The Cluetrain Manifesto: Voices

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Chapter 2 mentions that humans have a longing to express themselves and use their voices.  According to this chapter, the Web fulfills this longing.  However, David Weinberger writes that when you have access to this tool, use it.  “Having a voice doesn’t mean being able to sing in the shower,” he writes.  “It means presenting oneself to others. The Web provides a place like we’ve never seen before.”     

This leads to one of my favorite theses, #9: These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.  Here’s an example.  Last month, I watched a BBC drama called “North & South.”  Not to be confused with the Patrick Swayze Civil War miniseries, this particular N&S takes place in England during the Industrial Revolution.  After watching this DVD, I searched on-line for more information about it.  I learned that when this drama was first shown in the U.K. in 2004, there was such a strong, positive reaction.  However, that’s not the end of the story.  Thanks to the Internet, these viewers would visit the drama’s Web site and fervently participate in its message board, even overwhelming the server at times.  Hundreds and hundreds of mostly women, some of whom had never participated in a message board before, were sharing their thoughts, feelings, and reactions with each other.  It became its own community, a community with a voice.  For instance, when the BBC didn’t plan on releasing N&S on DVD, the collective voices of so many people (thanks to the Internet) made the corporation reconsider its previous decision.   

However, the BBC board had its restraints.  There was a 10 p.m. curfew, and members couldn’t do things such as add pictures to their posts or mention other Web sites.  For instance, “the big South American river site” became a codeword for Amazon.co.uk, in order to get around the moderators.  In late Feb. 2005, for some reason, the BBC shut down this board.  However, many of these voices weren’t silenced, since at least a couple members developed their own Web sites that included message boards.  Thus, the conversations could still continue on.     

Last month, I joined one of these message boards, and I’m doing something that I normally don’t do: contributing posts, instead of benignly “lurking” (a.k.a. reading discussions without participating).  This particular board was founded on Feb. 2, 2005, and was originally devoted to 19th Century British literature.  However, the administrator decided to broaden her board for displaced fans of the N&S drama (she had to be sneaky, leaving a trail of clues at the BBC board that lead to her Web site).  Now, two years and over 3,000 members later, her board is thriving.  Although it does have guidelines and moderators, this board isn’t as rigid at the old BBC board.  In addition to discussions about books (now including non-fiction and modern fiction) and entertainment (beyond period dramas), this board has become a place to exchange information, ranging from technology to history to recipes.  It has also become a way for people to socialize, whether it’s communicating on-line or going on group trips.   

This is just one of many examples of how the Internet can be used by people to express themselves.  In the past, if you wanted to share your opinions of a particular movie, for example, you were limited to the people you knew and the people around you.  If nobody else you knew had even seen it before, then you were stuck.  Now, you can analyze and discuss it with people all over the world through the Internet.  However, it’s not the act of voicing your opinion about a movie that is significant.  Instead, it’s the act of simply using your voice and having an audience for it.  Period.       

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