That's Craig Newmark speaking and he ought to know because he's the brains and the soul behind his amazing lists. And hearing him say that to Charlie Rose last week evoked some of my fondest memories from the good old days (the late '60s and '70s, if you have to ask). He said he's often asked when he's going to start making the really big bucks and his response is always: "Once you're living well and maybe providing for your future, what's the point in more money?" So he'll never go public and submit this culture-changing community service to the demands of Wall Street. And the guiding principle in the creation and management of Craigslists is to treat people how he'd want to be treated himself. I'm in love with this man.
And here's what was all news to me - he's really political, in the best nonpartisan way. (By that I mean I didn't hear him bashing Bush or other Republicans, easy targets though they are.) No, bashing doesn't do it for him. He says the Craigslist communities have taught him that people are basically good and trustworthy and moderate, so he's working with a group called OneVoice to empower the moderates in Palestine and Isreal. After all, only 1 or 2 percent of the public are fanatics; they just make a lot more noise than anyone else. Or in the words of Jon Stewart, we hear more from extremists because moderates have stuff to do.
Other projects he actively supports, presumably with money as well as by promoting them publically, are:
- The Sunlight Foundation, which was formed to "use the revolutionary power of the Internet and new information technology to enable citizens to learn more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing...Sunlight’s work is committed to helping citizens, journalists and bloggers be their own best watchdogs, both by improving access to existing information and digitizing new information, and by creating new tools and websites to enable all of us to pool our intelligence in new, and yet to be imagined, ways." Like the popular new slogan says, "Blogs are little First Amendment machines."
- "New Assignment is a non-profit site that tries to spark innovation in journalism by showing that open collaboration over the Internet among reporters, editors and large groups of users can produce high-quality work that serves the public interest, holds up under scrutiny, and builds trust. A second aim is to figure out how to fund this work through a combination of online donations, micro-payments, traditional fundraising, syndication rights, sponsorships, advertising and any other method that does not compromise the site’s independence or reputation."
He cites other examples of the new, more pro-active media: Meet-up, Media Bistro, Daylife. They're part of what he calls the "Sohoblogplex." It all sounds terribly interesting and I'll be surfing their innards as soon as I get the chance.
Now here's the really sticky wicket about all this. Craigslists themselves are replacing local newspapers as the go-to publisher of classified ads and are clearly hurting these already-beleaguered institutions. Asked about this, he doesn't deny the charge but asserts that the near-monopolization (my word) of the media is a bigger problem, coupled with the influence of Wall Street on these now-public companies. Okay, that's true but it doesn't tell us how he feels about hurting newspapers. I wonder if the answer is that the Sunlight Foundation and New Assignment show his vision for 21st Century journalism, as defined by its essential duties of oversight and public enlightenment.
It's all pretty revolutionary, again in the best sense. This career programmer for IBM and a Wall Street firm just wanted to create a community service, like any of us would start a Yahoo group for our neighborhood or for local gardeners. But he had the vision and skills to create something new that's sweeping the world and helping millions get their needs met. Call it the Revenge of the Do-Good Nerd.
I'm curious about how readers have used this amazing service, so please tell me your stories. I'll start:
- It's how I found the terrific Kansas City design firm that created the GardenRant logo and header. House of Tears Design responded to a notice I posted on the Seattle List, as did about 20 others. The others were mostly super-commercial firms in India but at least one other outstanding candidate responded - a design group in Costa Rica.
- Just recently I went List-posting to find help with my new website. The pitch: "Barter Garden Coaching for Website Coaching." The most promising respondent lives 5 minutes away (in this metro area of 3 million people) and was SO on the ball I ended up hiring him for 10 or 15 hours of his time to help me - big-time. Well, barter was already just about my favorite thing in the whole world, but this experience clenched it.
Update: this terrific story about gardening on the via using Craigslists, via Pam Penick in Austin.