 bloggers each write a post on the same agreed date, April 28th, about one of the “95 theses” claimed by the book.
The Cluetrain Manifesto’s 95 theses is a clear reference to the 95 theses written by Martin Luther in 1517 and nailed to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church. Luther’s theses led to strong reactions. It gave voice to the discontents with the Catholic chuch, which were felt by high and low and sparked what later became known as the Reformation and several long and bloody European religious wars.
One thing that was key to Luther’s and his co-conspirators’ ability to appeal to and gain widespread support for their cause was the printing press. Invented around 1450 by Johann Gutenberg and others, it helped spread the ideas in pamphlets and books wide and far, with unprecedented speed and reach. The reformators had in the printing press a tool which helped mobilize support for their ideas in a new way. The churches and monasteries with their preachers and preservers of knowledge no longer poessessed the privilege of filtering information for the people. The monopoly was broken.
As much as there are differences between the media revolution in the 15th and 16th century and the electronic media revolution of our times, the reference is not far off. Like the printing press democratized information streams and made ideas accessible to people who otherwise would be prevented from receiving them, so do the digitally networked information economy connect people and offer access to unfiltered information. The exchange of utterings and data takes place on a truly unprecedented global scale, and we don’t know the true implications of what is going on. We are living it. Everywhere, the internet abolishes the filters of publishers, editors, executives, distributors, news reporters, politicians, dictators and others engaged in preparing our filtered digestion of news, entertainment, knowledge and ideas. The monopoly has been broken again.
Let’s just hope the next two hundred years won’t be as bloody as the two hundred years which followed Luther’s theses.
All the 95 theses of The Cluetrain Manifesto can be found here, but I had to pick just one for my Tuesday post. I picked this one :
93. We’re both inside companies and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down. We’re going to work from both sides to take them down.
After posting my article on the anatomy of Kaplak Stream I found this brilliant video featuring Dan “back of the napkin” Roam. Incredibly insightful stuff, about something we all can learn from and be a lot better at : visualizing and communicating our problems, visions and solutions. Please enjoy :
I’ve had a few days these past weeks where I’ve been kicked out by a fever and a sore throat. When you’re sick you’re not up to much. And when your 8-month daughter is sick too, it’s really no fun at all being sick, if that wasn’t enough.
On the bright side, this gave me some deserved time to finally get into Carsten Jensen‘s epic Vi, de druknede (in English, We, the Drowned, appearing later this year). I’ve been looking forward to reading this novel for a long time since it was first published in 2006, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.
It is an epic about the history of a 100 years from 1848-1945, not through the eyes of kings or generals, but from the perspective of the sailor, the adventurer, the flogged, the fugitive, the runaway, the outcast, the drowned (in all kinds of meanings of that word), and the wives and children who were left behind without being asked, all native to Marstal, a Danish port town on the island Ærø. With the obvious exception of the shrunken head of James Cook, which figures prominently in book. The novel leaves one with a few interesting perspectives on things global and local, which is inspiring, not least in the context of the global internet, and in the context of Kaplak.
In a Danish context the novel is not exactly marginal. It received rave reviews and has been extensively marketed by it’s publisher and by booksellers, and has sold well. In this sense, it is an industrial product, mass produced and sold via traditional book selling channels. The book’s IP (i.e. translation and distribution rights etc.) has been sold to more than a handful of other countries.
On the global web, however, the novel is a marginal niche product. It exists at the mercy of search and an exponential growth of information on the web. In this sense it faces precisely the same challenges as a completely unknown novel by a completely unknown author, if it wants to move beyond the local context and use the internet as a marketing or distribution channel. Like many similar products, Vi, de druknede has it’s own website, but to find it one almost has to search for the book’s exact title. At least, one doesn’t find it by searching for the author’s name, which was my first choice, because apparently Carsten Jensen doesn’t have his own website! The first hit is to an architect of the same name, and another to a LinkedIn profile for a CEO with the same name. And Carsten Jensen is even supposedly the most prominent “Carsten Jensen” in a Danish context, which would lead one to think that he had a greater amount of links pointing to information about him and thus a higher Google PageRank. The most authoritative (international) source on Carsten Jensen remains a stub on Wikipedia.
