SAN MATEO (03/20/2000) - You may have the stellar products, services, staff, and technology needed to attack e-business head on, but a detour that requires your attention has come up on the road to the URL. I'm talking about how the Web has fundamentally changed the nature of both internal and external communications.
Last year about this time, The Cluetrain Manifesto was born in the form of 95 short statements posted on the Web that solidly describe the changing landscape of business communications and marketing (www.cluetrain.com/#manifesto). The Manifesto came about through conversations among Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Rick Levine, and Christopher Locke; the four have backgrounds in technology, marketing, publishing, consulting, and design.
The quartet has followed up on its initial online work by publishing a sequel this year, The Cluetrain Manifesto, The End of Business as Usual (Perseus Books). The book is well worth a read, as each of the authors carries his initial assertions a step further.
I would like to hear from those of you who are familiar with the online Manifesto or those who have read the book. I'm curious what your reaction to the text might be. Some of you may see the opinions as overstated or smug, but the majority of the concepts described in the work may perhaps be the impetus to take the leap into the new world of communication and corporate culture.
In a nutshell, the Manifesto speaks of how the Web is enabling interactive conversations that were not possible during the age of mass media. Web technology lets those inside your company engage in a much more dynamic conversation via the company intranet. Those outside your company also are seeking a direct dialogue with you and your employees via the Web.
The Manifesto authors suggest that companies that ignore this community conversation or attempt to manage it will not meet with success. They advocate tearing down the corporate walls and engaging in direct conversation rather than using broadcast techniques to deliver the company message.
You may not wish to open up all areas of your company to this dynamic community. However, supporting an open dialogue among your employees via the company intranet will strengthen corporate culture as well as the quality of your products and services. Likewise, interacting directly with customers provides the instant feedback that can yield a competitive edge.
In the not-too-distant past, armed with my trusty 300-baud modem and my Wildcat BBS, I conversed with other developers, which enabled me to write better software. The differing opinions, heated discussions, and new techniques I learned during those conversations were a huge help to my work at the time.
Today's Web technology is a vast improvement over the geekish conversation-enabling BBS of just a few years ago. Not only are developers discussing software creation techniques online, but the wider population of those armed with browsers are discussing your products and services.
I engage regularly in online conversations with InfoWorld readers and have gleaned useful details about what types of information people need but cannot find. InfoWorld readers also have useful insights into how software and hardware can be improved to better meet business requirements.
But for all the useful information, knowledge, and opinions online, many companies still communicate in a broadcast-only form. By not opening the door to two-way conversation -- between employees and employees, suppliers, and customers -- businesses are losing out on a grand opportunity to improve quality and increase satisfaction.
You may or may not agree with all of the opinions in The Cluetrain Manifesto, but you clearly cannot ignore the changing dynamics brought about by direct online communication. Those who seize the opportunities present in this new direct conversation will be the winners in the e-business game.
As you define and implement your online business strategy this year, be sure to include plans that support dynamic internal and external communications. Will you join the conversation or operate in a vacuum? Write to me at email@example.com.
Maggie Biggs is director of the InfoWorld Test Center.