June 28, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Craigslist's Craig Newmark--no more Mr. Nice Guy?

Craigslist.org founder Craig Newmark has a message for the British media mogul--a knight no less--who recently called him a "socialistic anarchist."

During an interview last week, a smiling Newmark offered up a little history lesson in response: "In the 1780s (following America's War of Independence), the British commonly referred to the American experiment as anarchism," the 53-year-old Newmark said. "And look...it's kind of working out."

Craig Newmark Craig Newmark

Considered by many to be one of the most benign of Silicon Valley's top innovators, Newmark has shown a feistier side recently. When he's not verbally jousting with knights, the mastermind behind the Web's top classifieds publication can be found beating a drum for Net neutrality or defending his namesake network of sites against claims that it allows people to post discriminatory housing ads.

He's suggested that Cox Communications wrongfully blocked access to his site, and he's fended off criticism from New York real estate brokers who got peeved when Craigslist began charging them $10 to post apartment listings. And then there's the longtime grudge against Craigslist held by many newspapers executives, who claim the network is almost single-handedly killing their industry.

So is this a case of no more Mr. Nice Guy?

"We do what feels right to us," Newmark told a crowd of executives last week at the Supernova 2006 media conference. "That's our idea of a moral compass."

Up to now, Newmark's compass is apparently pointing him in the right direction. Last week, Craigslist expanded into 100 new cities and now operates in 300. Each month, customers view 4 billion pages on the family of sites and employers post more than 500,000 new job listings, said Jim Buckmaster, CEO of the privately held company.

Craigslist allows anyone to post ads for almost anything they want to sell, without charging them a cent. Buyers don't pay either. People find jobs, rooms to rent, pets, furniture and clothes, as well as lovers, on Craigslist. The effect of the network on our society is hard to gauge, but it's difficult to find anyone in the tech sector or in the nation's biggest cities that hasn't unloaded an old couch or found a roommate on the site.

"I love Craig," said Forrester Research media analyst Charlene Li. Typically conservative when discussing companies she covers, Li gushes when talking about Newmark. Before refurbishing her home recently, Li sold most of its contents on Craigslist, right down to the doorknobs. "Everybody has their own Craigslist story" she said.

Few companies have fostered as much customer loyalty. That's largely due to Newmark's almost fanatical attention to customers. He started the list in 1995 as a way to inform friends about special events in San Francisco. From there, the list grew into a company, and Newmark found that he enjoyed working with the public more than overseeing day-to-day operations. Thus, he turned those duties over to someone else and now carries the unusual dual titles of chairman and customer service representative.

He could be at the helm of the company or sit around as its "glamorous figurehead" (as the self-proclaimed nerd has said jokingly), but instead, he spends his days reading e-mails and answering customer complaints--a practice he says even the most high-powered CEO should partake of from time to time.

Another element of the company's popularity among customers is its consistent stance on social responsibility. Sure, plenty of businesses say they care about people and customers, but few forgo profits in order to "give people a break," the Craigslist mantra. The company could be slicing off a tasty share of the billion-dollar classifieds pie for itself. Instead, Craigslist is satisfied with the $25 million it took in last year, according to a story last week in The Wall Street Journal.

But how does Newmark's philosophy on social responsibility jibe with his company's undermining of the revenue that once powered newspapers, historically society's watchdog? Classifieds once made up more than half the profit at many newspapers. That number has steadily declined in recent years.

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28 comments

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Wakeup World
If Newspapers would stop rapping people for their classified ads they would not have to worry about Craigslist's, E-Bay or other online advertising. There is no need to charge as much as they do. Some Newspapers like Ann Arbor News in Michigan charge $ 30.00 for a simple 4 line ad.

Wake up you greedy monoplistic over bearing newspaper publishers. Times are hard for the little business person. Offer fair and competive services or get out of business!
Posted by the1kingarthur (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hey, please give credit to Jim!
Jim Buckmaster is the guy really running things, does a great job, great article:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB115049840863382886-9QyN65ef6meo_D2UlLOxAdRmbN0_20070616.html?mod=rss_free" target="_newWindow">http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB115049840863382886-9QyN65ef6meo_D2UlLOxAdRmbN0_20070616.html?mod=rss_free</a>
Posted by craignewmark (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hey Craig!!!
Just wanted to say THANKS!
Posted by appletoys (23 comments )
Link Flag
Hey Craig!!!
Just want to say THANKS!
Posted by appletoys (23 comments )
Link Flag
Got That Right
I am impressed by the statement that we do what we feel is right and that is the moral compass.

Exactly right. Justice is something individuals do because it doesn't exist in nature. Whether or not he is more moral than his critics, he takes responsibility for his actions. That is a quality of the enlightened. Nations and corporations are abstractions; abstractions don't act. People do.