Even if one does manage to find the book’s website, one will find that it is only available in Danish. Apparently the publisher has thought only about using the global internet for targeting the book to a Danish audience, even if the book rights have long since been sold to a number of other countries. This of course just underpins the status of the novel as an industrial product, which seeks to appeal to a national, mainstream audience. An English reader will learn more from this article, which appears as the second hit, when one searches for keywords such as marstal + sailors.
As a niche product, Carsten Jensen’s novel doesn’t fare much better on the web than most niche products, despite local rave reviews and traditional marketing campaigns via conventional channels. It is as less or as much seen, as it has customers who search for it. Making this easier for potential readers has apparently been of very little concern to the publisher, if one takes this superficial analysis at face value.
We, the drowned is an obvious metaphor for all the unanswered queries of the web. When writing this article I had to find out what a “shrunken head” was in English. It is easy when you know it, but how do you show a search engine what you mean? I knew the Danish word, “skrumpehoved”, but finding the English term was pretty tricky. Kaplak doesn’t have any ambitions for creating new or more intelligent ways to search, but we do think the activity of our network will likely help generate more relevant and context-rich web results, which will more likely cover a much much longer tail of niche interests and pursuits, than is the case today.
Nicolas Carr has written an in-depth analysis of Google and the implications of the company’s rapid growth and business style, which is well worth the read. It is a clearheaded and concise piece, which is a must read for anyone with even the slightest interest in Google’s business model. Here’s an excerpt :
The way Google makes money is actually straightforward: It brokers and publishes advertisements through digital media. More than 99 percent of its sales have come from the fees it charges advertisers for using its network to get their messages out on the Internet. [...]
For Google, literally everything that happens on the Internet is a complement to its main business. The more things that people and companies do online, the more ads they see and the more money Google makes. In addition, as Internet activity increases, Google collects more data on consumers’ needs and behavior and can tailor its ads more precisely, strengthening its competitive advantage and further increasing its income. As more and more products and services are delivered digitally over computer networks — entertainment, news, software programs, financial transactions — Google’s range of complements is expanding into ever more industry sectors.
Carr’s latest book The Big Switch came out earlier this month (January 7th), and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m curious if there’s a level in the book beyond the dreary dystopic visions of a future beyond our control, which is a dominating theme in many of the reviews I’ve managed to trawl tonight.
At first mention, I have difficulty swallowing Carr’s notion of a World Wide Computer. Yes, it is true we leave information everywhere about ourselves and our online behaviour patterns whenever we use the internet, and companies (such as Google) are able to collect and analyze a lot of all this data. What’s critical IMHO, is not that this data is available and can be analyzed by individuals as well as companies, but that the means of creating the technological architectures of it’s control are as widely distributed as possible (as well as, which follows, the tools and methods of collecting, analyzing and consuming the data produced by these architectures). Which is why open source software, or more importantly free software, is so important, and why the use and spread of open file formats (as opposed to proprietary formats) should be as widely encouraged as possible by policy makers.
I also have some difficulty with the idea (in the excerpt) that everything happening on or with the internet is somehow beneficial to Google. At a superficial level, Carr is right, new websites is the lifeblood of Google, but the same lifeblood may choke the company, if it doesn’t develop methods of finetuning or reforming search as a method. Google as well as other search engines face an unprecedented growth in the amount of accessible information globally which presents great difficulties for search fundamentally as a method of finding information, at least as any kind of general purpose tool. Anyone who in recent years has experienced lousier and lousier search results can testify to this.
On a related note, I’d like to highly recommend David Vise’s The Google Story for anyone who’d like an enjoyable introduction to the amazing story of the rise of an amazing company – also available in a convenient audio format.