Craig Newmark. Craigslist. The two will always be inseparable, even as the Craig in “Craigslist” has shifted his focus and energy into CraigConnects.org, his recently 1 year-old website that aims to “connect and protect organizations that are doing good.” How, specifically, does he see his website accomplishing such a vague but lofty-sounding goal? “It’s hard to tell, since there aren’t real good tools for measuring the effectiveness of one’s efforts. Anecdotally, we hear from the groups we support that it really helps them, and we do hear a lot from individuals that this has influenced them to do more,” Craig explained to me in an exclusive interview.
The answer is almost as vague as the mission statement it attempts to explain. Newmark seems a little unsure; the evidence for the website’s success comes “anecdotally,” after all. But don’t consider this a knock on Newmark or Craigconnects. Think about it: Craig started Craigslist as a simple email list for friends that alerted them of San Francisco area arts and technology events. He built Craigslist with what he’s described in other interviews as, “no vision whatsoever.” And now? Craigslist has been a game-changing website with an iconic, elementary layout that currently covers 570 cities in 50 countries, and is according to Alexa, the 45th most visited site worldwide and 9th most visited in the US. Needless to say, Craig Newmark probably deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Craigconnects. Even if you don’t grant it that, Newmark, himself, certainly does good anyway since he has donated and has promised to donate tens of thousands of dollars to charities he supports through Craigconnects. A year from now, Craig sees Craigconnects doing, “more of the same, more focused on areas that really help, like restoring trustworthiness to news.”
Trustworthiness in news is one of Newmark and Craigconnect’s biggest pet causes. He’s been a vocal advocate for the journalism trade and traditional journalistic practices that ensure integrity and honesty in reporting. His assessment of journalism on the Internet? “Online journalism has become a viable alternative for traditional journalism. A novel problem, though, is that there’s so much of it, it’s hard to find the really good stuff, the most trustworthy reporting.” And how to improve it? “In general, there needs to be tools to ensure fact-checking and standards that meet and maybe exceed the code at the Society of Professional Journalists. That’s something I’d pay for,” Newmark says.
A kind of hippy-positive, humanitarian philosophy seems to guide Newmark in all his ventures. In interviews, he’s spoken of Craigslist as a service to the community and a money-saver for hard-working individuals, and never as a highly profitable website that’s possibly worth billions. Craigslist hasn’t taken corporate measures to maximize profits with new money schemes or colorful new layouts – they make most of their money from job posting fees, while the rest of Craigslist remains simple, effective and free for individuals. You can see Craigslist’s company culture on every Craigslist page – in the form of a peace symbol favicon. Craigsconnects, then, should have peace symbols, rainbows and puppy dog tails on every page. It’s almost purely devoted to drawing attention to good causes and organizations, and then giving to them. On nonprofits that do good, and do good effectively through the Internet and social media, Newmark has more than a clue. Newmark says, “Groups including IAVA and the Red Cross have been very effective. I feel that’s because they’re serious about engagement and helping out in areas that really matter to people. For example, the Red Cross just partnered with Dell to launch a digital operations center that will serve as a social media emergency management response center.”
Indeed, Newmark is now almost entirely immersed in and devoted to his good causes. When I asked him about his favorite YouTube channels or users, he sent me two links – one of them is a link to a video of a squirrel fighting off crows from scavenging another squirrel’s dead body, and the other linking to a nearly action-less video of a hummingbird, which has a total of 9 views. He says succinctly, “I really don’t do much of it.” You can tell. But you can’t fault him, as he has conferences to attend, interviews to do, articles to write and a website to update, and all of it in the name of doing good. “My gut says that people have always wanted to help others more, but thought they were the exception and there was nothing they could do. Now, on the net you can see that others feel like you do, and that you can get stuff done together. That’s what we’ve seen worldwide, in politics and philanthropy, for example, the ‘sea of goodwill’ supporting military families and veterans.” And it’s with this gut feeling that Craig Newmark moves forth with Craigconnects.org – people can make a difference, and his website is a hub where people can go to “get stuff done together.”
Lastly, I had to ask him what he thinks of “Invisible Children” and their Kony 2012 video, the organization and awareness campaign that’s on everyone’s social media platter these days? Craig says, “That nonprofit did a good job of telling a compelling story through film. Awareness and helping to spread the word is a big deal, but understanding a given issue and its complexities is equally important for folks who want to stand up for change and support nonprofits.” So updating your Facebook status to spread the word is only an important first step – understand the issue fully to understand what you can really do to go on and make a real difference. Craig, I’ve been saying this for years before anyone ever jumped on any social cause bandwagon, so thank you for spreading my word. I also invented nonprofits and the word “awareness.” Remember to visit www.craigconnects.org to see Craig’s blog posts, issues and to contact him.
Photos by: Stephanie Canciello, Unali Artists