Markets as Conversations

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"In The Cluetrain Manifesto (2001), Doc Searls, editor of Linux Journal, and David Weinberger, fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, examined the competing interests of "business as usual" and online communities that are home to mainly personal-journal and filter-type communications. Searls and Weinberger suggest businesses take a "markets-as-conversations" approach in adapting to the demands of emerging online communities. That is, they recommend veering away from business strategies that treat online communities as targets. This shift in approach from markets as targets to markets as conversations parallels public relations theory that calls for building collaborative relationships with publics rather than targeting them.

Searls and Weinberger argue that traditional corporate messaging is less interesting and less relevant to online publics because traditional corporate marketers show little care for the people who make up the markets. Rather, corporate voices sound more like profit-driven machinery than real people engaged in two-way conversations. According to these critics, corporate Web sites that look like corporate brochures (i.e., brochureware) are a visible symptom of an ineffective markets-as-targets communication strategy." (


The following is a critique of that notion:

"Markets are commercial activities, marked by competition and a transaction of some kind involving an exchange of something of supposed economic value. They are zero-sum transactions in the sense that if one competitor gets the sale, the others don't. Perhaps they're net-negative sum in that regard. The transaction between buyer and seller is supposed to be net win-win, but I think the economic evidence suggests that one side wins more than the other. Said economic evidence being the concentration of wealth into an ever smaller fraction of the population.

Conversations are social activities which, in the main, are not usually marked by competition. Transactions usually involve the exchange of attention, and they are non-zero sum, except when competition enters the picture and some people are excluded from the conversation." (

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