Cluetrain Manifesto

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José Van Dijck and David Nieborg:

"One of the earliest manifestoes hailing the “newconomy” of the internet, was Christopher Locke’s A Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual published in print in 2000. If we look at this manifesto through Janet Lyon’s rhetorical looking glass as well as through Turner’s historical eyes, we can identify some relevant features typifying this genre. Cluetrain announces a radical change in the way corporations are conducting their business: the Net is “crafting tools and communities, new ways of speaking, new ways of working, new ways of having fun” and “people by the millions are discovering how to negotiate, cooperate, collaborate—to create, to explore, to enjoy themselves.” The pamphlet urges managers to think twice: many major corporations are already changing their organizations to incorporate formerly countercultural ideals, as a structural makeover is imminent and inevitable. Cluetrain is indeed a document of demand, rather than of reason. Its language is short, apodictic, fact-stating rather than fact-finding, matter-of-factly rather than persuasive:

“All talk of revolution notwithstanding, the struggle is already largely over. It's genuinely tough to find anyone who will stand up and defend the standard traditional conventional old-school way in which "everyone knows" business should be conducted.”

The universality of the ideal Christopher Locke and his co-authors champion overrides previous ideologies which contained at best partial truths. In the world ruled by a new generation of web-users, businesses adapt to the creativity of its users, and common users are taken seriously as content producers. This ideology will be good for business and thus replace business as usual: companies dictating consumer needs and demands. It is interesting to notice how this manifesto, written well before the Web 2.0 wave really took off, needs to resort to “imaginary” imperatives to prove their claims:

“Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge. Imagine a world where what you gave away was more valuable than what you held back, where joy was not a dirty word, where play was not forbidden after your eleventh birthday. Imagine a world in which the business of business was to imagine worlds people might actually want to live in someday. Imagine a world created by the people, for the people not perishing from the earth forever.”

The authors present themselves as visionary realists; the manifesto carefully crafts web-based interaction as a communal effort that is already well on its way to becoming an established practice in everyday life. Seven chapters of the book are full of casual observations on how Big Business has been ignoring the needs of the common people and how the new web economy is now creating the biggest business opportunity ever for corporations. “We”, the people who work in web-based communities, are both producers and consumers of cultural goods, so businesses better start paying attention to these communities because they are busy pulling the rug out under their conventional structures. The language of Cluetrain is full of conversational interjections, foregrounding a profuse “we” as the common brick layers of a silent revolution—ordinary, well-thinking human beings who are intent on changing the world for the better.

Cluetrain perfectly illustrates the genre features Lyon identifies for manifestoes in general; in hindsight, it is one of the precursors of Web 2.0 manifestoes calling for the unproblematic merger of countercultural ideals and the “new” economy. If we look at more recent Web 2.0 manifestoes, such as Wikinomics and We-think, it’s easy to see how they are still structured by universal claims, revolutionary urgency, and inclusive pronouns, and yet these manifestoes are more sophisticated in terms of rhetorical refinement and persuasive tactics; their universal truths are supported by specific examples and the triumphant tone of an already won revolution is frequently embroidered by elaborate tales of success. In order to refine the armamentarium of rhetorical analysis as it applies to Web 2.0 manifestoes, we will now scrutinize some of the most poignant claims underpinning the triumphant ideology of “wikinomics” and “we-think”. By celebrating a perfect match between producers and users, commerce and commons, creativity and consumerism, the authors smoothly turn the alignment of countercultural ideals with mainstream business interests into a hegemonic ideology supported by the masses." (

Source: Wikinomics and its discontents: a critical analysis of Web 2.0 business manifestos. By José Van Dijck and David Nieborg (University of Amsterdam [1]