Online Conference Opens; Keynote by Craig Newmark Focuses on Social Media

The Online Information conference opened this morning to an enthusiastic crowd of attendees.  Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist and CraigConnects, gave the opening keynote address.

Craig Newmark

A self-confessed nerd, Newmark began by noting that as such you get a feeling of separation or being disenfranchised, so he resolved that any of the work he did would be about inclusion, or bringing a voice to people who did not have one.  In 1994, he was at Charles Schwab & Co. showing people about the Internet and noticed that people would help each other. In early 1995, he wanted to do something similar and started a simple mailing list in San Francisco telling people what was going on. People started sending events to put on his mailing list, and it grew by word of mouth. Friends told him that he had inadvertently created a brand, but as a nerd, he did not know what a brand was! He called it craigslist to keep it personal and quirky.

Craigslist is not altruistic, and very little of the site is monetized. The main areas incurring charges are job posters and apartment brokers in New York City (who asked to be charged as an enforcement measure). The Craigslist business model is to do well by doing good.  And it works:  the site receives over 60 million unique visitors and has 40 billion page views per month. Because it is a privately developed site, there are no CPM issues, and there is no requirement to report to advertisers.

As the site grew, Newmark hired a CEO and concentrated on customer service as a profession. This is important because it keeps you in touch daily with your constituency. People want a voice and want to be listened to. Newmark found that people running socially good organizations and nonprofits started asking him for help, particularly with social media. When people are connected to the internet, it gives them a voice and a power they did not have before.

Newmark listed the nonprofits he was involved with and found there were about 100. So he started CraigConnects to stand up for the causes he believes in. He wants to help everyone to be connected for areas of common interest.

Here are some of the causes that CraigConnects works on:

  • Military veterans and their families who need medical treatment or educational benefits. Many organizations want to help but do not communicate with each other. CraigConnects helps veterans collaborate, find support groups, and get jobs.
  • Public diplomacy: micro finance and internet connectivity in the West Bank of Palestine to provide small loans to people who need them. The loans are used to help people get into business and provide jobs. The repayment rate is much better than at US banks.
  • Some nonprofits spend their resources on themselves. CraigConnects works with Guidestar, a service which rates financial effectiveness of the nonprofits using such criteria as accountability, transparency, how much of the funding gets to the clients, and how well the organization meets the needs of its client population. It also lists which nonprofits get the job done — or do not get it done, even to the point of running outright scams. Measuring nonprofits will help restore trust in the nonprofit world.
  • Creating trust in the press:  The press should be the immune system of democracy. The US press had a history in which they created trust by fact checking, employing ethical practices etc. But recently, fact checking has been discarded as being too expensive and time consuming. People want news they can trust. Organizations such as Politicfact or Factcheckhave professional networks of fact checkers. CraigConnect is also working with the Center for Public Integrity which has citizen journalist contributors. Newmark envisions that we will have networks of networks of citizen fact checkers adding facts to databases so that reporters can check facts quickly, almost in real time. He sees his role as annoying everyone in the news industry by bringing back fact checking.

When you use social media, you are relying on someone else to distribute your message, so there is no unified message. Social media is not new; it is just about people talking to each other. New technologies allow you to address a larger audience. For example, Luther used Gutenberg’s technology to spread his message, and St. Paul used a network of churches (“epistle-mail”). Today, people in the Middle East and North Africa are using these technologies very powerfully in the Arab awakening. Social media works to help people create revolutions and accelerate the trend.

Nonprofits should have Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and Google+ circles. Links to their posts should go directly to readers.  We are living in a decade of much social change that formerly took centuries but is now compressed into a decade, which causes disruption. We can all play a part of this.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and Conference Circuit Blog Editor





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