Introduction, Ken Neill:Welcome to sunny San Francisco. Appreciate you all being here, taking time off from the beach.
My name is Ken Neill. I’m the publisher of the Memphis Flyer, and what passes for president of AAN.
I welcome you all here. Today, I think our speaker needs no introduction to anybody in this room.
But just in case there is somebody who doesn’t know who Craig Newmark is, I’d like to ask Dan Pulcrano, publisher of Metro Newspapers — and that’s Metro Santa Cruz and two other papers in the Bay Area — I’d like to ask Dan to introduce our speaker.
Second introduction, Dan Pulcrano:Thanks Ken. Boy, this is really good to see everybody here today. Another successful AAN West convention. Richard, your staff has done just a fabulous job. Thanks for all the hard work by Debra, Roxanne, Tiffany, and Amy. Let’s give them a big hand. [applause]
And, this is a special occasion. Usually after people come and speak to our group, they never want to come back. Craig Newmark came here, I think it was 1997, and held a little event. It was in a small room. It wasn’t a big keynote like today. Back then, he was this guy with kinda like this bulletin-board list. He wasn’t known, as he was called in a New York magazine profile, as “the exploder of journalism.” So, we’re hoping for some explosions today, of the good kind.
The New York magazine piece, basically said, it was subheded, “how a shlumpy IBM refugee found your apartment, your boyfriend, your couch, and now finds himself killing your newspaper.” [laughter]
See, that’s funny, huh? You guys are worried about him, wait ’til Google Base gets going.
He’s different than guys like our friends at Google, who I understand just bought themselves a 767 that’s specially outfitted to get them from place to place, in a non-virtual way. Craig’s different than that. He doesn’t need a 767; he takes public transit. So, he’s a different kind of guy.
In some ways, he’s our kind of guy, reminiscent of many of the publishers in this room as an individualist who’s pursued his own path, worked very, very hard. He says he works 7 days a week, fourteen hours a day, and calls himself, his card says “customer service rep and founder,” which is like many of us, what we specialize in. But, y’know, that’s a pretty modest title for a guy who named a list after himself. [laughter]
Before that, he worked at Charles Schwab for 2 years and at a company called IBM for 17 years, which used to be considered the biggest, scariest company on the planet — is no longer.
Craig is from my home state, the great state of New Jersey. [audience noise] You guys from there too? All right. Let’s hear it for New Jersey.
He was born in 1952 and he’s the son of a insurance salesman father. His mother was a bookkeeper. As a youngster, his interests were dinosaurs, science fiction, quantum physics and rocks. If you need any more explanation than that, you’re going to have to ask him what he saw in rocks, but he told me that today.
I think the most important thing that you need to know is that there’s just basically 120 PCs running Linux in a building here in San Francisco that’s now powering a site which gets 3 billion page views a month.
[Audience; Where is that building exactly?] [laughter]
So, with that, let me welcome to AAN West, Craig Newmark.
Thanks for being here, Craig.
Keynote Speech:I actually have been referred to and prefer to be introduced as the anti-Christ of print media. But I’d like to assure you that the scariest thing about me is my sense of humor — and the attempts at using it.
I’m going to try to focus, instead of what I usually talk about, just kind of really focus on those aspects of Craigslist which may be pertinent to the running of a newspaper, and then I’ll probably pontificate a bit about my own personal experiments in media.
I’m going to try to do this for a very short time and then just open it up for questions, because, while I do enjoy the sound of my own voice, I’m getting really tired of myself.
The deal is without consciously doing it, starting this thing just about eleven years ago, I started, well, we run the thing these days as a community service, kind of a public trust. Right now we’re very close to 100 percent free, and even as we charge for a little more, we’re going to stay that way.
