Locke, Chris

"I like causing trouble." That's how Chris Locke quickly introduces himself. His work has been described as pretentious, strident, and absolutely brilliant. Locke is editor/publisher of the website Entropy Gradient Reversals and president of Entropy Web Consulting in Boulder, Colorado. [Editor's note, 07/2005: He has a blog at rageboy.com/blogger.] He has written extensively for magazines such as Forbes, Internet World, Information Week, Byte, Microsoft's Internet Magazine, and the Industry Standard. His work has been reported on by the New York Times, the Financial Times, and the Wall Street Journal, to name a few.

Last spring, Chris and technology industry veterans Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger wrote the Cluetrain Manifesto, ninety-five sarcastic, intense, and pragmatic theses about the Net and business. Since then, hundreds of people joined the Cluetrain, major business publications raved about it, and the website became the basis of a hot-selling book. Chris Locke is really creating trouble.

tompeters.com asks Chris Locke …

What is The Cluetrain Manifesto about, and why did you write it?

CL: We wrote it because we sensed the “tulip mania” that was breaking about the dot-coms, and e-commerce and such were missing something fundamental about a difference in kind in the dynamics that apply to this medium in contrast to broadcast, television being the prime example of that. When we first started talking about these ideas in December of ’98, it seemed that the depth of the analysis going on in the press was epitomized by the big debate about whether it was four trillion dollars worth of e-commerce by 2003 or three trillion dollars by 2004. People were counting cash register receipts, doing spreadsheet projections and saying, “Wow, look at all the revenue here!” But there didn’t seem to be much analysis of which pockets these revenues might go into according to some very different dynamics of the medium itself. The frustration with that was a great inspiration. In a nutshell what we saw going on was that this is a medium that is not broadcast; instead, it’s point to point, peer to peer, many to many. It’s not people sitting in their darkened living rooms listening to ad pitches from their televisions. What they came here for was to talk to each other, primarily, and it was the delta from broadcast that was the attractor.

One of the 95 theses of The Cluetrain Manifesto states that “markets are conversations.” What does that mean?

CL: When business looks at the Internet, it hears the word medium and thinks, “Ah, a medium, we know what that is, a medium for advertising.” But in fact this is a medium (again this is a great contrast with broadcasting) that grew up like Topsy over in the corner as some kind of weirdball DARPA DOD experiment and had nothing to do with commercial involvement whatsoever in the early going. It was mediating conversations between people. Business looks at its marketing mission as doing demographic segmentation, slicing and dicing and delivering the message down a one-way pipe to passive individuals. But what’s happening with the net and what’s been happening there from the beginning is something much more human to human, people talking to other people, whether it’s about their pet poodles, their Java programming, or about how to overthrow the government. These are all passionate interests that people have that have nothing to do with commerce necessarily—although notice that those same people all buy shoes and cars and books and whatever it is we buy. So in another sense we’re also markets.

Why should anyone believe that this approach works or would work for them?

CL: They don’t have to, be my guest. How many manifestos go up on the Internet in a year? At least a hundred. If we’re wrong about this whole premise, then companies that ignore Cluetrain and brush it aside are going to have missed precisely nothing. It’ll just be a minor blip in the myriad swirling obsessions that characterize the Internet. If we’re right, however, these ideas are going to gate trillions of dollars worth of commerce. How much does the book cost? Sixteen dollars—it’s a good investment, a hedge against losing trillions.

You and Tom Peters have at least one thing in common these days and that is singing the praises of the Ford Motor Company. What’s up with that?

CL: I’m glad to hear Tom is also turned on by what Ford has done by giving computers to their entire workforce. What is really significant here is the Internet connection. Ford management gave their employees computers so they could connect to the web. I think it’s the most brilliant thing I’ve seen in a long time. Jack Welch says: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” This was Ford getting out of the way bigtime. At the same time, it represents tremendous, insightful leadership. Large companies, if they’re smart—and Ford did something smart here—recognize that their workers are getting hooked up at home anyway. They can’t stop this, can’t prevent it, can’t control it—and instead of trying to control it, instead of being jerks about it, Ford played the white hat here and said, “Why don’t we turn your family and your kids and everybody on to this wonderful thing. Go out there, rock and roll, have fun.” Ford comes across looking like they have something to gain here. And they do. First of all, they’re not trying to control their workers. They’re doing something that is the diametrical opposite of command and control. They have now 350,000 potential ambassadors on the Net who are not acting as salespeople or PR people. They’re not out there pitching Ford products, but they are eyes and ears on the marketplace. And most important, they’re voices. They’re genuine people with genuine stories—who also happen to be Ford people. If Cluetrain is right about markets being conversations, the company will benefit hugely from this program.

What are you working on now?

CL: My next book is called Gonzo Marketing: Winning through Worst Practices. In stark contrast to broadcast advertising, the book explores the consequences that can flow from creating genuine relationships with emergent Web micromarkets. That’s a mouthful, I know, but it really is a potent—and enormously positive—eventuality.

Chris Locke’s favorite sites:

CL: Great site with history and great visuals of graffiti art.

CL: Where to find David Weinberger’s (one of my coauthors on Cluetrain) website [Editor’s note, 07/2005: and his blog, www.hyperorg.com/blogger/], JOHO, Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization.

CL: Columbia Journalism Review‘s site. After looking through this area I subscribed to the paper version.

CL: Newsfeeds. Cool way to track the media.

clickfeed.com [Editor’s note, 07/2005: No longer exists, but forerunner of RSS?]
CL: New site. Place to customize your own newsfeeds and then direct on to your friends so they can track what you’re tracking.

Chris Locke’s reading pile:

The Conversation of Journalism, by Rob Anderson, Robert Dardenne, and George M. Killenberg

Geeks: How Two Lost Boys Rode the Internet out of Idaho, by Jon Katz
CL: Katz writes brilliantly about the Internet and media. Great proponent of everybody using the net.

Cyberselfish, by Paulina Borsook

Chris Locke can be reached at clocke@panix.com

© Tom Peters Company 2000
Interview by Aaron Freeman, April 2000

Aaron Freeman is a journalist and stand-up comedian in Chicago Illinois. He is host of “Talking with Aaron Freeman” on UPN 50 and performs for capitalist functions across America.