How many managers did it take to build the Web?


The image of the crumbling castle and my nonsensical headline are two of the metaphors that Web philospher David Weinberger used today to drive home the point of his keynote address at the New Communications Forum — that the Web arose from the bottom up, without direction, while most companies, as represented by the crumbling castle, are still trying to run the world from the top down.

“For the past 200 years or so broadcast has dominated our culture and our economy,” Weinberger said, using broadcast to describe not just radio and television but the fact that companies have gotten in the habit of telling their “stories” to passive listeners. Stories in this context apply to brand-building ads and marketing messages, Weinberger told an audience of about 400 persons, dominated by public relations and marketing folks:

“Markets that used to be real places where people talked to one another have become marketing, a verb that you do to people.”

Weinberger is a co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the work that crystallized the notion that Internet has transformed mass communications from lectures into conversations. His talk at the Forum was a continuation of that basic idea — listening to the “former audience” is not a matter of being polite. It is a business necessity. People are sick of slick communications, he said. Contrast that with the devotion that readers bring to a site that is visually bland and about as dull as, well, a classified ad. Yet, he said, “people fall in love and get married on Craigslist.”

Why? Because it seems genuine. Unslickness is its appeal. The same is true for blogs, said Weinberger. People are willing to give blogs the benefit of the doubt when it comes to forgiving typos or errors because they’re hungry for the real voices of real people and they know that real people are fallible. Slick promos — just like the self-imporant writing style of newspapers – “drives out humanity, drives out credibility, and makes us look like assholes,” he said, adding “Markets are customers, not consumers. And they are talking to one another.”

Are you listening? And are you changing what you do based upon what you hear? There are questions we must all answer. FYI, JD Lasica did a video interview with Weinberger and expects to post that a little later. I’ll add a link when I can.