Sources of the Internet Culture

Three well-known sources clarify the basics of Internet Culture as I define it: The Cluetrain Manifesto, the ideas of Kevin Kelly/Wired, and the movements backed by O’Reilly Media, particularly web 2.0 and Open Source.

The Cluetrain
Key Cluetrain concepts
: Honesty, authenticity, transparency.

The Cluetrain Manifesto is the most revolutionary business book of the late twentieth century. The clue is that the internet enables person-to-person conversation, and everyone is the wiser for it. The entire book and a bit of its history are available for free at cluetrain.com.

Markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.

Imagine a world where everyone was constantly learning, a world where what you wondered was more interesting than what you knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge.

Kevin Kelly
Key Kelly concepts
: Intangibles, connections, push the edges, power to peers.

Kevin Kelly is the pied piper of the new economy. As the founding editor of Wired magazine, author of Out of Control and New Rules for the New Economy, and cohort of Steward Brand, Kelly’s technophilic philosophy has become the new business gospel. Kelly’s books and all past issues of Wired magazine are available on the web for free (at kk.org and wired.com.) Some apt maxims from New Rules:

The tricks of the intangible trade will become the tricks of your trade.

Communication – which in the end is what the digital technology and media are all about – is not just a sector of the economy. Communication IS the economy.

We are connecting everything to everything.

At present there is far more to be gained by pushing the boundaries of what can be done by the bottom than by focusing on what can be done at the top.

When information is plentiful, peers take over.


Tim O’Reilly

Key O’Reilly concepts: perpetual beta, user-centered development, web 2.0, loose coupling.

Tim O’Reilly publishes books about the net and open source software, but he’s more than a publisher. Tim’s goal is “to become the information provider of choice to the people who are shaping the future of our planet, and to enable change by capturing and transmitting the knowledge of innovators and innovative communities.”

Tim and his colleagues coined the term Web 2.0. Earlier on, they repositioned free software as Open Software. A dozen years ago, when the web was on its early, wobbly legs, O’Reilly offered “Internet in a Box,” the software you needed to get on the net if you had a PC running DOS 3.0. Those 3.5″ floppies are what connected me and lots of others to the net for the first time. From Tim’s personal web site and reports of his conference presentations:

Open source licensing began as an attempt to preserve a culture of sharing, and only later led to an expanded awareness of the value of that sharing. Open source licensing is a means of encouraging Internet-enabled collaboration.

The fundamental architecture of hyperlinking ensures that the value of the web is created by its users.

A successful open source software project consists of “small pieces loosely joined”. Therefore architect your software or service in such a way as to be used easily as a component of a larger system. Keep it modular, document your interfaces, and use a license that doesn’t hinder recombination.

There is great benefit in sharing your development efforts and processes with your users. Therefore release early and often. Set up mechanisms for user feedback, bug reports and patch contribution.

When devices and programs are connected to the internet, applications are no longer software artifacts, they’re ongoing services. Amazon, eBay, and Google just roll in new features, unsure whether they even want them… therefore don’t package up new features into monolithic releases: rather, fold them in on a regular basis. So if you’re not already thinking this way: operate as if you’re in perpetual beta.

Many of the limiting factors from the physical world are absent on the internet. Therefore use the power of the computer to monetize niches formerly too small to be commercial. Find the long tail in your own – or someone else’s! – business. Google Adsense