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The Empowerment of the Internet
Christopher Locke
Co-Author of The Cluetrain Manifesto

Tuesday, March 7, 2000 at 11 a.m. EST

The Internet has brought profound change to the way the average Joe, communicates, shops and learn. It has become a tool that has not only empowered users but is undercutting many of the traditional notions of how big business markets and retains consumers. In doubt? Linux, MP3 and eBay are just three examples of a phenomenon. All involve people-to-people conversations and billions of dollars in value not from pushing products but from collaboration over borders.

It is this sometimes radical idea that has enthralled many who seek to study the internet and predict its future growth. It is this notion that has been captured in the book "The Cluetrain Manifesto." The book sprouted from a hodge podge of Web postings from a small band of activists who asserted the view that the interconnection of hundreds of millions of people via the Internet doesn't represent just another sales channel but rather, it offers the potential to reframe some fundamental questions about business.

The result is a collection of anti-establishment essays celebrating the notion that the internet has and will continue to bring about an increase in individual empowerment and greater democracy.

"The Cluetrain Manifesto" is a collaboration of Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. Christopher Locke will join us live at 11 a.m. Tuesday to discuss the evolution of the Web and the lasting effects it is having on our world. He welcomes your questions and comments.

washingtonpost.com: Goo Morning and welcome to our discussion with Christopher Locke co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto. Chris, can you start by telling us breifly how the book came to be?

Christopher Locke: The four of us got talking about how "e-commerce" was being reported in the press. Seemed a bit overoptimistic to us -- in the sense that the discussion assumed this was basically business-as-usual except over Internet pipes.

Washington, DC: How do you see the Net evolving in term of the struggle between commercial interests and the more communal interest that seemed to create it. from where I sit it seems that if the Web is one big advertisement and the attitude seems to be that if people aren't selling you something online the Web is a waste of time and space. Thoughts?

Christopher Locke: I'm working on my next book titled "Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices." I see bottom-up websites, zines and e-newsletters replacing a huge amount of current news, information and entertainment. your question is a good one -- the mindset that sees only the current form of advertising-based net commerce won't last much longer I think.

washingtonpost.com: In your book the notion of revolution comes up often. Who is leading this revolution and who will this outcome likely benefit most?

Christopher Locke: the revolution is not a "movement" but rather the somewhat automatic effect of the market dynamics the Internet brings to the economy. when people can communicate directly with each other about corporate communications, companies lose the control they've traditionally had over the media space. this is inherently revolutionary.

Washington, DC: what do you think about efforts in congress to regulate "cybersquatting." - buying up domain names. If I bought up say JP Morgan and my name is JP morgan, my understanding is that the brokerage could later sue me under normal copyright and trademark laws. You hear stories about his in the bricks world of a guy named McDonald opening a diner in the middle of nowhere and then the McDonalds chain sues him.

Christopher Locke: I don't have much of a detailed opinion here. I think the net will be subject to laws -- to some extent -- just like the "real world." It IS the real world.

washingtonpost.com: To follow up your response on "advertising-based net commerce". Applying your philosophy, how does this bode for Yahoo and AOL which seem to be flowing away from the bottom-up approach they thrived on to a more corporate top down approach?

Christopher Locke: The AOL/T-W deal is a perfect example of old broadcast thinking applied to the net. my bet is that it goes precisely nowhere. we have seen these big mergers before -- Ball Atlantic/TCI and MCI/Newscorp -- and they've amounted to zero. the bet that top-down wins is TV-MIND at work. but it doesn't apply on the net.

Washington, DC: Christopher,

I wonder what is your view of "the digital divide?" In my view it seems very superficial; there are communities in this country, such as Appalachia, that do not even have telephones or indoor plumbing yet. To decry a "digital divide" seems akin to the mantra of "let them eat cake."

How will the net empower those who live in levels of development that are similar to what we call the Third World, which are inside our own prosperous borders? What combination of 0's and 1's, letters and graphics are going to put bread in the stomachs of the hungry and marginalized? The democratization of IPO access? Indeed!

What are your thoughts?

Thanks very much.

Christopher Locke: well... cluetrain also doesn't provide a cure for cancer or nuclear war. I don't think that makes it irrelevant.

on the divide issue, however, two thoughts. 1) The first world is exporting its "culture" to the rest of the planet. therefore I think it is critical for us to determine the value of that export for good or ill. 2) the cost of net access is dropping fast and it is in the best interests of commerce to get as many people online as fast as possible. I see a time not so distant when billions will hooked up. I don't the divide will be as huge an issue soon.

washingtonpost.com: You wrote "The Internet is inherently seditious. It undermines unthinking respect for centralized authority." I'm curious as to notion that the decentralized nature of the Web frustrated many and people sought more cohesion and and in a sense "authority" to lend consistency and credibility to what they viewed online.

Christopher Locke: This is an interesting point. your question really boils down to: do people really want CNN? I don't think so, though they may want CNN-like "authorities" *in addition*. Given the choice, I think we all have more specific interests that the mass media do no -- and cannot by their nature -- cover.

