David Weinberger is co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the bestseller that cut through the hype and told business what the Web was really about. We spoke with David about conversations on the social Web and how marketers can get it right.
Here is the discussion guide for our conversation (prepared by Michael Krigsman):
- Tell us briefly about your professional background
The Cluetrain Manifesto
- What is The Cluetrain Manifesto?
- How did it come into being?
- What mattered to you, back in 1999, when you wrote the book?
- What are the key lessons?
- What is the true soul of the Internet?
- So, connection is more important or valuable than commerce?
- Why do you view the Internet as most importantly a human system rather than a technical one?
- Why do you care so much about this?
- Cluetrain in a sense is anti-marketing, yet marketers have adopted, or perhaps co-opted it.
- What are the implications of that?
- Is that a bad thing at all?
- What was your goal by stating the old clues and the new clues?
The original clues
- Some of the clues have an almost spiritual dimension. For example, “the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.” This almost sounds Buddhist. Was that your intention?
- Markets are conversations.
- Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
- What does this mean and what are the implications?
- These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
- As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
- People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
- There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
- What are the implications of these clues? You have predicted the rise of empowered consumers.
- Companies attempting to "position" themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.
- Why? Doesn’t conventional wisdom suggest that companies and politicians should take whatever stand is popular rather than lead with their own position?
- Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
- What is the inevitable?
The new clues
- Why did you update the clues?
- What is the point of the new clues?
- What is the Internet?
- There is great content on the Internet. But holy mother of cheeses, the Internet is not made out of content.
- How were conversations “weaponized”?
- Why were disappointed in the Web in 2015, prompting you to write a new set of clues?
- What do you talk about “taking back the Internet”?
- Taking it back from what?
- Tell about personal information and personalized data?
- What is the role of trust?
- Also: Please stop dressing up ads as news in the hope we'll miss the little disclaimer hanging off their underwear.
- When you place a "native ad," you're eroding not just your own trustworthiness, but the trustworthiness of this entire new way of being with one another.
- And, by the way, how about calling "native ads" by any of their real names: "product placement," "advertorial," or "fake fucking news"?
- Tell us your real feelings about this
- Support the businesses that truly "get" the Web. You'll recognize them not just because they sound like us, but because they're on our side.
- Sure, apps offer a nice experience. But the Web is about links that constantly reach out, connecting us without end. For lives and ideas, completion is death. Choose life.
- Anger is a license to be stupid. The Internet's streets are already crowded with licensed drivers.
- Live the values you want the Internet to promote.
- If you've been talking for a while, shut up. (We will very soon.)
- You are a philosopher by training. Is the Cluetrain Manifesto a philosophical view or a book about the Internet?
Closing thoughts / advice
- What do marketers need to know?
- What do politicians need to know?
- What do Internet users need to know?
Video Transcript: Advice to marketers from The Cluetrain Manifesto: Author David Weinberger
(00:03) Hello, welcome to episode 101 of CXO-Talk. I’m Michael Krigsman and I am here with my glorious co-host Vala Afshar. Vala how are you?
(00:16) Michael I’m doing great and thank you for asking.
(00:20) And today we are live talking to David Weinberger, who is the author of a very well-known book called the Cluetrain Manifesto. David, how are you today.
(00:33) I’m you know okay.
(00:38) Only okay? You’re in Brookline only on the Brookline.
(00:42) You want me to lie? I am great Michael. I’ve never been better, the peak of my powers. Man-o-man it is just fantastic. I should also mention as you know Michael, I’m the co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto.
(01:00) Yes and I apologize for that. So David let’s jump in, tell us about the Cluetrain Manifesto. What is it, why you wrote it, a little bit of your professional background just to give some content?
(01:14) I’m sorry, I snort at the concept that I have a professional background. So four of us wrote the Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999 after we had been speaking together for about maybe a year of conversations that seemed to have focused on our shared dismay in which the internet was being described by the media and what businesses were generally making of it.
(01:46)Over and over and over again, the media talked about it in terms of publications as a new way of publishing, because that what, you know media do. And businesses were really excited about it because there was lots of people on it, but they were pretty convinced, generally with businesses that this was a cheaper way of doing the whole thing. So it was great for catalog for publishing and you know the lower edge for advertising.
(02:10)And the four of us had been on the web for a while and we though just like everybody on the web, knew that this was just foolishness and these were wrong understandings and we wanted to try to explain what we thought the web was about and why it was actually important. So we did and we ended up with a manifesto of 95 theses which we intended to be a sort of snarky – snarky’s not the right word, and madeglorious reference to prior manifesto my theses that was addressed at my business and sort of indirectly at the media trying to make the case- trying to say what everybody on the web knew which was we’re not there to be catalog shopping, not there because we became information researchers and we wanted to spend six hours doing that.
(03:03) We were there because it was a place where we could connect with other people, there’s primarily a social space and where we could talk about what mattered to us, not what mattered to businesses or to broadcasters and we could do so in our own voice.
(03:18)So we tried to express this social reason of the web to articulate a vision of it and that’s why we share among the people who were out in the street so to speak on the web having a good time.
(03:32) So essentially five years before Facebook you recognised that the social and collaborative benefits of the internet. I mean what mattered to you back in 1999 when you decided to write the book, was it the fact that you could connect with other likeminded individuals and collaborate and view it as a powerful social tool?
(03:55) Yes, that was at the heart of it, as I say we thought and I still think that we were articulating something that was widely understood. The people who were on the web at that point and still now, did not view themselves as markets or targets or marketers. We were not there for that reason at all. I think there was something else going on as well.
(04:23) I’m a little reluctant to talk for the other three although I thought the other three co-authors, ”Doc” Searls, Chris Locke and Rick Levine but I will, I think they’ll be okay with this. I think we had a hope and to some degree still do that the web was also in many ways a new beginning for how we can, as a culture get some things right that we had been getting wrong.
(04:53)And it was a more democratizing environment that enabled connection above separation that it would enable transformations that were already under way – and they’re still underway in fields as widely diverse as government, journalism and education and libraries and you name it – the recording industry.
(05:23)There’s a chance to get some things right by being more human than being connected in more human ways.
(05:27) So your view was in a sense seeing what the possibilities were and at the same time seeing how those open pastures so to speak could be and maybe at that time were beginning to be co-opted basically by large marketing forces with budgets and so forth were other agendas and wanting to put a stake in the ground about what those positive possibilities could be.
(06:00) Well almost. So as I recall Michael and begin a sentence with as I recall, what that actually means that there’s a 94% chance I’m wrong!
(06:10) As I recall Michael, I’ll speak for myself, I didn’t feel that marketers were encroaching, but marketers were making fools for themselves. They so little understood how the internet worked and their attempts to impose upon it were just embarrassing, just ridiculous.
(06:39) Now, 16 years later and as we just said mainly marketers have gotten way to good at it, so we need to be vigilant in order to preserve what the internet and the web started out as. Back then, marketers were basically clowns and they didn’t know how to do this at all. Now they now all know too well from my point of view.
(07:13) So you know at the time I believe the theses was the essence of the story is that the markets are getting smaller and smarter and faster, so when you look at the internet, there’s a question, what is the soul of the internet?
(07:34)That’s an excellent question. I’m sorry I laughed at your question.
(07:42) Listen, this is CXOTalk, that’s what we do.
(07:46) I’m sorry, I’m laughing in my own face. So what (unclear of the name sounds like ? Frank 07:51) said I still agree with about markets and about most other things as well, I think we’ve got a whole bunch of stuff right and some serious things wrong as well.
(08:03)So probably the most famous line from Cluetrain, and usually we don’t tribute who wrote which line, but “Do” Searls gets credit, it’s his line. So the line is, ‘Markets are conversations.”
(08:22)So this was less about the sort of fragmentation of markets and too smaller niches that could be addressed although that’s very important piece of it. But I think at the heart of what the Cluetrain was saying about marketing –
(08:36) Sorry, the Cluetrain was not only about marketing and not even only about business. But what I said about marketing and marketing conversations is marketing had been the product of the broadcast error, which is like all of them. All through Western history or close to it, where a few people get to speak and everybody else gets to listen because that’s just the way the media worked. It was inevitable.
(09:02) So marketing became a form of broadcast, which a message is sent out to some markets – some demographic. But it turns out when you think about it, markets in those old days were not infact markets. They were not real things. They were some demographic slice that was decided upon because it was believe that everybody with in that demographic and was susceptible to the same message and that’s how you divide up.
(09:35) But there is no connection with those people. You know 18 to 24 year old urban males or whatever it is – 50 to 65 grey haired, balding. We don’t know each other. It maybe that if you devise a massage it will repeat it and it will get us to do what we didn’t want us to do to buy your stuff, but there is no actual market there. There is no there yet. But in the age of the internet when we want to talk about something that we’re interested in buying, or something we have bought, even back in 1999, you would go out on the web and find other people.
(10:18)People who have bought it, people who will know about it.it’s anything of any value of interests. it’s a new camera, a new washing machine or a car. And you want to know – I love this car. Well the Mini, it looks so great, but would it work in a Boston winter? The last place you’re going to go is to Mini Cooper and ask them or to your Mini Cooper dealer who will just lie and say, ‘Yeah, the misses has one and she drives it all winter. Remember that snowfall we up there, and she was driving through it, the snow was over the roof. Fantastic!’They would just lie in your face in order to tell you. So the business has become the least reliable source of information about its own products and services.
(10:52)And instead, ‘we’ the collective we of people on the web have become the best source, and this is absolutely true, because I did have this question. You will find a set of people who are on the web, and you can easily find them are talking about their Mini this past winter. You know and they will generally tell you the truth.
(11:13)Now one of the problems is that the marketers are very good at imitating people and so the medium has become less trustworthy and for that, marketers ought to rot in hell. When you take a medium and make it less trustworthy, that’s a very socially bad thing to do. You’re degrading trust in a very important domain.
(11:35)Put that to the side, markets of conversations means that the power has slipped from the business as the central and best source of information about its own products that have gone from there to us the customers, who are in simple conversation with one and other.
(11:52) You know, so is Cluetrain Manifesto a description about markets and the promise of the Internet, or is it an expression of the philosophical point of view? I mean some of the things you say sound almost Buddhist in nature.
(12:15) I’ll leave aside the Buddhist peace and well, I’m surprised that would be interesting. So we wrote the website, 1999 and in 2000 the four of us wrote a book called The Cluetrain Manifesto and the book expands upon themes obviously. And it is very much the case, it is explicitly the case that the four of us thought to both the manifesto and the book as taking what we believe to be the soul of the Internet, so the common truth that everybody on the web already knew.
(12:57) And applying it within the business domain, but we were pretty convinced in what we were saying about business, also applied for more broadly and we talked a bit about that in the book. Because so many of our domains of our life and beyond business, and beyond media are in fact dominated by and shipped by the restrictions and limitations of old broadcast media. It’s certainly true in government where you have candidates who very explicitly adopted broadcast the marketing, one to many marketing, a single message simplified and shaped for demographics and pushed through a medium.
(13:46) I mean that’s how politics is works and and the way that government has worked and education, and field after field after field is shaped by either the broadcast medium or buy as you say Michael, the philosophy that is inherent in a broadcast medium.
(14:08) So you know, my background is in philosophy, I have a Ph.D. in philosophy which I have not used in you know 25 years, but it makes me nervous to call it philosophy but I will because there are actual (philosophers they will know this thing 14:21?)
(14:23)There is in the broadcast medium there is a certain broad set of values and principles and stuff that one could call philosophy. In having to do for example with the role of experts, the elevation of experts as people who have special authority because of their expertise and what they know, but also because of the credentialing system that backs them up.
(14:51) Inheriting has been, and let’s stick with experts for the moment, the idea that an expert generally in the old days has value as an node, a single individual because of the content his education in the old days or her head, it was a sort of content container-based view of knowledge and expertise, which matches perfectly at not accidentally in the way we think about books, which are the containers of content produced by experts and also validate the experts.
(15:26) So I mean as a McLuhan sort of person and I actually took a course of McLuhan and that shows you how old I am. I actually took a seminar of McLuhan in the mid-1970s, but I am far of a McLuhan expert. I mean a McLuhan person thinks that medium shapes our experience and our philosophy to think that the old paper-based mass broadcast media have had an enormous and profound effect on how we think about who we are and the world works. Sorry that was a long ramble but usually with philosophy I get to ramble, so go ahead.
(16:02) But what is it that you actually want? Because writing this book and your point of view, because, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like your kind of pining for the older better days of the Internet. You know, in fact when there was only a few of us on and we shared the same values because there were so few of us. So what is it that you’re actually looking for?
(16:32)So you’ve actually expressed it. I am pining for the old days of the Internet, which makes me as the old man who yells at Cloud and it’s pathetic and I totally agree with you. I am and so lately pathetic. I am still in the old days of the Internet where we thought and hoped that the Internet would provide a new beginning in a whole range of domains and this beginning would reflect values – on the one hand I will say, they are core Western values, sort of Western liberal values, not in the literal sense but in the classic sense.
(17:20) Or, I could just sort of boil down and you know blurb about the truth, which is an old set of hippy values. This is my cohort which are ex-hippies and in the summer of love I was 17 I think – too young for the summer of love. It was the summer of summer camp I believe for me.
(17:42) Nevertheless, my cohort are old hippies who have maintained some of the old hippy values about truth and authenticity and human connection, and democracy. And some level of hostility – an unwarranted hostility towards corporations and towards marketing, and all of that is I think behind the scenes on its crest on Cluetrain and much of the thinking and writing for my cohort in general. So oh yeah, absolutely pining for the old days.
(18:18) We have a question from Twitter from a gentleman named Christopher Kelly, and he asks do you believe Malcolm Granville beliefs that 10,000 hours is needed to become an expert on anything.
(18:34) No, I think even giving considerable leeway to the 10,000, there is clearly a core of truth in this that it takes a lot of work in some fields to be an expert. But it holds out that I think is a false hope. In some ways I think it’s intended to be a sobering slap that you are not going to be an expert if you didn’t put in the 10,000 and what do you think you’re going to do, old man shouts at Cloud yells at Cloud.
(19:01) Do you think you can be an expert without in order to play the violin without practicing for 10,000 hours? Yeah, that’s true. But the notion that you get to be an expert if you do practice for 10,000 hours, I don’t see any reason to actually believe that.
(19:16)Some things are really hard to get good at and you need a lot of time to do it and that’s for sure.
(19:23) That’s for sure, so the view of the Internet is mostly a human system rather than a technical one. With social networking help validate that statement?
(19:32) Yes. In its own way I think it does. The fact that we leapt into a fundamentally new way of relating to one another – in some ways, fundamentally is too sharp, but really sort of weird environment in that the norms were connecting within Facebook or made up or sometimes they mirror or sometimes they are new because of the you know, it’s all very strange and weird in many ways. And yet this the Internet overall is the fastest adoption curve in human history may be since fire.
(20:11)And social networking, let’s say Facebook as well, it’s just astounding. From my point of view, being the ageing pathetic hippy that I am, the fact that the web comes along and the web knows how to connect pages. Really really good at that and it’s a gift from Tim Berners-Lee, no packing, no copyright, just use it. Open protocols and it’s not even an application, right. It’s a set of protocols by which – if you want to write your own browser, go ahead, as long as you follow the protocols, that is the way you push information back and forth and the way the information is wrapped up and that sort of stuff.
(20:48) As long as you follow those open protocols, you can build your own browser, you can build your own web server, you know however you want. It’s totally open.
(20:58 Along comes Facebook and for whatever reason it becomes dominant – and one of the reasons by the way is that it is really good at what it does, but it is built upon closed protocols; it’s all application. Is owned by a company, and the company may have good intentions or it may not. It may be smart and cared about its customers or it may not. May change over time, but it’s really scary that we took this hugely important piece of our culture, which is how do we connect people to people and we do that through a proprietary system and that is scary as hell.
(21:31) We have another comment from Twitter, from ValalJaffery, who says, we used to promote people based on hoarding information and he’s wondering, now that we promote on the ability to share and collaborate, and incidentally J P Rangaswami was on CXO Talk some time ago, and he was also interested in these issues. So thoughts on this notion of benefit of hoarding versus social benefit of collaboration.
(22:07) Well it seems to me that the social benefit, that is the benefit taken at the level of the social, up from the level of the individual is almost entirely on sharing, and I think we have irrefutable (unclear 22:19 Is easy to find its exception?) Right, I’m not saying everything needs to be shared, but we’ve seen an enormous unprecedented imaginal move from hoarding to sharing, and we’ve seen unprecedented successes because of that at the social level.
(22:38) Now, I’ll give you a quick example, Stack overflow you know if you’re a developer then you know Stack overflow well. It’s a site where you have a question, you know a very particular question about how to do something in some programming language, and frequently at so particular and weird.
(22:59)If you have a question, you asked it at Stack overflow. Or actually what you do is first you look it up in Stack overflow because as the size and number of people increases, the probability that you are the first person that asked is any question goes were the way down. And that’s a really big lesson of the web overall, and that’s certainly true in Stack overflow were almost 4,000,000 questions have been and said I think.
(23:22) And so you go there and find, but if it’s a new – you know the first one, ask it and anonymous strangers from the web will provide answers and engage with one another around those answers, saying that’s good but won’t work in Internet explorer, and here’s how you fix it and that’s inefficient – and it gets tweaked and it gets iterated on. Then at the end of the process you have working code and you have also seen the conversation, so you understand how it works and how developers think about. It’s an astounding resources and it makes the sort of things that a developer might have been stuck on for hours or days is instantly fixed.
(24:03)So this is the power of iteration at scale, it’s the power of learning in public rather than just the individual. Gaining some knowledge and hoarding it and using it for his or her social benefit, instead the culture overall has become immensely enriched by this single site, where the ethos and you only go there if you want to share knowledge, otherwise you know. Or I guess you can just go and learn, anyway you only contribute if you want to share knowledge.
(24:32) This It seems to me contestable that we just have empirical evidence that we have a socially sharing makes us all smarter. It’s all part of the networking knowledge that there is too much to fit into anyone’s brain – always has been. We were in denial about that for a long time, and now we see what happens when we network people and allow them to collaborate at scale and iteratively.
(24:54) For individuals it depends upon the culture, and in general and one of the things that Cluetrain was about I think it was trying to encourage business environments to recognise the power of collaboration, why this makes their business which is a social thing of course, a mostly personal thing. Why then collaboration and sharing makes their business better in every measurable way, and thus to encourage them to structure themselves around that and to reward individuals who do not hoard. This is the opposite of how it used to work.
(25:30) You know, if you wanted to be the centre of the universe with knowledge and you just dribbled out whatever little bit of wisdom, you had to and use cemented your reputation. Whereas now we hope and in order for the economics and sharing to work, the reward system – the separate system needs to work in that direction as well.
(25:49) And sometimes increasingly in business it does – increasingly, sort of in academics it does, but the tenure system system still tends to reward not only individual expertise, but expertise that is expressed not in as opposed to open access, but closed access journals, and from my point of view that’s a shame.
(26:18) You have a lot of marketeers spending their budgets on technology in order to better understand different personas and to deliver more precision marketing, because we had Tiffani Bova of Gartner on our show couple of weeks ago and she talked about the compressed differentiation is forcing precision sales and marketing. And one of the original clues, markets consist of human beings and not demographic sectors. Can you talk a little bit about that?
(26:52) Yeah, you know that’s more hippy bullshit, you know but it’s true hippy bullshit – I allowed to say bullshit by the way?
(26:59) We encourage it
(27:03) Okay, then you should feel free to cry bullshit, we would all enjoy that.
(27:09) So in Cluetrain in 1999, our hope was that marketing would cease or at least diminish the number of the idea that you get what you want as a marketer by pounding repeatedly on the heads of your markets trying with a simple message – preferably with a little tune that they can’t get out of their head. But the repetition of messages is a demeaning activity that is also bad marketing when you can avoid it.
(27:41) So these sorts of things that Cluetrain the book suggested where we had more space, I think there is some truth to, but I’ll tell you what it is – because I haven’t read the book and 15 years, but I believe that we recommended things like first of all, enabling your customers to talk amongst themselves and to encourage them to tell the truth, and to take the knocks when they are they are there. And to participate in those conversations and not try to own them – not even put them on your site necessarily.
(28:22) I mean a lot of companies after the book came out sort our advice, and frequently with the idea was, how can we get a conversation on our site? And the answer to that question is, you probably can’t, it probably won’t work. Maybe it will but it probably won’t work. And the first thing you do is find the conversations.
People are already talking about what you are doing – you hope, right. I mean if you do something interesting in their compositions, go find them. lurk - that is back in the old days lurk meant don’t jump into a conversation, and instead just shut up for a while and listen and see what sort of conversation it is and how you can participate as an equal member.
(29:05) And if at that point if you have something to say then enter the conversation and state clearly who you are, and acknowledge if their problems, like actually, no you wouldn’t advise driving a mini Cooper down a 45° grade that’s covered with ice. Although it’s pretty good in this or that circumstance, but don’t do that. So be frank about their problems and issues, and don’t pretend your product is perfect, because you’ll be smart enough to know that nothing is perfect.
(29:31)And so I still think that’s good advice, and you can see companies that do that. You can see that on Twitter, and I particularly like it when representatives on Twitter use their own names and you not just speaking facelessly for the company, but you know I’m a stickler like that.
(29:51) But generally that has not scale, so there are instances of it and I think it was the right thing to say back in 1999, but it’s hard to build a marketing campaign now though, individual corporate members who are preferably not even in the marketing Department. You know, if you have a product engineer working on something, it’s great to send him out or her out into the market to talk frankly about things. Yeah great, but it doesn’t scale.
(30:17) And instead, what we thought was the personalization, and is termed sorry that the word has been taken over because it’s sort of flipped what it actually means, but that’s fine. Micro-targeting based upon data that has been collected by the social networking sites etc. and trying to cry out the message that will be affected of that person.
(30:46)My co-authors hate that word than I do, I don’t hate it that much. I’m very worried as everybody is about the potential misuse of personal data – that’s a real issue. I get creeped out as many people do when the personalization tends to be your friend, pretends to be a real person and it’s this uncanny Valley where it’s just not really not, and it’s a type of lying and fiction and it erodes confidence and trust.
(31:21) But you know, if I’m on site and they have figured out that I’m looking for boots and their advertising boots. If I want to get advertising, and it looks like I am – yeah great then I would rather end up with something that you know one out of 100 times I’ll click on instead of the one out of 1 million times you know before personalization, so I’m not bothered by it.
(31:39) David, how does it feel that the fact that your work and your thinking on market and conversations and individuals and so forth, as a kind of antithesis to mass-market broadcasting and marketing. Well now that’s been adopted or maybe I should say co-opted by marketers who brace the whole idea of conversation. They embrace it so much, that now there’s a big industry of searching out, identifying and paying influencers so that they can have authentic conversations about you.
(32:25) Well that’s morally wrong. So I don’t feel good about that, and the part that bothers me is not that they misunderstood co-opted, on purpose or not a phrase and an idea that in the book are co-authored. That’s not the issue. The issue is it’s morally wrong to pay people, to have opinions, and to lie about the fact that they are getting paid for it.
(32:58)That is to bribe people into saying things that they don’t believe, that’s just corruption. It’s corrupt, and it’s corrupt in a politician – arguably worse in a politician because you know they have more power, but nevertheless corrupt in influencers and anyone else, it’s wrong for the company to do it and it’s wrong for the influencer to do it.
(33:25)So that bothers me way more than they do it under the rubric of markets and conversations.
(33:29) So content marketing is not your idea of the epitome of marketing.
(33:36) No, it’s especially discouraging when the content is placed in newspapers and other news media and other sources that we actually rely upon, and need to rely upon for untainted news or at least commercially untainted news. And since the premise of native advertising is at the very least the advertising should get some of the halo effect by being on the front page of a reputable newspaper or on the cover of a reputable magazine.
(34:28)That means necessarily it’s trying to deceive us. It’s trying to reap the rewards of deceiving us. It’s on the front cover, is on the front page because it was deemed to be so important by the respected journalistic outlet. That erodes trust in a really important institution.
(34:49) I worked for the past five years until September I was co-director of the Harvard library innovation labs, and I’ve gotten very interested in libraries, so pardon the example. But if librarians made recommendations based upon by being paid off by publishers and they didn’t tell you that, you know and that’s just from a book recommendation – a free book that you can take out of the library, you would be deeply disappointed and disturbed. And the fact that newspapers, the news media are doing this, it’s outrageous and it is morally wrong and ought to be condemned not embraced. That’s my opinion, and it usually gets called bullshit.
(35:34) So given the fact that all of us now carry a computer with us in our pocket, most of us are social and we are using the connections and the communities as our personal learning network. Is there a less opportunity giving the rise in the empowered consumer and knowledge consumer for us to detect you know bullshit and pay per play and overtime that would just go away? Is that a scenario that realistic?
(36:10)Are you saying that pay-per-play will go away?
(36:12) At least an opportunity for us to detect folks that are not authentically you know sharing their beliefs and core values and recommendations.
(36:21) Sure, back in 1999 that was also the bold overstated idea that was in the age of the web in 1999, advertisers can get away with their exaggerations anymore, because we will simply know that, no, this washing machine doesn’t last for 20 years because we find out.
(36:44) But and I think we knew this at the time, that we are in a battle and each sign gets better at what they do. We get better at detecting bullshit. They get better at bullshitting us. But at this point I am not convinced and I think we may have lost.
(37:03) I’ll give you an example, so as you probably know, Time magazine I don’t know months ago said that the lie between church and state and it never really matter between advertising in editorials – never really matters, we are racing it. It’s no big deal, in fact I guess it was the publisher who said, in fact our editors are happy not to have to worry about advertisers. So I don’t know, I hope this isn’t all as bad as they are saying, but this issue or the issue before was the present CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz.
