Resurrecting the Armadillo

1999 was a crazy year for business on the Internet, and for Linux. It was when Red Hat went public, with a record valuation, and VA Linux followed with a bigger one. Both were cases in point of the dot-com boom, a speculative bubble inflated by huge expectations of what the Internet would mean for business.

In April of that year, Chris Locke, Rick Levine, David Weinberger and I put up a Web site called The Cluetrain Manifesto, attempting to make clear that the Internet was for everybody and everything, and not just for companies looking to exit into wealth on Wall Street.

Our bulls-eye was marketing, which spoke about users in terms that were barely human. "We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers", Cluetrain said. "We are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it."

We addressed Cluetrain to "People of Earth", built it around 95 theses (because that worked for Martin Luther) and called it a "manifesto" (because that worked for Karl Marx). The "Cluetrain" name came from an old Silicon Valley put-down: "The clue train stopped there four times a day and they never took delivery."

It was a hit. Volunteers translated it into 13 languages. The Wall Street Journal covered it on the front page of its Marketplace section. Book offers came in. We accepted one and wrote the book version of The Cluetrain Manifesto that summer. It came out in January 2000 and was a business bestseller, even though it could also be read for free on-line at the Cluetrain Web site. It went on to be published in nine languages, and still sells at a nice clip, 15 years later. Same goes for a 10th anniversary edition that came out in 2010.

Today the word cluetrain, which didn't exist before 1999, appears in thousands of books and is tweeted many times per day. One-liners from its list of theses—"Markets are conversations", "Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy"—are quoted endlessly. Not bad for an project that had no promotion, no budget, no conferences, no bumper stickers, no t-shirts and no interest in becoming a business or an institution. It was just a bunch of ideas people could put to use.

The biggest irony of Cluetrain's success is that most books that cite it are marketing books, and most tweets about it seem to be by marketing people. Is marketing better because of it? To some degree, I suppose. But I don't care. Nor do I care that Cluetrain is often credited with having something to do with social media. What I care about is that Cluetrain hasn't yet succeeded at its main mission: to make clear that the Internet is something more than the pipes we get it from, the "content" we find there, and the companies and governments that would have us think they run the thing.

So on August 2, 2014, when somebody pointed me to yet another Cluetrain story that failed to grok what it was really about, I wrote this to the other three guys: "I feel an urge to publish something that says 'The Cluetrain Manifesto was not about clearing the way for social media.'" David Weinberger wrote back, "Anyone ready for a new manifesto?" A few minutes later, he shared the first draft of one: a collection of theses, similar to the original in style and length. Chris Locke followed with a wordless image of a woman gleefully shooting thumbs-up images out of a machine gun. The rest of the back-and-forth was between David and me. (Chris and Rick stayed busy with other things.) The result was New Clues, which went up on January 8, 2015, at the original Cluetrain site: http://cluetrain.com/newclues.

New Clues was tuned for our time—one in which Internet usage has been migrating from wired to cellular connections, from the Web to apps, and from the Net's wide open spaces to the closed and proprietary walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google and other feudal lords. "An organ-by-organ body snatch of the Internet is already well underway", it says in the preamble. "Make no mistake: with a stroke of a pen, a covert handshake, or by allowing memes to drown out the cries of the afflicted we can lose the Internet we love."

One hundred and twenty one numbered clues follow, under thematic subheads:

  • The Internet is us, connected.
  • The Internet is nothing and has no purpose.
  • The Internet is not content.
  • The Net is not a medium.
  • How did we let conversation get weaponized anyway?
  • Marketing still makes it harder to talk.
  • Kumbiyah sounds surprisingly good in an echo chamber.
  • The Gitmo of the Net.
  • Gravity's great until it sucks us all into a black hole.
  • Privacy in an age of spies.
  • Privacy in an age of weasels.
  • A pocket full of homilies.
  • Being together: the cause of and solution to every problem.
We wanted to make New Clues, and every piece of it, as useful, mixable and remixable as possible. So every subhead and every clue has a link of its own.

The text is released to the public domain with a Creative Commons Zero 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication. In other words, no copyright at all. When asked for permission to republish New Clues, David replies, "You don't have our permission. Go ahead!"

The whole thing is on GitHub, with machine-readable versions (JSON, XML and OPML, so far). The GitHub folks also have offered to set up a way for us to maintain a single data file (YAML) that will automatically create all the other versions we need.

The results so far (I'm writing this a week after it went up) include:

Our only common design element between Cluetrain and New Clues is an armadillo. On Cluetrain's index page is the image shown in Figure 1 of a flattened armadillo in the middle of a road, painted over with yellow divider lines. The provenance of the photo is unknown to us. Chris Locke found it somewhere, and nobody has ever stepped forward to claim it.

Figure 1. Armadillo from Cluetrain's Index Page

The one for New Clues is shown in Figure 2. It was posted by e. res on Flickr and made useful by a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license. (The shot was taken at Alki Beach in Seattle, the town where Linux Journal was born.) For New Clues, we cropped the shot and made it black and white. For his listicle version, Dave Winer kept the color but darkened it.

Figure 2. New Clues Armadillo

Among the few criticisms of New Clues is that it's "not so disruptive" as Cluetrain was. For the last few years, Silicon Valley has been so gaga over disruption that it even has a conference named after it. The term comes from Clayton Christensen's work on disruptive innovation, which is defined as "a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors". This can apply to ideas as well as technologies. Cases in point: free software and open source. Both of which, of course, informed Cluetrain and New Clues.

Now the question is, Will it work? Or will it be, like so much else that gets published on the Web, snow on the water? Can't say, so soon after it's published. But the two publishing dates, a decade and a half apart, came at very different times on the Web, and we did our best to leverage both.

In 1999, the Web was a collection of almost physical places. You put up or built Web sites on domains with locations that people visited and browsed. Search engines might take days or weeks to index a page. But then, after blogs came along, with syndication through RSS, what my son Allen in 2003 described as "the Live Web" began to emerge. Technorati and other search engines for live stuff appeared. My October 2005 column in Linux Journal was titled "The World Live Web". In it I said the Live Web was "about time and people, rather than sites and content". This was a year before Twitter and Facebook took off, and search engines' time-to-index was reduced nearly to zero. Sites today are geysers of content, and the Live Web is a giant short-attention-span theater. What shows there is hyper-social and temporary in the extreme, made more for sharing than for saving.

This is why New Clues is a collection of stuff for sharing, presented atop an old chunk of bedrock, which is what Cluetrain has become. If we had only put it on Medium, or on Facebook, it would have come and gone in a week. As buzz, that's pretty much what it did. But as durable food for re-thinking what the Net is, and how we might lose it, maybe it will have lasting effects. Sure hope so.

Resources

Dot-Com Bubble: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dot-com_bubble

Chris Locke: http://rageboy.com

Rick Levine: https://twitter.com/ricklevine

David Weinberger: http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger

The Cluetrain Manifesto: http://cluetrain.com

The entire original text of The Cluetrain Manifesto: http://cluetrain.com/book

"What The Cluetrain Manifesto Teaches Us On Social Media...11 Years Later": http://visionarymarketing.com/en/blog/2010/02/what-the-cluetrain-manifesto-teaches-us-on-social-media-11-years-later

The Cluetrain Legacy and Social Media: http://www.chrisg.com/cluetrain-social-media

Invasion of the Body Snatchers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasion_of_the_Body_Snatchers

CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication: http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0

e. res on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/iamtheloop

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

Backchannel: New Clues: https://medium.com/backchannel/internet-under-fire-gets-new-manifests-207a922b459e

Steven Levy: http://www.stevenlevy.com

John Johnston: http://johnjohnston.info

German Translation: http://conceptbakery.de/blog/2015/01/11/new-clues-deutsche-uebersetzung-die-neuen-thesen-von-den-verfassern-des-cluetrain-manifest

Italian Translation 1: https://medium.com/bee-free-the-social-bee/cluetrain-15-anni-dopo-9d6b4def4d57

Italian Translation 2: https://medium.com/@nuovetesi/nuove-tesi-4a1def360351

Catalan Translation: https://ca.wikisource.org/wiki/New_clues

"New Clues: Calling on everyone to be Dutiful Individuals" by JP Rangaswami: http://confusedofcalcutta.com/2015/01/11/new-clues-calling-on-everyone-to-be-dutiful-individuals

Gillmor Gang: Kind of Clue: http://techcrunch.com/2015/01/10/gillmor-gang-kind-of-clue

Facebook Discussion Page: https://www.facebook.com/login.php?next=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fgroups%2Fnewclues%2F

Disrupt Conference: http://techcrunch.com/event-type/disrupt

Clayton Christensen: http://www.claytonchristensen.com

Disruptive Innovation: http://www.claytonchristensen.com/key-concepts

"Snow on the Water": http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/2014/08/03/snow-on-the-water

"The World Live Web" by Doc Searls in the October 2005 issue of LJ: http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/8549

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Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal