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Craigslist's Newmark on Media's New Curator Role

SAN FRANCISCO – At the intersection of old media and social media, there's an emerging need to be more judicious in both the coverage and placement of news on both sides of the street, said Craigslist's founder Craig Newmark at Digital Media Conference West.

Newmark, the unassuming media mogul whose site is among the most widely-visited on the Internet, discussed media's evolution, social media, and his own classifieds destination during a fireside chat-style keynote with Richard Hart, founder of The Next Step.

"When it comes to finding the news we want to see, we rely on our professional curators, and our friends," said Newmark, who carries the title of customer service representative despite being the site's founder. He notices a blending of content and opinion from the established media and more personal online interactions. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter offer a more intimate channel and filtering service.

"People are relying more and more on critics they trust, and their friends," Newmark said. The need to manage and properly place news articles is important, as he notes stories get buried and then turn sour, such as reports in 2002 of weapons of mass destruction. The stories went from the front page to the back sections of some papers and were followed by a backlash by readers. The larger issue for newspapers, he feels, is trust. "I would say that trust is the new black."

For his own site, Craigslist's utilitarian and yet ubiquitous listings of everything from jobs to real estate to personals is simple by design, but possibly to its own fault. When asked how well the dot org site knows its users, Newmark responded "We don't know much. What matters to us is that the site is effective."

While he maintains the goal is neither altruistic nor noble, the service fits a certain measure of the definition. "We give people a break, or more precisely we let people give each other a break," he said of Craigslist, where many of the classifieds categories remain free for those who post and those who respond to ads.

Craigslist maintains an arguable lead over competing classifieds sites, though if others surpass the site in any particular category, Newmark believes it will survive. "Whatever serves community interest is good. If somebody does a better job, that's life," Newmark said. The longstanding utilitarian model of the site comes from feedback. "We listened to the community, we try to do what they want, and we listen to them more."

The community says "simple and fast, and less spam," according to the founder who spends most of his days on customer support. "Nobody has said we need to change the utilitarian user interface."

His role to answer many of Craigslist's customer communications will continue, he often responds while waiting to go on stage for many of his speaking engagements. "I am committed to doing customer service only as long as I live," he told attendees at the conference. The founder freely offers his e-mail address, and is widely followed on Twitter.