(37:52)So the cover of Time magazine there’s Schultz, Starbucks, Starbucks is the future, or is this the future of the country. Starbucks the future of democracy – I can’t remember but something like that. And a big centerpiece article, a huge article about the guy and I just don’t know how that was paid for. I look at it and I say something that I would never have said about a Time magazine cover of five years ago, which is, I wonder who paid for that? I wonder if that is paid content.
(38:33) Well in the New York Times has developed a whole group of people now in order to do this ‘native advertising’, and I have to say the stuff they produce looks pretty good, but I guess you could say it’s attractive looking infomercials.
(38:50) Yeah, exactly so you know newspapers have always – all of my life, you’re thumbing through a newspaper and you come across a full page about some great new innovation or breakthrough in whatever you know, psoriasis or whatever the hell it is, and it looks like news.
(39:11)You know, Wired magazine has been doing this for ever, if they have a page where the advertisement copies the distinctive style of Wired, and you have to look for the real tiny print at the top that says this is an advertisement, but at least the print is there. At least you can tell, and once I knew, or I think I know, which is Time magazine doesn’t believe in that split I don’t know if they are putting in the ad any more.
(39:40) The whole incentive with native advertising a phrase that I hate because it is so unclear and it’s so afraid of calling itself what it is, which is a fake news. The whole incentive in native advertising is that if you can trick the reader into thinking that its actual news then you’ve won. That’s the aim.
(39:57) So I actually worked a little bit in consulting Edelman PR, whom I have worked before and I think I’ll call myself a friend of Richard Edelman, although since I have been on the chair about native advertising I haven’t spoken with him, so I hope we are still friends.
(40:14) Anyway, I did a day of consulting with them, they were producing ethical guidelines for native ads. And my position going in was I don’t think native ads make the place better. I think the make the place worse, and that is my fundamental question and I pose to anybody or pose to anything, if they are in business or not, are you making the place better or are you making it worse. And if you’re making it worse then don’t do it. Nevertheless if you’re going to do it – Edelman came up with a pretty good and workable set of guidelines in how to do native advertising without making the place at least much worse. So there are degrees.
(40:56) Well again that gets back to your point of view. You have a very specific and I say this without judgment in good or bad, a very specific hippy influenced perspective and that’s how you’re evaluating it. And of course the marketers have a different perspective which is how do we get the most paid views, how do we get the most eyeballs, how do we monetize the fact that these markets are consisting of individuals. And then therefore that give rise to the whole influence, patronage system as well as to these ‘native advertising’, which in fact is the opposite of what it is, because it’s not native and it’s just like a sheep in wolf’s clothing.
(41:43)Exactly, so I will leave aside the how urked I am by the Orwellian use of language that you have just put out very nicely.
(41:52)So yeah, that’s completely correct Michael, but the way and taking what you said – perhaps mistaking is you know there is an equivalence. I’m a hippy and like this and they are marketing folks, so they’re like this. It’s as if I am a father and a family guy and you know it doesn’t matter I’m making this up, and I love my family and my children and I want what is best for them. And marketers want to make family life worse, and they look at my family and say how can I monetize it.
(42:28)And in monetizing it, they are actually degrading family life. So I think what you said is right, it is a fair description, but of course I do, I think it’s ethically imbalanced. I know, I’ve been a marketer believe it or not, I’ve made my living as a marketer for you know 20 years and still do occasionally.
(43:01) So what, they want to monetize, that’s selfishness and that’s fine as long as I’m not hurting anybody or making anything worse. The important thing about my hippy ideals in this case is, is that I’m in love with the Internet. I think the Internet is an awesome, unexpected and irreproducible opportunity to transform our institutions and some of the ways we live together – not just for the better, but for the vastly better. It is such a transformative technology if we let it be, and so those and certainly not only marketers because that’s what we’re talking about, those who take this opportunity and prevent it from having is transformative effect, by making I was not trust it or destroying or hurting something that’s tremendous value. It’s the hippy side of me that sees and believes the tremendous value.
(44:05)So that’s why I am starting to sound like a fanatic asshole when I talk about this. I think there’s a lot at stake and I take it very personally I take it as personally as a marketer you know selling advertising space on my children.
(44:25)My final question because it’s getting close to time in your new clues, there is great content on the Internet, but holy mother of cheese the Internet is not made out of content. Can you explain that?
(44:37)Well yeah, so in some ways this is a well a minor point, in other ways it’s not. So I think the big point that that’s trying to make is that back in the old days of the web, old man yells that cloud, we were making content for each other. Right, we were writing posts and putting up the fig video was or whatever it was, but we were doing it for one another and we were reacting to it.