Good on Newmark.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well ...
You say "I am impressed by the statement that we do what we feel is right and that is the moral compass."
This works rather well for Craig - by the way, BIG THANKS Craig - and, from my point of view, is an admirable and desirable thing to do.
However, what do we do when people subscribe to this philosophy have no morals - or at least morals that don't match our sense of morality - and, therefore, from our perspective, follow a broken moral compass.
Posted by scioara (21 comments )
Link Flag
Craigslist
Move over Billy. Didn't Al Gore create CL?
Posted by Bobgarrett (12 comments )
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Give him a Break
I listened to a podcast interview of Craig. He sounds like a really nice guy. Sure he could have sold his site for millions, but he didn't. Plus he makes it for free. The press needs to just lay-off.

- Bryan
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.BryanCFleming.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.BryanCFleming.com</a>
Posted by bfleming98 (31 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Craigslist lets the little people get back at newspapers
$30 to a ad inserted in the daily paper is ridiculous! I'm glad newspapers are taking it on the chin, because they deserve it!
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Craigs list
Sounds like the recording industry who will not realize this is the 21st century and the way things have always been done is not good enough now and they can not make the change and money at the same time.
Posted by -OldTimer- (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Clarification
In the interest of being fair, the blocking of Craigslist by Cox was not an across the board action. I know of several regional areas where the site is not and has never been blocked.
Posted by jessterw (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
who cares?
why won't they fix where it IS still being blocked? for a while they were trying to blame Craigslist for the glitch, when it is proven to be one of the most accessible sites in the world. Finally they saw that stupidity was not being believed and they found the real problem, but they still haven't fixed it. This is a taste of what non-net neutrality will be in the future.
Posted by ChazzMatt (169 comments )
Link Flag
Cox blocking Craigslist...
In the interest of being fair, the blocking of Craigslist by Cox was not an across the board action. I know of several regional areas where the site is not and has never been blocked.

True...I am in Phoenix, have Cox, and Craigslist has never been blocked.
Posted by carefree1 (7 comments )
Link Flag
Of course Cox will block CraigsList
Look at who Cox owns: Mannheim Auctions, The Trader Company (who in turn owns autotrader.com &#38; autobytel), etc. Why on Earth would they *not* try to censor their stiffest competition?
Posted by extinctone (214 comments )
Reply Link Flag
not everywhere
I have been with Cox out of Hampton Rd Va for several years and not once have I not been able to access CL. In fact as I am writing this the other Firfox tab is on CL looking for used Kayaks.
Posted by Buzz_Friendly (74 comments )
Link Flag
Craig never was nice
I got stalked through Craigslist. Craig was no help. When I wrote to him and pointed out how much more helpful MSN was being, he told me I was a liar. When my fiancee wrote to him to ask him to help stop the stalking posts, he wrote to her and told her that I had control issues and she should leave me. We are now happily married. Craig is an antisocial, self righteous jerk who needs to come to terms with the valid criticisms the world makes of him and his selective sense of social responsibility. I hope he loses the fair housing lawsuit.
Posted by wylbur (110 comments )
Reply Link Flag
stalking posts?!?
What the hell is a stalking post???

Is that anything like when I was a kid I would just stare at my
little brother until he would yell to mom "MOM..! He's staring at
me!"

It's just a post... If you don't want to read it, you ignore it!
Quite frankly, it you wrote to me and said someone was stalking
you through C.L., I'd have a good laugh at your expense.
Posted by fear_and_loathing (82 comments )
Link Flag
media access and free speech
Craigslist is one of the finest examples of what the internet should be, along with sites such as eBay, youtube, blogging, social networks, and so on. People like you and me now have more equal access to both produce, publish, and consume mass media, barter and trade with others, and reach across the globe on even a personal level. Of course some parties perceive a threat.

I think commerce is a great thing and I have nothing against large commercial entities on the web.

However, it is clear that more traditional media powerhouses and those with older business models feel threatened when ordinary citizens can just about meet them at level.

The world is evolving. Either get with it or get out. Rupert Murdoch saw the light with MySpace. Apple saw the light with iTunes. Apparently, some of the world doesn't.

Furthermore, those who critizice Craig for allowing discriminatory housing listings are barking up the wrong tree. If there is a blatantly discriminating real estate or rental ad, the victim's complaint should be with the poster and not the web service.
Post at your own risk. Respond at your own risk. It's like life. It's what makes Craig's List beautiful. Let's not take away our own freedoms, folks. Once we lose them, we won't get them back. If you can't handle a site like Craigslist, the newspapers will be very glad to have you back.
Posted by moon_brain (22 comments )
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Craig Not that Big of a Hero
Sure, the guy deserves some credit.

But he also has an odd way of pursuing his social agenda through Craig's List. He seems to pick and choose his sides, and his side seems to always leave people that are looking for legitimate work out in the cold.

He cants a lot about doing the right thing, but at the same time ... Craig's List allows employers to post ads asking for people to work for virtually nothing. This has turned the entertainment and writing jobs/gigs sections into sewers in Los Angeles.

Everyone's complained, Craig's List does nothing, seems to regard people that are looking for legit work in the Business as beneath contempt. "Craig" seems to side more with people who want to pay people for working fourteen hours a day on their short film with "copy, credit, meals" and not with hardworking people that need to make a paycheck to get by.

Not to mention the un-justified flaggings, random blockings, and other nuisiances. Craig's List seems to draw in nuts and scam artist, and drive out legit users.

Ultimately Craig's List is like Ebay. A slice of petty corporate fascism tarted up to look like the consumers best friend. Sure I'll use it until something better comes along. But I won't cry if it goes away either.
Posted by larrymadill (36 comments )
Reply Link Flag
blame the job posters - not the conduit
I understand that using Craigslist as an alternative to traditional methods and then offering lower or non-traditional renumeration for the work will cause an upset in the field. I understand that you must be frustrated that workers in that field aren't paid what they used to be. I don't think it's a good thing either. But, it is not Craig's fault that those companies decided to "hire" that way. If not for CL, I think they could have easily found or even started their own site to do the very same. Please direct your blame at the parties doing the posting and the hiring.

Also, be wary of the word "Legit." If the employers are in fact doing something illegal, I hope the law catches up with them. If they are simply bucking tradition, then what they are doing on CL is just as legit as the old way - even if you think it's unethical.

There's also a gazillion scams out there. I'm amazed that it's possible to police the site at all, and I'm incredibly impressed at the extent to which they are able to. I hope that they keep up the good work and that Craigslist and other such sites NEVER go under.

I just can't fathom why with so many things these days, consumers want to blame the wrong party...usually the one with the bigger pockets. It's the real estate agents and landlords who are discriminating. It's buyers and sellers who are scamming. CL is just the means. If someone hung up a scam flyer on a coffee shop bulletin board, would you sue the coffee shop?!
Posted by moon_brain (22 comments )
Link Flag
Yeah, and Where is the Story about How "Nice" the Media Giants Are, C|NOT?
It's funny how journalists try to walk around with this badge of honor about how they're the defenders of truth, justice, and the American (or, substitute your favorite democracy) Way, while at the same time, licking the boots of the Powers that Be in the Big Media Conglomerates. I could care less what Craig's politics are, as long as he doesn't insinuate them into what does or doesn't get on his servers (i.e., he can do what he wants vis-a-vis competitors, as long as he isn't editing the posts, other than to comply with existing laws). If someone were to try to post a discriminatory ad in a newspaper, the newspaper is obliged to review it before publishing it to comply with established laws, because they have a whole raft of editors and lawyers who do nothing but scour prospective ads to make sure that they don't break any laws. The courts have consistently ruled, on First Amendment free-speech grounds, that public on-line sites cannot be held liable for posts by individuals, and are not responsible for their content, unless they perform an editorial function on anything that is posted (so, they can either review and potentially edit everything, ala the newspapers, or review/edit nothing). If someone (e.g., a prosecutor, or someone who feels discriminated against) wants to follow up on potentially discriminatory behavior, more power to them.

I'm all for anything that levels the playing (for-keeps) field when it comes to us Davids vs. those Goliaths - may they fall on unoccupied soil.

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
Reply Link Flag
editorial function
The trouble is that Craigslist does perform an editorial function. The flagging system only results in posts being deleted at the discretion of Craigslist staff. The courts' rulings are based on the 96 telco act, not the first ammedment. There is little case law, but the cases that there are suggest that discretionary editing by the service provider would void the liability protection congress granted in the act.
Posted by wylbur (110 comments )
Link Flag
Stalking Posts
The stalking posts were fake posts containing my name and e-mail address in the post body and implied I was organizing a flash mob. This resulted in a terrible inundation of spam and was clearly part of a broader stalking that I was subject to at the time.
Posted by wylbur (110 comments )
Reply Link Flag
hey ! mr graigslist . when i heard about your free add post im like thats cool as hell lol sorry &lt; but im an older guy not much money so i post some things i had for sale and i sold them real quick that was so cool &lt; but then i got blocked i guess &lt; now craigslist wont let me post anything or it wont let log on it keeps saying wrong user name or pass word so pls fix this so i post and pay some bills.ps i dont understand why i got blocked , thanks very much and have a nice day. steve/. or i love to hear from you 864-316-0384
Posted by ontharocks007 (1 comment )
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