- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 9, 2000

Four men who wanted to turn the Internet world upside down have come up with a book, Web site and Martin Luther-style manifesto declaring that technology rules society.
Comparing the Internet to an ancient bazaar where relationships and back-and-forth bargaining are the rule, they say that American business and media, with their blaring ad campaigns, are as unsophisticated as using a megaphone at a cocktail party.
The quartet promote their ideas via www.cluetrain.com for those who need a "clue" about how business needs to interact with the 21st century.
On it, they posted up 95 "theses," after the famous 95 Theses the German reformer nailed to the Wittenberg church door in 1531. They were addressed to business leaders, asking them to take seriously the bottom-up non-hierarchical world of the Internet inhabited by 50 million Americans and roughly 150 million people worldwide.
Instead of fulminations against the pope and plenary indulgences, the "theses" were statements about how the Internet is reinventing culture and how business, followed by government, religion and education, must either get in line or die on the vine.
The authors, all of whom are in their late 40s or early 50s, swear they are not trying to start up a third millennial Reformation. Two of them were in Washington this week.
"Our experience is far from being burned at the stake," says Christopher Locke, 52, a Boulder, Colo., resident who showed up for an interview wearing a long ponytail and a tweed jacket. "It's been much more positive."
Indeed, he and co-author David Weinberger, a 49-year-old Bostonian, drew a standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,000 people Tuesday night for a question-and-answer session sent over the Web from the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. It was sponsored by Netpreneur Exchange, a Web site.
The other co-authors are Doc Searls, a San Franciscan who edits Linux Journal, and Rick Levine, co-founder of Mancala Inc., also in Boulder.
"Companies who spent billions on market research missed the Internet completely," Mr. Locke said. "The Net has changed market dynamics that could control huge flows of money."
Simply put, "The Cluetrain Manifesto" is about responding to a society where all are equals on the Internet, the world's prime spot for cheap information resources (data, content), cheap transport (phone wires and electric circuits) and efficient access to global know-how.
Building on the premise that people want to communicate more than they want to consume, the authors are pushing for a business world that allows employees to speak for themselves rather than staying "on message" with the company line; where customers can link directly with the department that can solve their problems instead of going through "customer service"; where a company's Web site can post criticisms from its competitors.
They cite as an example of forward thinking recent moves by Ford Motor Co. to give computers to its 350,000 employees worldwide and Delta Airlines in awarding computers or laptops to its 72,000 employees as a way to get workers listening in on trends.
"Business has deep pockets and is very paranoid on this stuff," Mr. Locke said. "They can respond faster than government, education or organized religion."
But sooner or later, those institutions too must learn how to work creatively with the Internet, where "time" is seven times the speed of normal time, where people wish to be persons rather than cogs. One example of the Net's raging individuality is chat rooms, which the authors term "CB radio on steroids."
But it's also unleashed creativity. One "brilliant" example of a Web site that interacts decently with people is Amazon.com, the authors said. Reason: It asks the readers what they thought of the books. Another is Western Digital, a computer hardware company that provides on-the-spot customer service through its Web site (www.wdc.com) with other customers listening in.
The media's top-down way of disseminating news will soon splinter in the face of the Web information explosion, they say.
"The public's desire for canonical, sanctified information is dropping," Mr. Weinberger said. "Everyone on the Web is a news source. There's a growing resistance to the cult of experts. On the Web, everyone wants to talk.
"People will sacrifice accuracy for passion," he said, adding that media maven Matt Drudge rode this desire to fame. "People are desperate for good stories by that, I mean narrative, not articles. Newspapers are so voiceless."

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