I’ve been reading The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger. I’d heard of it before, but decided to take a closer look when it was recommended by Alex Hillman of IndyHall. It’s an outgrowth of the website of the same name, with its 95 Theses of the new paradigm heralded by the web. Although it’s focused on the implications of the web for business, its dominant theme is really all about how the web enables authentic voices and meaningful connections.
Its biggest drawback is that it was published way, way back in the year 2000 – eons ago in Internet time. But, as I read it, it still seemed fresh and interesting, and didn’t seem out of date, until we “... take a tour of the various conversational modalities the Net offers”: e-mail, mailing lists, newsgroups, chat and web pages”. Let’s call these “Group A”; they are all great and unprecedentedly important tools which have dramatically empowered people by liberating their voices and making possible fluid, dynamic and serendipitous human connections.
But what feels dramatically and profoundly missing, what hadn’t been invented (or at least weren’t popularized) back in those olden days, are blogs, podcasts, videoblogs, Twitter, social bookmarks, YouTube, Flickr, Slideshare, Craig’s List, much of what passes for “social networking” and much, much more. These are “Group B”.
The absence of Group B tools in the book struck me harder than I would have expected. Group A tools are not out-of-date clunkers; they are all mainstays of the cyberworld. And in retrospect, it certainly seems like Group B represents a natural progression and evolution of empowering Group A communication tools. But on the other hand, something about Group B feels deeply and profoundly different.
So, what’s different about them? All I come up with at the moment is that, when you speak through the tools in Group A (except for “web pages”), you have some degree of sense and control over who the audience is. Sure, it’s likely you don’t know all the readers in your mailing lists or newsgroups (and not knowing much or most of the audience is a critical part of their value). But, you likely have some sense of who the audiences are, because each mailing list, newsgroup or chat channel has some sort of name, identity, purpose. And you have some control over who hears your message, at least to the extent of being able to quit one mailing list or join another.
But Group B tools enjoy an audience of the whole world. Put out a blog post (like this one), or a Flickr pic or even a Craig’s List listing, and anyone can see it, link to it, love it, hate it. These newer tools carry voices anywhere, everywhere. Sure, groups of audience do emerge (a Twitterer has a certain number of followers; a podcast has a certain group of RSS subscribers). But these “groups” form even more dynamically, organically and unpredictably than the groups who subscribe to a mailing list or newsgroup.
Relatively speaking, a newsgroup is a silo. A blog is an open door.
But I don’t think this quite captures it. What am I missing? What do you think?