The manifesto was written in 1999 by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. A printed publication which elaborated on the manifesto was published in 2000 by Perseus Books (ISBN 0-7382-0431-5) under the same name.
The authors assert that the Internet is unlike the ordinary media used in mass marketing as it enables people to have "human to human" conversations, which have the potential to transform traditional business practices radically.
The book and website both challenge what the manifesto calls outmoded, 20th-century thinking about business in light of the emergence of the Web, clearly listing "95 theses", as a reference to Martin Luther's manifesto which heralded the start of the Protestant movement.
The term "cluetrain" stems from this quote:
The 95 Theses
Although a reading of the 95 theses can lead to a number of divisions or aggregations, it is possible to make a somewhat arbitrary split of the listed theses as a basis for understanding the content of the printed publication and a simplified structural view of the main suppositions of the authors.
Theses 1 – 6: Markets are Conversations
Historically, the authors state, the marketplace was a location where people gathered and talked to each other (thesis 1): they would discuss available products, price, reputation and in doing so connect with others (theses 2-5.) The authors then assert that the internet is providing a means for anyone connected to the internet to re-enter such a virtual marketplace and once again achieve such a level of communication between people. This, prior to the internet, had not been available in the age of mass media (thesis 6.)
Thesis 7: Hyperlinks Subvert Hierarchy
The ability of the internet to link to additional information – information which might exist beyond the formal hierarchy of organizational structure or published material from such an organization – acts as a means of subverting, or bypassing, formal hierarchies.
Theses 8-13: Connection between the new markets and companies
The same technology connecting people into markets outside of organizations, is also connecting employees within organizations (thesis 8.) The authors suggest that these networks create a more informed marketplace/consumer (thesis 9) through the conversations being held. The information available in the marketplace is superior to that available from the organizations themselves (thesis 10-12.)
The authors, through the remaining theses, then examine the impact that these changes will have on organizations and how, in turn, organizations will need to respond to the changing marketplace to remain viable.
Theses 14 – 25: Organizations entering the marketplace
With the emergence of the virtual marketplace, the authors indicate that the onus will be on organizations to enter the marketplace conversation (thesis 25) and do so in a way that connects with the ‘voice’ of the new marketplace (thesis 14-16) or risk becoming irrelevant (thesis 16).
Theses 26 - 40: Marketing & Organizational Response The authors then list a number of theses that deal with the approach that they believe organizations will need to adopt if they are to successfully enter the new marketplace (thesis 26) as it is claimed that those within the new marketplace will no longer respond to the previously issued mass-media communications as such communication is not ‘authentic’ (thesis 33.)
Theses 41 - 52: Intranets and the impact to organization control and structure
More fully exploring the impact of the intranet within organizations, theses forty-one through fifty-two elaborate on the subversion of hierarchy initially listed as thesis seven. When implemented correctly (theses 44-46), it is suggested that such intranets re-establish real communication amongst employees in parallel with the impact of the internet to the marketplace (thesis 48) and this will lead to a 'hyperlinked' organizational structure within the organization which will take the place of (or be utilized in place of) the formally documented organization chart (thesis 50).
Theses 53 - 71: Connecting the Internet marketplace with corporate Intranets
The ideal, according to the manifesto, is for the networked marketplace to be connected to the networked intranet so that full communication can exist between those within the marketplace and those within the company itself (thesis 53.) Achieving this level of communication is hindered by the imposition of ‘command and control’ structures (thesis 54-58) but, ultimately, organizations will need to allow this level of communication to exist as the new marketplace will no longer respond to the mass-media ‘voice’ of the organization (theses 59-71)
Theses 72 - 95: New Market Expectations
Theses seventy-two through ninety-five aim to identify the expectations (theses 76, 77, 78, 95) and changes (thesis 72) that exist within the new marketplace and how those expectations and changes will require a corresponding change from organizations (theses 79, 84, 91, 92, 94).
Newer technologies (such as blogs and wikis) could be added to the list. However, according to the manifesto, it is within the new Internet-enabled conversations that the new marketplace would join in conversation with networked employees.
Whether human beings have gained the type of power ascribed to them when they talk human to human across the Internet is still to be proven. Some bloggers have caught the limelight from time to time, just as the proponents did with 'Cluetrain', and perhaps they may be onto something, but not exactly what they stated in the manifesto.
Fundamental to 'The Cluetrain Manifesto' was the premise that the Internet provided a new and unique forum for communication that would ultimately shift the nature of business communication and marketing. Essentially, the change that is central to this text is one of breaking down corporate barriers and forming a conversation between those within and those outside a corporation -- online marketing would be more about holding conversations with people rather than broadcasting half-truths about products and services.
The authors of the manifesto suggested that such a shift would occur through substantial and pervasive changes in current company-to-consumer interaction. Communication would shift from mission statements and marketing media aimed at consumer segments to open dialogues or conversations between businesses and consumers.
Since publication, however, some state that the use of mass-media marketing has not fundamentally shifted from its use within organizations as the key means of communicating with consumers. Advertising on the Internet has grown over the intervening years, it remains, in some cases, an online version of the same style of mass-media marketing.
Although a number of companies have aimed to achieve customization of marketing material to the point where it is tailored to a single individual, in many cases this remains a one-way dialogue which is the antithesis of what the authors propose as the ideal.
However - there is an undeniable sea-change taking place with companies who are starting to reach out and ask to join conversations - earning the right to speak with citizens rather than just expecting it.
It is unlikely the authors of the manifesto had exact timeframes expected for all aspects and the popularity, engagement levels and acceptence of commercial communication will continue to be limited until the principles of the mainifesto are applied more.
Some opponents took the concepts of 'Cluetrain' to be cultish. For example, John C. Dvorak in PC Magazine:
Opponents to the concept of 'Cluetrain' point to the fact that the Internet cannot be conceptualized so unitarily as "a conversation" or that the human activity online cannot be so neatly compacted into the notion of 'conversation'. It may be true that there are some conversations online, but rather, it would seem that the Internet would be better described as a chaotic place with spam coursing through its veins, filters manipulating the viewing of websites, email, blogs and other forms of communication, noise and some human voices being heard above the babble and confusion.
Obviously there are some companies that seem to be doing extremely well without recourse to enabling conversations on the Internet—WalMart, for example. There are other companies that have paid attention to the Cluetrain concept and taken up conversation online and are doing both extremely well and in some cases very poorly (PayPal is a poor Internet communicator).