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Clueless

It ain't easy in the business world to be, well, real. But it can be rewarding.

Alicia Silverstone is not the subject of this.

Some of you will take the headline, add it to the Silverstone reference, and get it.

Another portion of you will type the actress' name into a search engine and realize that I'm not referencing Batman & Robin.

And a group that I'd prefer to think is miniscule at most will simply think "Vasilash is off of his nut" and will turn the page.

This is not about an actress.

This is not about people who know movie trivia.

This is not about search engines.

It is about communication. Something that I think that we're doing in the pages of this magazine. It is pretty much a one-way street: My various colleagues and I putting forth information to you. But there are the means for you to contact all of us—U.S. and e-mail; fax, telephone—and some of you do.

A certain percentage of you read this on the AD&P website and know that the ability to comment is just a quick click away.

One of the things that we strive to do here is to provide you with information in a way that you sense has been thought about, not just packaged and printed. We try to provide this to you such that it is easy to hear the "voices" of those who are writing, the British accent of William Kimberley, the knowledgeable tone of Martin Piszczalski, and so on.

It is important to us that you recognize us as individuals and that you receive the entire package knowing that inside there are actual voices. And we hope that you want to listen to those voices. And we recognize that there are some people for whom the sounds are unpleasant. (That's just how the world is.)

The reason why we believe that it is important that you recognize that there are real people who are behind the words printed in these pages is because we know that you have plenty of options with regard to how you spend your reading time, and we'd like you to think things like "Vasilash is off of his nut, but at least he's interesting about it," and keep reading the magazine.

So now let's get to what has provoked this: The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business As Usual, a book (born of a website:www.cluetrain.com) by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger (Perseus Books; 190 pp.; $23.00). The name of the manifesto apparently arose from a line from an executive of a Fortune 500 company: "The clue train stopped here four times a day for 10 years and they never took delivery." The company no longer exists.

The fundamental thesis of the book is that the Internet and the World Wide Web are causing massive changes in the nature of the market—a notion that, nowadays (its said that webtime is seven times faster than regular time, so nowadays are more frequent than they used to be), is well recognized, although not thoroughly understood. The importance of the Cluetrain contributors to you and to me is found in their essaying of what they see as one aspect of the changes, which is that the 'net facilitates communication between people, and that the communication is necessarily authentic if it is to be listened to. As Rick Levine maintains, "Voice is how we can tell the difference between people, committees, and bots. An e-mail written by one person bears the tool marks of their thought processes. E-mail might be employee-to-employee, customer-to-customer or employee-to-customer, but in each case it's person-to-person." That stuff that arrives in our postal mailboxes that we generally characterize as "junk mail" is an example of something that is not written to any one of us, even if they now use software that makes the address on the envelope appear to be hand-written (faux "tool marks" of an individual). Levine continues, "Voice, or its lack, is how we tell what's worth reading and what's not. Much of what passes for communication from companies to customers is washed and diluted so many times by the successive editing and tuning done by each company gatekeeper that the live-person hints are gone."

This is not a support of sloppiness but a plea for authenticity.

On both the public Internet and on company intranets people are communicating like mad about all kinds of things, including companies' products, behaviors, approaches, and attitudes. An argument that the Cluetrain conductors make is that the organizations that understand the importance of conversations and join in (#25 from the 95 Cluetrain Theses: "Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.")-with a real voice. Otherwise, it's to the recycle bin, just like the printed junk mail.

It ain't easy in the business world to be, well, real. But it can be rewarding.

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