Odenton, Maryland: At this point, I think the Internet is highly overrated! Yes, it's great for common everyday folks to have access to droves and droves of information at the fingertips. However, nothing's out there in cyberspace that someone hasn't already decided consciously to put there, for some ulterior motive, be it altruism or profit. And based on the assault by banners at every website one hits on these days, I'd say that making money by trying to sell something to someone is what's driving its growth. But will it replace the traditional way of doing business? Not by a long shot! People thought VCR's would put the movie theaters out of business. Well, the lazy geeks who prognosticated that one probably never went out on a date and realized you just don't go to a movie theater to see a movie - it's a social event. The same goes with shopping - people go out to get out, not just to shop! On line newspapers are great, but what happens when you need something to wrap the dog poop or to lay on the floor when you're doing a paint job in the house? My point is that it's hard to predict just what will result from technology, that predictions tell more about the wishful thinking of the predictor than the future itself. What's your read on my ruminations? Thanks.

Christopher Locke: As to wrapping the dog poop, that's why we have printers. ;-)

this is a common argument. yeah there's a lot of crap online, but there's also a lot of information that we've never had access to before. create something worthwhile and I think you'll see the value coming back from your audience. if you gather no audience, it's a pretty good indication you had nothing worthwhile to say in the first place.

washingtonpost.com: Your book address this issues that writing for the Web isn't just about making your concepts easy for humans to understand onscreen. It's also about communicating in a voice that's credible without being stuffy or sounding like corporate double-speak. In what ways can corporations do this or is this simply a message that their influence in general is waning?

Christopher Locke: good question. I think corporations, *as such*, cannot sound human, because corporations are NOT human. but I think most companies have people fully capable of communicating in a human voice. companies need to find such people within their ranks and give them the tools and go-ahead to use them. basically, comapnies need to get out of their way.

washingtonpost.com: Following up to a previous response. Is there a place for CNN and AOL and other corporate entities int he content realm. It seems between your arguments and the current state of things, we are swinging the pendulum from one side to another. Is there a reasonable medium?

Christopher Locke: I'm beginning to see the potential for larger systems to serve as a kind of "reader's digest" of good stuff appearing on many smaller systems. News Weeklies sort of do this by scanning across events and picking what each sees as important. this is a large question that this format doesn't allow us to get into easily, but yeah, I do think there is a middle ground -- and a very productive new kind of relationship between big companies and small sites.

Washington, DC: Was it difficult to write a book on the obvious and then pretend it is not?

Christopher Locke: no, not hard at all, actually. ;-)

five years ago, most people online would have taken most of what we're saying as totally obvious. the fact that the book is very hot today proves that there's a new audience here -- the business world -- to which this is a new message. and one they seem to think is worth attending to. \

WDC: In what way is your book "a collection of anti-establishment essays celebrating the notion that the internet has and will continue to bring about an increase in individual empowerment and greater democracy."

From what I'm reading you seem to be singing the same song that all the other cheerleaders of the so called "digital revolution" are. Revolution of what?

Christopher Locke: if cluetrain is cheerleading, what it's cheering for is not technology but the voices of the human beings using it. that's a revolution unless you're really not paying attention, which it sounds as if perhaps you're not.

Dupont Circle: We all know about the relationship of business and the Internet and how many consumer shave become empowered with greater information to comparison shop and the ability to "name their own price." Can you share your ideas on the potential for the Net to transform the political process. It still seems a long way away, but if the same principals are applied we can possibly one day have a broader presidential election with more than two establishment candidates to choose from.

Christopher Locke: This is a big issue, but highly germane I think, especially today as we watch these various clowns perform on CNN and other mass media. the message reduces to meaningless slogans and noise. I do think the net will enable broader and more genuine discussion of real issues and that candidates wedded to the sound-bite will have the same life expectancy as big comapnies that depend on "the pitch" instead of real communication.

WDC: Christopher you seem to have a very high respect for the what the public wants:

"create something worthwhile and I think you'll see the value coming back from your audience. if you gather no audience, it's a pretty good indication you had nothing worthwhile to say in the first place"

I see; so, in your future we'll all be porn surfin', COPS -the TV show- watchin', video game playin' titans.

What distinguishes your book and views from all the others that are really about making as much money as possible? You seem to throw around nice sounding words like like "Democracy", "Revolution", and "anti-establishment" as though you were making better bread than is made of wheat.

You seem to be interested in making the enterprise of profiteering more efficient and powerful. That's fine, but why cloak yourself in all this flowery language? It's all about rationalization: The wheel, the book, the combustion engine, Fordism-- assembly lines, networks, .... Now the internet. The refinement of rationalization.

Christopher Locke: cluetrain is the diametric opposite of "Fordism" and the assembly line. where did you get that??? it's about the return of individual voice, not about "rationalization" into some overarching system of production. I think you're projecting much that we didn't write.

as to porn, etc., you're right in a way. if there's an audience for it, that content will be valuable. I think however, that there is more varied content that also quite valuable and I think we've just seen the very beginning of bottom-up e-commerce. I'm not as cynical as you are about the value that will come from that.

Alexandria, VA: So if CNN and AOL and other aren't;t getting the message are ebay, Mercata and other community-based commerce forums getting it right?

Christopher Locke: I can answer directly in the case of eBay. Meg Whitman, CEO there, began a recent talk at some big Goldman Sachs technology pow-wow by quoting from the cluetrain book. I found this via a search and was blown away!

washingtonpost.com: That's all the time we have today. Much thanks to Chris for taking time to chat with us today.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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