The Cluetrain Indicator

In January 2000, a book called “The Cluetrain Manifesto” hit the business scene. One of its premises was that the Web sites, projects, and ventures of the Fortune 500 were doomed to failure.

In March of 2000, the Nasdaq hit its high — just above 5,000. As of this writing, the index sits at 1,831. It was a loyal TDCRC reader who originally suggested that these two events might have a correlative relevance.

Indeed, it would seem that the Cluetrain ran right over the Internet bubble and was indicative of the coming fall. And now here we sit, somewhere in the middle of an economic recession, and “Cluetrain” begins to take on some importance once again:

A few years ago, you could make an interesting distinction between people who thought there was something special about the Internet and those who saw it as no big deal.

But on this side of the recession, the above has a different shading to it. The Internet is — as before — no big deal to some.

Suddenly, though, something in the air has changed. For no explainable reason, publications such as the Chicago Tribune have begun to bring the Cluetrain up once again. It’s as if the Cluetrain is reentering the station, stopping in the collective consciousness for yet another trip.

And then it happened. Approximately two weeks ago, Chris Locke published the entire “Cluetrain” text online.

Thus am I willing to do what no Wall Street analyst is — call the bottom in the economy.

Just as the release of “Cluetrain” marked the top of the Internet bubble, so too the open sourcing of the text will mark the bottom of our current economic malaise. In fact, as we measure the book’s release to the top in the stock market at three months, so too we can measure the stock market’s bottoming out from the open sourcing of the text. You heard it here first: The economy bottomed in August; the stock market will follow in November.

No sooner do I write that, then evidence begins to show me to be right: The semiconductor book-to-bill ratio is unusually strong; jobless claims shrink; the profit spread measure in the Beige Book improves for two straight months — the Cluetrain, she’s a-whistlin’. Furthermore, I will argue that “Cluetrain,” insofar as it is a seminal work that captured the correct spirit of a time, also points us toward what is to come:

The question is whether, as a company, you can afford to have more than an advertising-jingle persona. Can you put yourself out there: say what you think in your own voice, present who you really are, show what you really care about? Do you have any genuine passion to share? Can you deal with such honesty? Such exposure? Human beings are often magnificent in this regard, while companies, frankly, tend to suck. For most large corporations, even considering these questions — and they’re being forced to do so by both Internet and intranet — is about as exciting as the offer of an experimental brain transplant.


To find anything that isn’t overtly complicit with the Great Technology Sitcom, you have to dig down to the underbelly of the Web. You have to get past the sites with commercial pretensions that are slicing and dicing you, counting the legs and dividing by four, bringing in the sheep. You are being incorporated into their demographic surveys. And, predictably, the lowest common denominator is getting all the juice. You are being packaged for advertisers by some of the hippest hucksters on the planet.

Dig deeper. Down to the sites that never entertained the hope of Buck One. They owe nobody anything. Not advertisers, not VC producers, not you. Put your ear to those tracks and listen to what’s coming like a freight train. What you’ll hear is the sound of passion unhinged, people who have had it up to here with white-bread culture, hooking up to form the biggest goddam garage band the world has ever seen.

Time to get off the track, kids. There’s a train comin’ at us. All aboard as the Cluetrain heads to gonzoville.

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