(45:07) We now obviously have entire content industries that view themselves as creating not a funny video, not a poem, not an email that will affect somebody not etc., etc. Not a blog post but content. It is far more cynical and less personal way of thinking about what you are producing, so we have content factories. So they will churn out whatever a good idea or a bad idea, as long as somebody clicks on it they’re happy.
(45:40)That also degrades the environment. You know I click on as much flick page as anybody else, and as much as I really enjoy, I’m a sucker for a list of 15things that you will believe that number four will change your life. I’m a human and I click on that and sometimes I like it. But to conceive of the Internet solely in terms of content, but the Internet consists of content is to miss what it’s actually about in my view, which is connection. This could have been a short answer if I thought of that! The Internet is primarily about connection, and the content that matters is the content that says connection. In my view.
(46:22) Well it’s been a very interesting discussion and a refreshing discussion as well David and you are very straightforward. We’re just about done – why are you laughing I hear someone laughing.
(46:39) Oh it’s me because straightforward, sorry I’m going to be straightforward is a dodge word it’s fine. So I feel that I’ve been a complete pontifical, I hate me, I would hate to be listening to this. A pontificating ass hole, old ass hole I could do without me, but that where we ended up.
(47:01) Our viewers disagree, you should look at the Twitter stream they are loving it.
(47:07)Only because I said shit and asshole.
(47:10) But there are loving it, so note to self Michael, we need to encourage have a guest to swear more.
(47:18) Vala I’ve asked you before if I could swear and you said no.
(47:20) Because it was at me!
(47:26) Well there’s a point, David we’re just about out of time, but before we go any final words of advice to anybody, marketers, politicians to users of the Internet, share your thoughts
(47:44)Two things briefly, the first is just make the place better. That’s all, that’s all what any of us want. I’m going to speak for the entire Internet now, all that we want is that what you do is make the place better. And the people who loves the Internet and there are hundreds of millions of us, our building things, they are correcting things, they are spending time and making jokes, and making funny cat videos, they are doing it alone and together but every one of us is doing what we can in order to make the place better.
(48:14) So please do that, and if you’re not and making it worse, then don’t. The second thing is that “Doc” Searles and I posted something called new clues in January, which is an attempt to think about what the net looks like 16 years after Cluetrain. And for me the single sort of theme of new clues is a lot of things have gone pretty wrong from my point of view, pretty bad. Many things are beyond description in that wonderfulness and awesomeness and we should not forget those either on the Internet.
(48:55) But the prescription that new clues gives, how do you fix it, you know, we don’t know. But I’m convinced, at least for me is that the place to start is to remember what the Internet was, which is also by the way what it technically is. But to go back to the origins and to remember or to learn if you’re young. What it was what people saw in the Internet that got them so excited that we built this place together, all of us. One link at a time, one person at a time is that we built this place into something that is unlike anything that humans have created before. So remembering the origins of the Internet seems to be the best way to start down the path of consistently making the place better.
(49:42) Well thank you so much, this has been an inspiring and very thought-provoking conversation. I know, is inspiring another one of those.
(49:57) I’m just sucking it up. I will just suck it up so thank you very much and it’s been a lot of fun for me and I really appreciate the questions and the opportunity to swear in public.
(50:09) And we appreciate that to and David, I hope you’ll come back another time.
(50:14) I will when the meds kick-in the!
(50:19) Well we have been talking with David Weinberger, who is one of the co-authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto and it has been, Vala, Vala has it not been a thought-provoking conversation?
(50:37) I’m reluctant to say any compliments, but I do know this. When I write my Huffington Post summary of our interview, the title will be the top 10 something something.
(50:53)And number four will change your life forever.
(50:54) You’ll click on it. So I’m just warming ahead that it’s going to be a top 10 list. Anyway know, unbelievable and as a marketer, I’m going to be watching this video many many times over, and as I can see the stream on Twitter you have so many fans. So a great honor to have you on our show, so thank you Sir.
(51:17)It’s a pleasure to be here, and seriously thank you very much.
(51:20) Thank you it has been an honour and you have been watching episode number 101of CXO-Talk. And we are going to be back next week and I hope that you are there. Thank everybody, Vala take care.
(51:36) Thanks Michael.
(51:39) A remote fist bump to you Vala, and we’ll see you next week. Bye Bye.
Company mentions in this episode:
Time magazine www.time.com
Wired magazine www.wired.com
Edelman PR www.edelman.com