Craigslist Founder Defends Web Site Craigslist founder Craig Newmark says the tension between anonymity and accountability is one of the most pertinent issues on the Internet. The self-described former nerd says his Web site was built on a single good idea, which he expanded by listening to suggestions.
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Craigslist Founder Defends Web Site

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Craigslist Founder Defends Web Site

Craigslist Founder Defends Web Site

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Time now for All Tech Considered.

(Soundbite of music)

Today, we bring you two very different technology pioneers. One is sculptor Tim Tate. He's based in Washington, D.C. And you may not know his name but his work is all over - including the Smithsonian. And we'll find more about him in just a moment. The other is entrepreneur Craig Newmark. He is based here in California and you definitely know his work. It's called Craigslist. In a little over a decade, Craigslist has become the largest source of classified advertising in the world. The site is now in 50 countries and it has more than 20 billion page views a month. I recently spoke with Craig Newmark trying to get essence of the man behind the list.

Mr. CRAIG NEWMARK (Founder, Craiglist.org): I am a very much nerd - grew up wearing a plastic pocket protector, and thick black glasses. And I had the social skills associated with that stereotype - been trying to grow out of it for long time, ever since October of '72, when I realized that well, it couldn't be everyone else that has communication problems with me. It had to be reverse.

BRAND: Tell me about how you got to California. You grew up in New Jersey, you worked for IBM for a while, came out West.

Mr. NEWMARK: The deal is that after 40 years on the East coast, I figured I needed a big change, someplace I might be happy. Looked around a little bit, figured that San Francisco offered me my best chances. On leaving IBM, I got myself a job at Charles Schwab.

BRAND: And then how did you come up with the idea of Craigslist?

Mr. NEWMARK: I had a single good idea of an events list for San Francisco area. Then, I listened to suggestions and did something about them. Nowadays, the guy who runs Craigslist, Jim Buckmaster, does the same thing. And he does a better job than I ever did.

BRAND: So what do you do now?

Mr. NEWMARK: Well, customer service - fourteen years of it changes you a lot. You listen to people more. You try to empathize more. It feels right. It feels like an expression of a personal commitment to the community. And it's one way of staying in contact with what's real.

BRAND: On a serious note: So, Craigslist has been a subject of some unflattering press, and some - after some really horrific stories came out, series of killings where the perpetrators lured their victims on Craigslist. And some people were accusing you and the site of profiting from prostitution, for the erotic ads that you run on your site. And you agree to put in some barriers, but some say you haven't done enough to police your site, that you could do a lot more. What do you say to them?

Mr. NEWMARK: I don't know if anyone is saying that right now. We've done a great deal. It's documented on our blog.

BRAND: But you do have adult ads on the site.

Mr. NEWMARK: Oh, yes. We do. It's all addressed on the blog.

BRAND: Can you summarize it for us here?

Mr. NEWMARK: Take a look at the blog there.

BRAND: Okay, I'll do that.

Mr. NEWMARK: There's been a great deal of misreporting in the area. One thing I'm passionate about when it comes to the news industry is the need for fact-checking.

BRAND: Help us to correct the facts then.

Mr. NEWMARK: It's in the blog.

BRAND: I found the blog post about those erotic ads on Craigslist after searching the site quite extensively. Here's part of what was written on May 13th: As of today, for all U.S. Craigslist sites, postings to the erotic services category will no longer be accepted. And since then the category has been replaced with a new one, it's called adult services for legal adult service providers. I asked Newmark if the controversy has changed the way he looks at the Web.

Mr. NEWMARK: There is one pertinent issue that applies to the entirety of the Internet. It's the attention between anonymity and accountability. Right now, on the Net, it's very easy to be pretty much anonymous, and yet there are times when you'd like - would like someone to have some accountability — let's say if they're spamming or committing fraud. I've observed that in life, offline or online, people are overwhelmingly good and trustworthy. There are very few bad people out there. But, they're good at making noise and good at making their presence known, whether they're extremists, or crooks or whatever.

BRAND: Finally, I asked Craig Newmark about the place that helped make him and Craigslist what they are today.

Mr. NEWMARK: Let's say there's this Silicon Valley culture which kind of gets to us in a number of different ways. There's a culture of collaboration in Silicon Valley. People work with each other - to some extent, even if you might be competitors. And also in Silicon Valley, there's a great acceptance of failure, in the sense that there's some expectation that you'll start a venture. You may succeed, you may fail - there's no stigma attached to it. You just start on something new after you fail. People are trying to figure out how we can do better, what are the source of the problems and so on.

BRAND: Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, thank you very much.

Mr. NEWMARK: It's my pleasure. Thanks.

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