we are the internet

I read the The Cluetrain Manifesto online in 1999, and later purchased the book. Even though the authors stated that it was not a business book, it provided a good lens though which to view our networked world at the time. I did not agree with all the theses but the book was still worth it. What I remember most is the first of the 95 theses — “Markets are conversations.”

One of my favourite paragraphs was in the last chapter. “Fact is, we don’t care about business — per se, per diem, au gratin. Given half a chance, we’d burn the whole constellation of obsolete business concepts to the waterline. Cost of sales and bottom lines and profit margins — if you’re a company, that’s your problem. But if you think of yourself as a company, you’ve got much bigger worries. We strongly suggest you repeat the following mantra as often as possible until you feel better: ‘I am not a company. I am a human being’.”

In 2011 I quoted Thesis #20 on Michael Geist’s blog — “Companies need to realize that customers are often laughing. At them.” — in a discussion about a Canadian telecommunications company practice of promising ‘unlimited’ internet access but actually capping it. I guess the company laughed last as this flagged me with their legal department and I lost a contract with them the next year.

Sixteen years after the Cluetrain, the authors published New Clues which reflects the current state of the web.

When we first came before you, it was to warn of the threat posed by those who did not understand that they did not understand the Internet.
These are The Fools, the businesses that have merely adopted the trappings of the Internet.
Now two more hordes threaten all that we have built for one another.
The Marauders understand the Internet all too well. They view it as theirs to plunder, extracting our data and money from it, thinking that we are the fools.
But most dangerous of all is the third horde: Us.
A horde is an undifferentiated mass of people. But the glory of the Internet is that it lets us connect as diverse and distinct individuals.
We all like mass entertainment. Heck, TV’s gotten pretty great these days, and the Net lets us watch it when we want. Terrific.
But we need to remember that delivering mass media is the least of the Net’s powers.
The Net’s super-power is connection without permission. Its almighty power is that we can make of it whatever we want.

They conclude that it’s up to us to keep the web free and open.

Being together: the cause of and solution to every problem.
116 — If we have focused on the role of the People of the Net — you and us — in the Internet’s fall from grace, that’s because we still have the faith we came in with.
117 — We, the People of the Net, cannot fathom how much we can do together because we are far from finished inventing how to be together.
118 — The Internet has liberated an ancient force — the gravity drawing us together.
119 — The gravity of connection is love.
120 — Long live the open Internet.
121 — Long may we have our Internet to love.

This is why I keep on blogging after more than 15 years. It’s about connecting, even though more of it is done on private social media platforms. For example, I recently wrote a comment on LinkedIn in response to a post by Clark Quinn. Ironically, it was more convenient to post there than on his blog.  I said that one result of this movement to private platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook will be the inability to find the comments after a time, unlike those on blogs that stay with the main post. We will lose these discussions even faster, as I note with all the dead links I find on my own older blog posts. Sometimes my blog post is the only artifact left on a longer article that is no longer online.

Doc Searls (co-author of the Cluetrain) is calling this the ‘world wide whiteboard‘ — write & then wipe it off. Platforms like LinkedIn have no incentive to make search and retrieval easy, and the Internet Archive cannot even scrape these platforms. It will be corporations who control our collective public memories. Which of course means they can be manipulated or deleted.

I think it will be a major struggle to keep the web open. Both governments and corporations  profit by controlling it. Independent blogs are one way of keeping the web free, as well as paying for services instead of feeding the advertising/surveillance platforms. The web is small pieces, loosely joined. Let’s keep it that way.

we are the internet

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