Our whole theme is about people giving each other a break and just addressing basic everyday needs, seeing what happens. We’re, for that matter, if you look at our site, we, in the Craigslist company, don’t actually run the thing. The people who run our site, not us, but that’s the people who use the site. Everything on the site is based on what people have asked for. I had one reasonable idea, eleven years ago, about a simple mailing list for cool events. And, after doing it a while, people suggested more and I did that. Then, people suggested more, and I did that. Made it into a real company, although, the guy who gets the credit now is Jim Buckmaster, who really runs things.
But the way we work is that people suggest stuff to us, we do it, people post their own content. And if there’s something wrong there, people flag it away, so the site is kind of self-running and self-maintaining, self-policing. Those are big things for serious customer involvement and we take this part of things really seriously. Don’t take me seriously; as you know, I may or may not exist. [laughter]
But the deal is that all the time, we’re seriously engaged with people, and almost everything on our site is based on what people have suggested to us. You may infer from this that I have absolutely no vision, I’ve just responded to what people want and just feel some sense of commitment, and that’s accurate. Again, I have no vision whatsoever. [laughter]
Just to be more precise, what we do in the Craigslist company, to oversimplify, we’re pretty much half technology and half customer service. And me, I do full-time customer service. I was doing it minutes ago, and will be doing it again, let’s say in an hour or so. I know there’s one report on misbehaving apartment brokers in New York that I have to finish. And that’s the kind of stuff that we do.
That is, we’re continuously and seriously engaged with the community. As a customer service rep, I probably deal with a couple hundred actual humans, or what appear to be humans… We don’t discriminate. Ever since we started beaming ads into space, we’re not completely sure. We have detected a surge in interest in inter-species dating. [laughter]
The deal is we’re seriously engaged all the time. And, we have discussion boards, we moderate them lightly, and by we, almost 100 percent I mean me. And that’s something that newspapers are starting to engage in now, pretty directly. I think the L.A. Times had an experiment, and — I forget which one — I think the Washington Post also had an experiment, but when you open your discussion boards or blogs up to the community, well, you’re going to get an awful lot of good stuff, and you’re also going to get a lot of crap.
One big lesson doing Craigslist and running customer service is that — first I should say that I’m trying to be more cynical as a guy. I’m wearing more black. And people who have read the article in New York magazine may note that I’m wearing my outfit, my uniform today of gray and black. But the deal is, as I try to grow more cynical, I’m finding that people, overall, are overwhelmingly trustworthy and good. And you’ll see that reflected in your site if you let people act that way.
But you will have to moderate your discussion boards, that means getting rid of crap. It helps if you have a flagging mechanism, because at least people can draw your attention to bad stuff which is going up there.
We’re finding, well, in some of the fiction I read a theme is “information warfare” and there was an article going around yesterday about the Pentagon starting to practice it, some good, maybe some questionable. But it’s been happening for years, a great deal of it starting with the last presidential election, where there appears to be a de-centralized network, y’know, with all sorts of plausible deniability of people who go around posting political talking points, particularly disinformation, like discredited stuff like the old Swift Boat Veterans thing. And the same people apparently try to do it regarding Murtha, but for some reason that campaign wasn’t sustained.
Again, a basic theme of serious engagement with the community is that, way back when we decided that Craigslist needed to start charging, y’know, to raise some revenue back then to pay the bills, I actually asked people en masse, “Hey, what’s the right way to do this?” And people said, the consensus was that, charge people who would otherwise be paying more for less effective ads. The consensus then was charge job posters, y’know for help wanted ads, charge real-estate people, and leave everything else like resume postings or apartment-wanted postings, keep that stuff free, although there was some ambiguity about personals and stuff like that.
But, that’s how we’re run. We ask people what should happen, they tell us what should be going on, and some of that maybe applies to media, some not, you have to decide about that.
Regarding media, on a personal basis, and this is not Craigslist, but just Craig talking, I’m involved in some misadventures, realizing fully that I’m very much an amateur, a dilettante at this stuff. I rely on the advice of people like Dan Gillmor in this area, or Jay Rosen, or Jeff Jarvis in New York. These guys are the real deal. They are pretty good at what’s going on.
