And then we win



The Cluetrain continues to roll. Two of the original authors, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, have set out some New Clues.

If you want to tune in (or for that matter, if you want to turn on or drop out) the Gillmor Gang piece in TechCrunch is a good place to start. Dave Winer’s got a listicle going. Kevin Marks has reposted the Clues. There’s a whole lotta forking going on. Conversations sprouting everywhere.

If you haven’t been on the Cluetrain, now’s a good time. You can get to the whole of the original book for free, so there’s no excuse. But then I’m biased. Privileged to call these guys my friends.


The conversation that Cluetrain started all those years ago is one that has continued. The music never stopped. Neither did our power to connect, participate or share in the independence of cyberspace.

When I was reading the new clues, my first reaction was Gandhian. Or maybe it was Nicholas-Kleinian. Who may have said. In 1914. Or maybe even 1916. Or maybe it was  1918.

It doesn’t matter. What matters is that our ability to check the facts is continuing to improve. What matters is that our ability to converse with each other about the facts, and to share our opinions about those facts, has improved. What matters is that those abilities are now available to more and more people, and critically at a time when such abilities are more and more needed.

Internet users have grown by at least an order of magnitude in the time elapsed between the first Cluetrain and New Clues. [Thank you Mary Meeker, thank you Internet World Stats].


The quantum of data on the web (and here I make no assertion as to the quality or reliability or usability of that data) has also grown exponentially, and continues to grow:



As Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law have continued their march, the number of conversations has also grown out of all proportion: this, from Cairbre Sugrue, is a telling chart.


More connected people. More shared data. More open data. More ways to converse. More ways to challenge.

More ways that we can create and share learning and experience and joy and sadness.

The way I look at things now, Cluetrain was written during a First-They-Ignore-You time. The years since were initially Then-They-Laugh-At-You.

I think New Clues has been written because we’re now in the midst of Then-They-Fight-You. There’s a clear call to action. A call for all of us. A call we’ve been hearing for a while, to do with DMCA and DRM and region-coding and patent trolls and net neutrality and SOPA and PIPA and lock-ins and walled gardens.

Then they fight you. Actually it’s better to say “Then they fight us“. The “us” is important, because that’s the heart of this indescribable thing that is the internet and the web.

It’s an us thing. Not an Us thing. Or even an US thing. It’s an us thing. An us that is to be found in the hearts and minds of those who built the infrastructure that makes it all possible. [In this context, besides Cluetrain, I’ve found the conversations facilitated by people like David Isenberg and Gordon Cook invaluable; similarly, the writings of people like Bob Frankston on ambient connectivity and Sheldon Renan on netness continue to shape and inspire my thoughts on the subject. People like Steven Johnson, Clay Shirky, Howard Rheingold, Cory Doctorow continue to help me understand the value of community and of the ways in which people learn and share and build things that last.

Then they fight us. It’s a war. And yes, like any other war, this war has correspondents risking limb, and sometimes even life, to ensure that the rest of us have a clue. If you want to follow this particular war, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Boing Boing are good places to start.

Then they fight us. There is no longer any need to debate the value generated by the internet and the web. At least once every six months, I go and watch this conversation between Tim Berners-Lee and Tim O’Reilly to remind me about all this.

Then they fight us. The internet, while not a series of tubes, is many things, a state of mind, a worldview, a philosophy. Philosophical battles can get Blefuscudian, so it’s important to understand the facts rather than just concentrate on the emotion. Which is why we should all try and support the work of the Web Science Trust and of the Computer History Museum, as they strive to preserve our understanding of where all this comes from and where all this is headed. [Disclaimer: That’s why I try and serve as a trustee at both those institutions].

Then they fight us. In some ways, the philosophical battle we face is one that pits the individual against the collective, and our current wailing and tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth on subjects like internet governance and intellectual property and identity and privacy are all consequences of this battle. These are not simple battles and we’ve only just begun. There’s still a lot of theatre in this theatre of war, and we need to move on, as Bruce Schneier continues to remind us.

Then they fight us. Some of the benefits that accrue from ubiquitous and affordable connectivity and the consequent power to collaborate and share at scale can appear asymmetrical: gains are perceived at a collective and “society” level, while harms are perceived at an individual and “person” level. It is against this backdrop that the marauders and fools referred to in New Clues operate, and  that’s what makes it possible to entice and delude the Us referred to by the authors.

New Clues is a timely reminder of the transition taking place from Then-They-Ridicule-Us to Then-They-Fight-Us.

What Doc and David are doing is reminding us that we have a role to play in making sure the next phase goes as intended.

And then we win.


6 thoughts on “And then we win”

  1. Damage done with huge centralized network effects that suck out all the profits and transfer all the risks to the edges with near perfect efficiency then crash the ecosystem do no good: Music industry (records / lack of profits) / Financial industry (mortgages / credit default swaps). We have to fight back to keep the internet / web open for diversity in the App industry (GAFA) / Private Equity (enterprise software) and somehow uncentralise the music / banking industry (JP Morgan!). Let information flow create markets.

  2. And it is a damn good reminder to all of us! I happened to re-read the 10th anniversary edition of The Cluetrain last year and it still made me smile, and nod my head in approval, and think, and question…
    I was happy to share the New Clues today.

Let me know what you think

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