The Ninety-Five Theses of Conversation

by Simon. Average Reading Time: almost 4 minutes.

The Cluetrain Manifesto – written in 1999 by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger – is a set of 95 theses organised and put forward as a manifesto, or call to action, for all businesses operating within what was suggested to be a newly-connected marketplace.

The ideas put forward within the manifesto aimed to examine the impact of the Internet on both markets (consumers) and organisations. In addition, as both consumers and organisations were (are) able to utilise the Internet and Intranets to establish a previously unavailable level of communication both within and between these two groups, the manifesto suggested changes that would be required from organisations as they respond to the new marketplace environment.

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

Although a reading of the 95 theses can lead to a number of divisions or aggregations, it is possible to make a somewhat arbitrary split of the listed theses as a basis for understanding the content of the printed publication and a simplified structural view of the main suppositions of the authors.

  • Theses 1 – 6: Markets are Conversations
    Historically, the authors state, the marketplace was a location where people gathered and talked to each other (thesis 1): they would discuss available products, price, reputation and in doing so connect with others (theses 2-5.) The authors then assert that the internet is providing a means for anyone connected to the internet to re-enter such a virtual marketplace and once again achieve such a level of communication between people. This, prior to the internet, had not been available in the age of mass media (thesis 6.)
  • Thesis 7: Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchy
    The ability of the internet to link to additional information – information which might exist beyond the formal hierarchy of organisational structure or published material from such an organisation – acts as a means of subverting, or bypassing, formal hierarchies.
  • Theses 8 – 13: Connection between the new markets and companies
    The same technology connecting people into markets outside of organisations, is also connecting employees within organisations (thesis 8). The authors suggest that these networks create a more informed marketplace/consumer (thesis 9) through the conversations being held. The information available in the marketplace is superior to that available from the organisations themselves (thesis 10-12).

The authors, through the remaining theses, then examine the impact that these changes will have on organisations and how, in turn, organisations will need to respond to the changing marketplace to remain viable.

  • Theses 14 – 25: Organisations entering the marketplace
    With the emergence of the virtual marketplace, the authors indicate that the onus will be on organisations to enter the marketplace conversation (thesis 25) and do so in a way that connects with the ‘voice’ of the new marketplace (thesis 14-16) or risk becoming irrelevant (thesis 16).
  • Theses 26 – 40: Marketing & organisational Response
    The authors then list a number of theses that deal with the approach that they believe organisations will need to adopt if they are to successfully enter the new marketplace (thesis 26) as it is claimed that those within the new marketplace will no longer respond to the previously issued mass-media communications as such communication is not ‘authentic’ (thesis 33).
  • Theses 41 – 52: Intranets and the impact to organisation control and structure
    More fully exploring the impact of the intranet within organisations, theses forty-one through fifty-two elaborate on the subversion of hierarchy initially listed as thesis seven. When implemented correctly (theses 44-46), it is suggested that such intranets re-establish real communication amongst employees in parallel with the impact of the internet to the marketplace (thesis 48) and this will lead to a ‘hyperlinked’ organisational structure within the organisation which will take the place of (or be utilised in place of) the formally documented organisation chart (thesis 50).
  • Theses 53 – 71: Connecting the Internet marketplace with corporate Intranets
    The ideal, according to the manifesto, is for the networked marketplace to be connected to the networked intranet so that full communication can exist between those within the marketplace and those within the company itself (thesis 53). Achieving this level of communication is hindered by the imposition of ‘command and control’ structures (thesis 54-58) but, ultimately, organisations will need to allow this level of communication to exist as the new marketplace will no longer respond to the mass-media ‘voice’ of the organisation (theses 59-71).
  • Theses 72 – 95: New Market Expectations
    Theses seventy-two through ninety-five aim to identify the expectations (theses 76, 77, 78, 95) and changes (thesis 72) that exist within the new marketplace and how those expectations and changes will require a corresponding change from organisations (theses 79, 84, 91, 92, 94).

You can view the 95 Theses of Conversation on the Cluetrain Manifesto website or you can download a document containing the 95 theses.

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