I can only repeat an observation of, I guess Oscar Wilde. He says, “If you want to tell people the truth, make ’em laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.” [laughter]
And he had a lapse, and they killed him. [laughter]
But now of course, I rely upon that lesson coming from my favorite, and most trusted, news sources, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Which mean a lot to people and these people are writing the history of the day, along with stuff like wikipedia.
A lot of people now too are excited, too excited, I think, about citizen journalism. And I’m pretty excited about it, but I do want to remind people that I realize how important professional journalism is. The deal is there’s no substitute for someone who can write real well, no substitute for fact-checking, research, and editing.
And my half-assed vision of a future, writers and editors, fact-checkers, will have a more important role in the future. And given my fantasies, and looking at some of the technology coming online now, those are going to be better careers in the near future.
But I have a feeling we’re going to have to migrate to electronic means of delivery. Paper, I have a feeling, as a means of delivering content, may not have a great deal of a future. That’s one reason I’ve actually spent a little time with a couple of union people, typesetters, who are now training their people in the use of electronic tools to produce display ads for all sorts of sites.
One effort I am involved with which probably will affect you, driving traffic to your sites, there’s this collaborative-filtering related venture I’m getting into with Jeff Jarvis and Upendra Shardanand in New York. The theme, and I’m just scratching the surface here, is “How do you find the most trustworthy versions of big stories?” Because, right now, human life is based on, “who do you know? who do you trust?” That’s what they’re working on.
Dan Gillmor, who is the guy who left the Mercury and who left the perfect job for him to get into citizen journalism, is starting to tie together groups like the journalism school at Berkeley and the Berkman Center at Harvard.
Maybe the biggest thing I’m starting to talk with people about is at the Center for Public Integrity, where every four years or so they publish The Selling of the President [Ed: The Buying of the President], which kind of talks about suspicious activities, but after the fact. If they start blogging the thing, is that going to change media? More importantly, they’re starting to put online open-source databases of, well, which may ultimately lead to an easy-to-use tool, which would allow any of us, anyone to see who is paying what politician off for what favors.
They need some funding for it, but they’re hoping to get this thing up by mid-year. And again, this is the Center for Public Integrity. And, y’know, if they make that happen, that’s going to change things. It may change events in November, it may change the way people report on that kind of thing. And maybe it’ll create a sea change in journalism, where people are less afraid to speak truth to power. I don’t know.
Again, when I say all this, this is just stuff I’m screwing around with. Remember, y’know, I’m the kind of guy who grew up wearing a plastic pocket protector. I really did have thick black glasses taped together. And I had marginal social skills. So I’m an amateur at this. I’m just fooling around. For reasons which are still unknown to me, people are foolish enough to pay attention to this stuff. But I do see that things are changing. We have a very minor role in it, but things are changing in media, and apropos of nothing, consider that technology’s changing things, when everyone at home has TiVo or equivalent, and when they zip through commercials, including political commercials, how much money do you need to raise to run a political campaign when your major cost area isn’t that anymore.
I don’t know.
At this point, I’m really tired of hearing myself, so this is a good time for questions.
Question and Answer Session:Craig: And again to assure people, I don’t have any birthmarks that say 666 or anything like that.
Tim Redmond: I’m not going to sit here and whine about how craigslist has taken all our classifieds away and is destroying newspapers–
Craig: Oh, whine, that’s okay.
Tim Redmond: –because that’s history, you figured out a way to do something that the rest of us didn’t figure out, and more power to you. My question is, now, I think people have gotten this now, and you talk a lot about building community, which is a fine thing, but I’m not sure I understand how having a San Francisco-based company, with eBay money, move into Burlington, Vermont, helps the community. Why not say, “okay, we’ve all learned a lesson here.” What you’re talking about, building community, is a wonderful thing. Why do you have to build an empire? Why not leave it alone, and let the people in Burlington build their own community? Because when you come in, you actually make it much more difficult for the local folks to do it on their own, keep the money in the community and build their own. So in fact, it’s not just newspapers and classifieds and everybody whining about jobs, potentially you’re hurting local communities. Why not just quit? Stay where you are!
Craig: You ask several things at once. Let me start from the beginning. First, you’re giving me too much credit for what I’ve done. All I did was start something simple, and then responded to what people in the community, including in Vermont, asked for. We only go into an area where people ask for Craigslist. And that works out pretty well. We have no eBay money. EBay paid a former employee for his shares in what we think of as a community service and we’re lucky it’s eBay because they share a similar moral compass to us. Right now we, in a city, we provide a great deal of good for people who use the site. Individuals get value in return for basically nothing, and to me that works pretty well. That’s helping people out. I don’t see how it’s not. I’m concerned about that, but if people agree with you, then they’ll use the resources there and not us.I do want to remind you, like I said before, that one of our sites is not run by us, but by the people in a local community, who, they run this site, they use it as they see fit, and not, and that’s pretty democratic.
Tim Redmond: Well, I won’t stay here and argue with you forever, but–
Tim Redmond: –why not just, take a five-year moratorium on expansion and let the local communities build their own sites, so that the money stays in town and local newspapers can survive. Why– You’ve got plenty of money, you’ve got a big operation, you’re famous, you’re speaking everywhere. Why do you need to keep expanding? Why do you need to move into every damn market in the country and make life more difficult for people there? All right, I’m done.
Craig: First of all, if you think I’m famous, you may need to get out more often. [laughter]
And the deal is, the question you’re posing, from my point of view is, I can help people, or I can not help people. You’re suggesting that I not help people, and I think that’s the answer, implicit in that.
Mark Zusman: [inaudible]
Craig: Well, you’re talking, I think, about Google Base. What Google Base is, as far as I can tell, it’s FileMaker, writ large. Filemaker for the web. You can put all sorts of data up there, which may or may not be in your interest to do so. It may or may not be easy for people to put it up there. Someone could probably put something up there in your name, using your address, and you don’t know about it until people start giving you crap. There’s all sorts of customer service that goes around with it. What happens when scammers, or just people spamming the site for mortgage-foreclosure scams, what do you do with that? I don’t know how the guys are going to deal with that. And I think it’s a complementary kind of resource, not a competitive one. I do want to add that if you get any kind of success with a classified site or a discussion board or anything, you, in the midst of your success, you’re going to have the need to deal with that kind of stuff. I’m engaged right now in shutting down a mortgage-foreclosure scam, and it took a while, because I had to figure out what the ISP was, and then figure out what the real ISP was — there was a contracting relationship — and now we’re getting them shut down but it took a while. And you also have to have some tech knowledge to do that. So that applies to maybe everyone here, indirectly.
Richard Karpel: I also should have mentioned we’re videotaping, so if you have a question come on up.
Craig: Ooh, they’re videotaping us. [laughter]
Andy Sutcliffe: Craig, have you been contacted by the Justice Department regarding the whole pornography move of our Bush Administration, and if not, what is your position if you are contacted by them about releasing confidential information on your sites?
Craig: Right now the Electronic Communications Privacy Act in fact prevents us from doing that without the proper paperwork. The full answer is I don’t know yet. It would be really interesting because from what I hear from the cops I’m talking to, there are attempts like this — could be actually attempts at — well, they could be politically motivated, and also the cops I’m talking to are complaining that they want to be going after corruption in corporations or in Congress and if they’re being flooded by false tips about kiddie porn or for that matter dead ends regarding terrorism, they can’t go after corruption.
I should mention that, again, if you’re going to be doing this kinda stuff, given what people do online, while the bad guys are a very very tiny fraction of everyone out there, you’re gonna get to know what subpoenas look like and you’re gonna get to know cops. So far though all the subpoenas we’ve seen have been for, like I say, petty cases of harassment, some minor scams, that kinda thing. And again, I have gone to talk to a lot of cops, and just to remind you, I have no cop fantasies, except perhaps recreationally. [laughter]
This is San Francisco after all. [laughter]
Jeffrey Stout: You were talking a little bit about TiVO and what that might do to advertisement on television. What do you think is going to be the effect of the spread of Mozilla Firefox and people using the ad-blocker? I’ve been using Firefox for the past year and haven’t seen an online ad, besides a text ad, for that entire time.
Craig: Yeah, Firefox, just if you don’t know, is the, pretty much the only serious, big-deal browser out there. It can block pop-ups and stuff like that and there’s even another filter you can get to get rid of all sorts of banner ads. Between that and with TiVO and equivalent skipping commercials on TV, people have to find other models for advertising, and here I’m a complete amateur at it. Product placement is starting to work, and plus also the Google style ads, which are text-based, unobtrusive, and, well, a lot less stupid than traditional advertising. That will work. We also have Pay-Per-View coming online. Now, I’m not going to pay $1.99 to see a “Desperate Housewives.” I might spend $1.99 to see a “West Wing” or, god help me, “24.” [laughter]
But we’re gonna see all those models evolve. We’re gonna see models where you, well, you’ll be able to see a TV program but the player when you get it, the player on which you get it on, will not allow you to skip commercials. So we’re gonna see all these models evolve and emerge together, and there will be ways to get all this stuff paid for. It’s gonna be, I think, all electronic again and paper may become a luxury item.
Audience Member: Craig, I’m curious what you’ve learned, in terms of, since you pay attention to all your sites and all these communities. What do you see as the differences in this global community that we now have. You know, have you come to your own conclusions about how these individual communities are really distinct, or are we all just the same now?
Craig: [laughs} From my point of view, and remember I’m trying to be more cynical, but people everywhere pretty much share a lot of the same values. That is, people helping each other out is pretty much the biggest genuine moral value that people have. The culture wars stuff isn’t real. There are people who have some genuine disagreements, but most everyone has far more in common than we accredit them.
There are regional differences, but we’re finding that they’re kinda, minor. Like in New York, real estate is kinda a blood sport. And in LA, for reasons which I guess are obvious, there’s considerably more interest in TV and film jobs. But, you know, pretty much all world religions — with the exception of the cult of the woman wearing a necklace of skulls up front — you know, pretty much everyone shares the same values. You just figure out, you just wanna give people a break. And again, in saying that, I’m worried about being sanctimonious about it. But again I’ve been working with thousands of people, and people have a lot more in common than they have which is different. There are definite differences that people have, but in the U.S. the cultural differences have been overstated in order to divide people. And you know, I’m a uniter, not a divider!
Audience Member: Some of us are trying to build our own community systems within our markets and we have here a number of vendors that some of us work with in setting up our free classifieds. In your benevolent view of the world do you ever see all of these groups getting together to share information on who the bad guys are as a joint policing effort?
Craig: No one’s talked about it much, except for the community of sysAdmins who get together to figure out where the spam is coming from. But nothing like you’ve spoken about is happening to my knowledge. There is a lot of defamation issues to be considered. That’s a big deal. And, although I heard on CNN yesterday, that people in chain stores are getting together to figure out what the shoplifting gangs are. Any maybe once they deal with the defamation issue they can proceed on with that.
The problem is that well again, I’ve observed at least one decentralized network of political ops kinda organized like Al-Qaeda in that sense, who go around posting, not only disinformation, but they also tend to have rather odd sexual and scatological fetishes. And I say that even from a San Franciscan perspective. Like they have ongoing fascinations with a conjuncture on Hillary Clinton’s personal habits. But that’s the kinda thing you’re gonna have to deal with. And again, for example, you’re gonna have to be good at tracking people who use proxies out there to disguise their IP address and who are quite happy to come up with an infinite number of e-mail addresses to avoid tracking. And these people are just, in a way, amateur political ops — and have fun.
Audience Member: I’ll give you two questions, because one may have a very short answer. The first one is, have you ever been sued or have you ever sued anyone related to Craigslist? And the second…
Craig: Let me finish that one. We’ve had a couple of minor things which really didn’t get anywhere. One or even two threats of suit, and this applies to everyone, has to do with defamation on the web. The lawyers didn’t know that since we are a carrier not a publisher that the DMAC does provide some legal protections. They also didn’t do any homework finding out that we’re really good at dealing with that kinda stuff.
And again, as a minor tangent, you know, if you’re going to get approached by cops or victims looking for IP addresses and other personally identifying information, and you do have some protections against that. In our case, usually the cops know that, but even in the case of the cops who don’t know it, we actually, when we can see a real nasty thing is happening, we will coach them on how to do this thing right, respecting the rights of the accused, while helping out the victim. The deal is that I remember AP History, Mr. Schulsky, this is about 35 years ago, when we learned about this thing called the Constitution, and considering that we’re in a Constitutional crisis right now, it’s even more important to be obsessed with that. End of tangent, but that was brought to you by our sponsor.
Audience Member: The second questions is, what is it exactly that you do in your job as a customer service rep, and do you do it strictly at a terminal, a computer terminal, or other means?
Craig: Well, first, I do very little at, I do very little on the phone. And the only thing I do in person is really kinda a joke. Like I’ll be wandering around New York, because, you know, I go there frequently, and I like wandering around neighborhoods. And if I see an apartment brokerage that I recognize, I will drop in. And the reactions are first, panic and then photography. In there of course, they are asking, of course, if it’s really me, you know, that’s a legitimate question — because it’s hard to find a photo of me on the site. But what I do mostly, what I was even doing, again, a couple of hours ago, was, well, I will go to our discussion boards and I will moderate them, like people do bicker. For example, for whatever reasons, our pet forums have a lot of people bickering with each other quite passionately. I never expected that. You know, like, we have a quote-unquote “people of color” discussion board and that’s actually relatively trouble free. Although once I had an experiment where a guy who spends most of his time at stormfront.org visited and I decided I would try to turn him around a little bit, and that actually kinda worked — because mostly the guy wanted attention.
We do, of course, have bickering on our political discussion boards, but, you know, you expect there are cranks from left and right to do that, and that I’m kinda used to, because we knew that would happen. Again, it’s the organized stuff which is a pain in the butt for me. I also regularly deal with apartment brokers in New York, you know, you may know if you watch “Seinfeld” or “Friends” or “Law and Order” or “Sex in the City,” that real estate is pretty tough there. And the brokers have been very, very predatory for decades there. Now they are less so because we’re holding them to the law and New York real estate ethics. Now and then too people do approach me, e-mail me for more routine issues that deal with customer service questions, because my e-mail address is email@example.com and people e-mail it, thinking that maybe there’s a real human there and I answer. Sometimes I delegate, but half the time I handle it myself.
That reminds me, we do have pretty good internal tools that are improving all the time. The idea is that, if you’re looking at a posting — let’s say it’s a scam or something like that — you do want tools which easily allow you to locate postings by the same IP or e-mail address. Do people know what an IP address is? For those of you who aren’t shaking your heads, when you’re on the Net, you have a number, an IP address, which is kinda like a phone number, except there’s one always there, you know, as opposed to, you can block caller ID. And a website always has the equivalent of caller ID, so you are kinda identifying yourself when you do that, although to find out who you are, normally probably two levels of subpoenas are required to identify someone. That’s the beginning of a much longer subject, but I’ll stop. Carl, did you have a question?
Carl Ferrer: Craig, could you, you’ve talked about this a little bit, can you give me an idea of the daily scam ads that you need to block or spam ads that you need to block off your site or the number of e-mail scams that you have to block from getting to users.
Craig: Actual scams?
Carl Ferrer: Yes.
Craig: Ok, I don’t know. I don’t have good numbers, because I handle few of them, my team handles probably more and we never bother to count. We don’t care about the number really. So, for me personally, there is a mortgage foreclosure scam that I have to deal with everyday, because, hopefully Monday they will be shut down, which just means they’ll have to get another ISP. But it’s a start. And actually there is a fake brokerage, actually two of them in New York, which we haven’t had much luck in shutting down. And there, again, I have to deal with them everyday; they post, many of them, well two out of the three, will post maybe one or two hundred ads throughout our whole site everyday.
