This Train is Bound for Glory

When I first got redirected to the Cluetrain Manifesto I was put off by the cutesy "People of Earth" salutation, and the 95 theses which could easily have been tucked into a much shorter bullet list. I mean, the Reformation was about matters of the Ultimate, not the latest innovation in commerce. (Sometime later, I got the clue that the salutation was borrowed from the 1951 classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, which makes me like it more. Klatu barata nikto and all that.)

The suggestion, of course, is that this latest innovation of commerce, which we've adopted "faster than any technology since fire" has the potential to be as earthshaking as the Reformation. We shall see.

Prompted to look again by hanging out in the alleys off of www.weblogs.com and scripting.com and Doc Searls' (one of the book authors) site, I also stumbled on an easy opportunity to check it out from the library.

Chapter 1 is available on the web, appropriately enough. I read it last night, and enjoyed it (in spite of the book's too small, and too light font choices, ah well).

Of course I was in agreement with a lot of it, even as I kept poking and prodding at the claims and observations to look for flaws and things that I disagreed with. But in chapter two, I was rather surprised to stumble on a more direct image of myself:

We may still have to behave properly in meetings, but increasingly the real work of the corporation is getting done by quirky individuals who meet on the Web, net the two-hour committee meeting down to two lines (one of which is obscene and the other wickedly funny), and then -- in a language and rhythm unique to them -- move ahead faster than the speed of management.

Ok, a little bit of funhouse distortion there; I don't tend toward obscenity, in part because of a little incident that happened when I was interviewing for a job about ten years ago. Halfway through a day of interviews with the whole group I'd be joining, one of them let out that "they'd read what I wrote in News" (a.k.a. usenet, one of the intranet-only groups).

Of course, my first reaction was to think "Oh my god, which unguarded moment did they catch me in?" My second was to understand that online writing can have much greater distribution and permanence than I might hope, given how much careful thought I'd put it in to some of the things I said.

I don't know how often I get to wickedly funny, either, but I do have enough spare time during meetings to take notes of some of the sidebars and quirky body language that as "professionals" we're supposed to somehow not notice. Rather like a fart while early dating. (That's not obscene is it?)

And "faster than the speed of management"? I'm sure Weinberger is having a little fun there. I mean, management is orthogonal to speed: it enables workers to accomplish things, it doesn't accomplish anything on its own. That's not denigration, necessarily. Management is needed (I've had to do some myself, of all things), it's just not direct action.

In a meeting today, one of the managers seemed to be off his feed. This fellow often isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but today he was even slower than usual, and he wasn't responding to one of the terms of art I used about the topic at hand. I was mystified, as I've been hearing about and occasionally working on the feature in question for the better part of a year, in meetings with him, and today he was acting like he'd never heard of it.

I struggled to describe it in different ways, to get the light to come on, but it wasn't working. I used an analogy to get him to acknowledge "ion milling," saying it was "like an e (electron) gun," in that it operated in a line-of-sight, rather than diffusely.

"An electron isn't an ion," he said, and proceeded to explain just how these two species differed. Pardon me if this is all Greek to you, but if someone doesn't know the difference between an ion and an electron after going through engineering school, we got trouble.

I stared at him, probably slackjawed, and dumbstruck. Fortunately, I maintained "proper behavior" and didn't say anything, and a couple ticks later somebody else said "ion machining," and it came back to him.

These are the kind of observations I used to keep to myself, sometimes hint at in handwritten notes, filed away safe in a mess of other documents that weren't interesting enough for anyone to mine.

When it came to me that the memo was dead, and I set up a webserver and started writing HTML-formatted reports with vi, I didn't anticipate that I'd soon be sending casual essays around the world (within the firewall), to anyone interested to request them. Here it is half a decade later (I've graduated to vim), and I'm further afield. (Further ahead? Can't say.)

The fellow in question may have missed the train, but the culture will move the next generation down the tracks, one way or the other. The Manifesto's writing is an amusing travel book for some, lightning bolts of insight for others (I don't know "them" personally), and an odd treatise in a foreign language to still others. Give it a whirl, it won't hurt.

August 10, 2000

Blow by blow

Now that I've finished the thing, and taken some notes, here's more.

The seems to be the ultimate insider's book, "us vs. them," the cluefull chuckling about the clueless. Or, the cluefull rage against the machine, corporate management, and global consumerist culture. I get the sense that the four authors shared editorial responsibility; perhaps an illustration of the potential shortcomings of consensus management.

David Weinberger's first solo, "The longing" posits that the web is for "finding our voice," mystico-religious breaking out of the "managed world." A public place where individuals interact - the new marketplace.

Levine's contribution, the chapter "Talk is Cheap," is mostly descriptive, showing how "real conversation" has become a new sort of craft argument, in the multiple media of email, mailing lists, Usenet, chat, and web pages. "Online markets will talk about companies whether they like it or not." So, companies need to get with it, get real.

Minds are limited
Minds hate confusion
Minds are insecure
Minds don't change
Minds lose focus

From The New Positioning

Doc Searls and Weinberger combine for "Markets are Conversations," a look inside marketing and how Jack Trout's vision in his book The New Positioning has been expressed in mass marketing: the corporate versus human voice, "0:1 marketing" as machine voices try to grab our attention, and employees coming to the rescue of corporations by being human, interacting with customers against the grain of the org chart. They (or just Searls?) plan to expand this chapter into a book of its own, and it should be a good one.

Weinberger returns with "The Hyperlinked Organization," outlining and elaborating on the way "hyperlinks subvert hierarchy," by decentralized, speeded up, direct, rich, borderless (and broken) access.

By chapter 6, when Locke returns (with Weinberger, then on his own for the finale), his rageboy persona is a bit more forward, and the book needed more editorial attention. I would not have let him have both the opening and closing chapters. It doesn't take a whole chapter to tell us "there are no easy answers," and the weight of self-conscious irony gets dangerous when we learn that

Increasingly, we value only two qualities:

Assuming, of course, a post-industrial context with ample, high-quality and low cost manufactured goods for the mundane elements of subsistence, maintaining our network connections, and local delivery.

August 22, 2000

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Tuesday, 05-Mar-2002 21:34:42 MST
http://www.fortboise.org/cluetrain.html