I bought a copy of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” from a used book store a few months ago and have been reading it lately. The book was published in 2000 and deals with how companies need to learn to honestly communicate with customers and employees via this “new” web technology.
Much of the book is still relevant 12 years later, although there’s definitely been a move in that time by corporations to get this Wild West of a Web tamed in a manner that benefits corporations more than regular web users. (A discussion that far exceeds the limits of what I want to talk about here.)
Twelve years in terms of computer tech and the web is practically an eternity (the only eternity I’ve been able to live through), so what’s fun to pick out of the book is what has changed, including two big things.
On page 102, there’s an introduction to a section on finding the voice of a corporation, which includes the following:
“Corporations don’t have voices. They don’t have mouths to speak with, or hands to type with, or body language to betray their real intentions, or eyebrows to punctuation a joke. Corporations are legal fictions.”
That state of affairs was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2010 with the Citizens United case, which granted that corporations had as much right to free speech as an individual in the United States. Citizens United (which is short for Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission) has led to the advent of Super PACs that allow companies to throw as much money as they want into backing candidates and political issues without transparency. In order to point out the ridiculousness of the decision, Stephen Colbert started his own Super PAC and has regularly had his lawyer on to discuss how it works.
Having read this section of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” post Citizens United, a voice in my head asked, “How would the authors write this section today?”
Another item that would now need editing, but likely only a one-word edit, is the following statement on page 128:
“In fact, the single most-visited site on the Web, Yahoo!, derives almost all of its value not from what it contains but from what it points to.”
Can you guess what word might replace Yahoo!?
While Google was around in 2000, it was nowhere near the powerhouse it is today.
It’s fascinating to see these historical changes take place within the span of a decade, rather than trying to figure out everything that’s changed since the publication of a 100-year-old book. The changes are still within my memory.