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What's Next for Craigslist?

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Craig Newmark wants to clear up a few misconceptions about the popular community site he started back in 1995. In his keynote at the UGC Conference & Expo here this week, Newmark started with a joke and then said something that may have surprised users of the mostly free classifieds site, which almost seems to go out of its way to avoid profit.

"I don't think there's anything noble or altruistic about what we do, it is a business. It just feels like the right thing to be doing," he said.

Newmark touched on a number of topics, including Craigslist's growth and its plans for the future. The UGC (User Generated Content) conference is owned by Jupitermedia, which is the parent company InternetNews.com.

As Customer Service Rep and founder, Newmark doesn't actually run Craigslist. That's left to CEO Jim Buckmaster. "As a manager, I kind of suck," said Newmark.

"Lead, follow or get out of the way. The last is really hard. Some continue to lead even though their management skills are limited. Fortunately I was able to get out of the way when we were a fairly young company."

But he takes his customer service responsibilities seriously, checking on listings flagged by users as inappropriate or potentially illegal and reading e-mails. He says he reads all the e-mail sent to craig@craigslist.org and tries to respond to most of them that aren't frivolous or deranged. "My biggest fear is that people aren't telling me about problems with the site," he said.

Listings that are flagged for removal are removed automatically if others on the site agree. It wasn't clear from Newmark's remarks what the threshold is. "It's a voting system that's like democracy," said Newmark. "Like Churchill said, democracy is lousy, but it's better than anything else. The flagging system is flawed, but we trust our community to help out. Somehow the whole thing works."

Speaking to the theme of the conference, Newmark said any user generated content site has to establish a culture of trust to succeed. Community is another important aspect. Newmark said he grew up as a classic nerd complete with pocket protector and lacking social skills.

"That's a big theme of what affects Craigslist," he said. "You grow up and you feel what it was like to be left out. One thing about the Internet is it's about inclusion, no one should be left out; it's the biggest tent possible."

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