Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Man With No Last Name: Craig (Newmark) of Craig's List

Continuing from the last post, here's more on the speakers at last week's GEL conference.

Craig and His List(s)

For those of you who have been in areas with no electricity for a few years, Craig Newmark is the founder of Craigslist, a community communication tool available in an increasing number of cities around the country and the world.

Pick a city and find whatever you're looking for -- a place to live, a job, something to buy, somewhere to sell -- you name it, it's covered.

Craig admits that the system is low tech -- as he put it, if the rest of the world currently is deep into Web 2.0, Craigslists' sites can be found somewhere around at 0.1. This is turns out to be a feature rather than a bug -- the accessibility allows anyone who can type to participate and has helped communities grow quickly.

Craiglist's Premise

Craig believes that people are basically trustworthy and good. He also believes that people share common values -- first and foremost, it's a universal desire to treat others in the way they would like to be treated themselves. Craig points out that these are "the real core values," not those preached from political platforms.

The Strategy

From this premise, he has build sites that are user-driven rather than under his control and allowed the size of the communities to grow beyond the ability of any central monitoring system.

Instead, users monitor their own communities. If something doesn't belong on the site, users can flag them for deletion. If enough people flag the same item, it's deleted automatically.

Craig says that "somehow from being good guys," he and his colleagues have created a culture of trust.

But Does It Work?

Most people who have used Craig's List have a good story to tell. Like other people I know who've used the list, Craig said he feels great when he hears that someone lost an iPod on a train to Boston and it was returned through contact through the system. He also spoke of a volunteer in New York who screens all apartment brokers to make the list reliable -- and who loves doing it. Craig repeatedly finds that people like to use their power for good wherever they can.

Scalability: Hurricane Katrina

Craig then offered an example of what's possible on a bigger scale in the events that followed Katrina. In very little time, users repurposed the site to help victims find their friends and families. Not long after, people started offering jobs and housing for the victims, and when Craigslist employees heard about the exodus to Baton Rouge, they put up a site for the city on their own.

Radical Reassessment of Messaging: Marketing through Community
Most of what Craig said was surprisingly persuasive when it came to the good in people. It's one thing to have a belief system predicated on faith in humanity and quite another to build a successful business model around it.

The First Principle of Community (and marketing): Discover What's Needed

The question Craigslist raises for me is: how can you apply the same principles from personal needs to those of business? That will be the stuff of another post -- please get back to me if you've had thoughts on this.

Craig wrapped up by saying, "If you want to speak truth to power, you'd better make them laugh -- or they'll kill you."

Let's see what happens to Monsieur Colbert.

More on GEL in the next post.

No comments: