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Bastard Brainchild – Craig Newmark on Craigslist

September 3, 2009

If ever there is a social network whose deceptive simplicity bothers me, it is Craigslist. It seems to have terabytes of traffic, and a great deal going on — from real estate buying and selling (its original intended purpose) to blatant, brazen prostitution — minus any paint or gilt or trappings. No cool advertisements. No pimping of user-generated content (which is all it has), no add-on applications. No shit. No, wait, there’s lots of that. In fact, Craigslist seems to be a bloody dangerous place — it’s the darkest alley of the Internet where even the notion of online safety is an absolute dud.

What seems to bother most web-watchers (including the writer of this Wired article) is that the privately held Craigslist isn’t doing anything with its popularity or moving on the next generation of technology. Or whatever.

Craig Newmark, Craigslist’s founder, is no control freak. But he is a geek (In fact, the Wired article describes him as “public-spirited and mild-mannered, politically liberal and socially awkward”) — a geek of the kind that inherits the earth when all is done with.

Newmark has been working hard to extend the influence of his worldview. His public pronouncements have the delighted yet apologetic tone of a man who has stumbled on a secret hiding in plain sight and who finds it embarrassingly necessary to point out something that should long have been obvious. He seems to have discovered a new way to run a business. He suspects that it may be the right way to run the world.

But there is something endearing about the Internet’s last freedom fighter – one who stands for user anonymity like no one else does:

When he talks, he calls upon a repertoire of conversational gambits he has been collecting forever, and he has a selection of sound effects on his mobile phone, such as a cymbal crash, that he can trigger to make it clear he is joking. When people misunderstand him, he doesn’t get upset. “I’m the Forrest Gump of the Internet,” he says. He loves customer service. “I’ll only be doing this as long as I live,” he says. He taps his phone, triggering a ghostly whaaahahaha. “And after that, who knows?”

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