Carl Ferrer: Well then this is a good follow-up question, because one way that you’ve been able to manage the scams is by putting a price on a category that makes it too expensive for the scammer to post two hundred ads, and I had a number of people ask me to find out, Craig, what your pricing plans are in the future? Could you give us an idea what categories you might be charging for?
Craig: Right now, we charge for job postings, you know, help wanted postings, in New York, L.A., and San Francisco. We’re thinking of a couple other big cities like Washington, for example, because there hopefully will be a lot of people looking for work in Washington soon. [laughter]
Yeah, you’ll forgive me, I confuse some of these things, like I tend to confuse, on HBO I confuse the “K-Street” thing with “The Sopranos.” [laughs]
And also we’re talking about, we are going to be charging, maybe in around a month, and we’re gonna charge apartment brokers for rental listings in New York and I, oddly enough, the reason we’re posting is because the brokers have asked us to charge them to minimize some of the crap and stuff in there and they feel that they’ll feel obligated to post in a less redundant way, which eases their collective work load, which is pretty understandable. So it’s very odd, again, they’ve asked us to charge them. The big issue we’re having is, for example, how little should we charge them, since we don’t want to hurt the smaller agencies or, let’s say, the agents who are new in the business and who aren’t being paid very much. This is a pretty complicated issue, but we think we finally understand it. It took awhile because, you know it is, from my point of view, a moral issue, because you don’t want to force, let’s say, the little guys out of business. And that only seems fair.
Carl Ferrer: Have you seen a drop-off in listings since you started charging?
Craig: Well, remember, in that area we’re only gonna be charging, hopefully, in, let’s say five or six weeks. In cities where we do start charging for jobs we did see a trade off, I’m sorry, a drop-off, but then things picked up again. People just had to get used to it a bit, and we’re good at finding out how people want to be billed. In the very beginning I thought people would be very happy just to get a bill e-mailed to them, and I found that some people absolutely had to have an invoice mailed to them. Some insisted on it being faxed. Kinda interesting, and I was very very wrong about all that. Yeah, I’ve made some intriguing mistakes. That’s one reason why Jim Buckmaster is running things, not me.
Audience Member: Will you reflect on the esthetic of your site vis-a-vis a normal media site?
Craig: [laughs] Somebody said that we have the visual appeal of a pipe wrench, and that was intended and taken as a compliment. Almost certainly everyone here, we’re being bombarded by too much information, too much media, and we need a little less of it — we need stuff to get to the point. And that’s what we’re about. Brevity is the soul of wit. That being almost the only thing I remember from high school Shakespeare. But, one way to give someone a break is to get to the point.
John Saltas: Hi Craig. I’m John Saltas and I publish Salt Lake City Weekly, or used to rather, Jim Rizzi does, and we do Avenews in Salt Lake City, which is a free posting site. But as I’ve listened to this, I just have a simpler question, I hope I can make it simple. I had a brother in Vietnam, Marine, he was on the troops fighting and I would liken these people to the Vietnamese people on the ground, the Marines on the ground in Vietnam. And I had another brother in Vietnam, who dropped bombs from the planes and the B-52s over the North. And I see you as the guy in the bomber, whose collateral damage on the ground is all of us, but not feeling it and touching it like my brother the Marine did.
And I hear the stuff about doing good for the little ad agency in New York, and I say “Who give a shit?” because there’s a whole bunch of people in here who are little people as well, Craig, and speaking to the compassion that you laid out, that I believe that you are, and care about the little people, there’s a lot of little people here that are going to be affected in very adverse ways through what Craigslist is doing in a benevolent guise on the front. I don’t disagree with your premise and I congratulate you for coming up with Craigslist. The spawn of that, I think, will be Cheney’s list. And other people listing out, and at the end of the day, this citizen journalism, I don’t know if it’s gonna be as good as what these people can do here. And I just want you to, if you can for a second, follow-up with what Tim was saying, and address the journalism side and impact on us little people as well as advertising little people.
Craig: I guess I didn’t articulate myself well enough before. The deal is that people in communities using our site to get value in the mass, helping out, literally, millions of people. The deal is that I know that existing business models for newspapers do rely on classifieds and we do have a minor effect on that. The notion that we have a major effect is a mythology. Somebody actually in this area made a guess and unfortunately people are taking it too seriously, but you may have a lot more to worry about in the form of niche papers like Pennysaver or Autotrader. You also have to worry about loss of circulation, because people are abandoning printed media in large numbers going to electronic means. I mean, read the Pew reports on this kinda thing. The deal is that we have a very minor effect on this, and people are choosing to use our site because we’re helping out again, millions of people, in ways that other people are just starting to. Remember on any kind of site like ours, your ad can be as long as you want, and you can put up photos. Hell, you can even link to audio and video if you want. That’s all very doable.
The thing is, as a citizen, news is really really important. We need this to make informed decisions, let’s say about voting. And just out of regular old compassion I see that right now jobs are in jeopardy. Based on a lot of journalists and industry analysts I’ve spoken to, they say that there is this economic dislocation in process right now; it is happening right now, it’s, oh, it is a big deal. The thing is that it’s also been happening for maybe ten, twenty years where newspaper rooms have been firing, say, investigative journalists because they’re expensive and don’t bring much profit. And yet, as far as I can tell, investigative journalism is a core part of journalism. Somebody enlighten me about whether I’m wrong or right about that. But that phenomenon has been happening for a long time, or at least Carl Hiaasen says so in his novels. The deal is that, if we can help everyone get to these cheaper means of delivery, quickly enough, then newspapers can forget about, instead of focusing on high profit margins, people can get to journalism again and be a community service. I don’t know how well or how thoroughly that addresses what’s really going on. I need people to tell me if I’m right or if I’m full of shit, basically. And I’ll entertain comments on either side of that spectrum. [laughter]
Richard Karpel: Actually, we have time for one more.
Audience Member: My question is not a comment on what you just said, so I apologize to everyone if they wanted to hear something about that.
Audience Member: But I was curious, at the same time, this question may relate depending on how you answer it. You started off by saying that what you have done is merely respond to what people wanted in different communities all around, and I’m just curious about what, other than apartment brokers in New York wanting to charge, what are you seeing people wanting? What are the areas that people are pushing you to expand into?
Craig: I’m trying to remember one specific request which I got recently, people who had a certain kind of disability wanted a better way to get people to help them with that. That’s all I remember; it was this week and I’ve forgotten the details, which is frankly because I delegated it to someone. Aside from that, everyday we get people who request Craigslist in other cities and I tell them that each request we get generally increases the priority just a little. For whatever reason we just got a burst of requests from Salem, Oregon, but right now Jim is too busy to think about it. Do we have time for one more?
Dan Pulcrano: My question was, if, you don’t allow re-postings. Would you allow RSS feeds or reposting at some point? That might be [inaudible]
Craig: Well, we do permit reposting depending on what the poster requests. That is, and this is category dependent, in a big way, but, if somebody says it is OK to repost them or to contact them for commercial purposes, it’s OK. Regarding RSS, we already do that in a limited way. We need to do a better job of it; we’re trying to figure that out now — how do that without creating a big load on our systems. Because, right now I have a very nervous CTO who is not only doing a collocation move, but keeping up with increasing demands on the site.
Dan Pulcrano: [inaudible]
Craig: Propose it, send it in an e-mail, and I share it with Jim and we talk about it.
Dan Pulcrano: Very good, thank you very much.
Richard Karpel: I guess Dan forgot to say, “You’re dismissed.” [laughter] Actually the next meetings are taking place in about 15 minutes and thanks for all the questions. And also the comments.