SXSW 2006 Panel: Craig Newmark & Jimmy Wales Keynote

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

SXSW Page about this panel

Jimmy Wales: The culture of trust. Wikipedia and CL depend on the culture of trust. Talk about that.

Craig Newmark: We built an environment where people expect to trust and be trusted. That’s why we allow them so much control over the site. We don’t run the site — the people who use it do. We handle special circumstances — spamvertising, misbehaving apt. brokers in New York. My title is customer service rep and founder. I lured Jimmy into interviewer to stress the importance of Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales: Not sure if that’s supposed to mean that Wikipedians are losers… There’s an interesting commonality about the two: all about community and control. I would like to go back to just being customer service. That’s important. Why so involved in customer service?

Craig Newmark: You kind of get detached from reality at the top of a company. People who tell you what’s up may not be totally straight with you. For example, President Bartlett has a team around him that lets him know what’s going on, that’s why he’s so good. A role model: the phone company. I just do the opposite.

Jimmy Wales: Info warfare at Craigslist. Informational attacks.

Craig Newmark: I may over-dramatize, but I’ve read too much sci-fi. The deal: Aside from the usual scams — those are kind of expected. Traditional-style pranks, etc. The real problem starting around October 1st, 2004: People posting political disinformation. “Swift-boating.” People posting usually fetishes about Hilary Clinton and Teresa Heinz-Kerry. That’s a real problem. I take it personally — my name’s on the site. It’s an ongoing problem. Like on product recommendation sites. I’m most concerned about this on emerging news sites and Wikipedia where people can promote false info. Bruce Sterling pointed out that most cops that you deal with online are the good guys. Sometimes they forget you’re on Pacific time and call you at 6:30am.

Jimmy Wales: One of the slogans I’ve heard you say: Crooks are early adopters.

Craig Newmark: We started seeing this crap on our site years ago. Scams. Disinfo. But the amount of crookedness is not increasing all that much. A big lesson: People are overwhelmingly trustworthy and good. The proportion of bad guys grows lower and lower. I prefer to be cynical, but the motivating value system of most people is do unto others. And they’re drowning out the bad guys online. People are OK.

Jimmy Wales: That mirrors our experience on Wikipedia. The difficult people were there from the beginning, but the new people are regular and benevolent. Most people are good. Not saints, but mostly good.

Craig Newmark: This wisdom of crowds thing, it’s for real. It sometimes turns into mob rule. It’s democracy. It works, but you’ve gotta be careful.

Jimmy Wales: We were on the phone a few months ago. I heard you say that you think Tivo is going to save democracy. That’s interesting. I can now get Rocketboom on my Tivo.

Craig Newmark: Well. I’m a fan of Rocketboom. I’ll do my Amanda Comden[?] impression. [Does so.] Tivo saving democracy. Maybe I’ve watched too much West Wing. I hope Josh and Donna get together. [Talks about West Wing for a while.] Tivo saves democracy. I’ve talked to a bunch of politicians, though I’m not interested in politics, per se. When a politician is elected, they have to start fundraising the next day. The miracle of DVRs is that you can skip through commercials pretty easily. So if everyone starting skipping these, it would defeat their purpose, and that would be a good thing. I can’t imagine what product-placement would be for a political ad. So then politicians would have to say more and the nature of news and political advertising would change. So it’s the patriotic duty of everyone to skip commercials. And the patriotic duty for PVR makers to make 30-second skip available to everyone. Regarding politics, I’m not very interested in politics. I don’t tell anyone. What looks like an interest in politics is the notion that we have to fight political scams.

Jimmy Wales: In this day there seems to be a lot of political stuff that needs attention. When you talk about info warfare and transparency WRT democracy, I think everyone can agree that being bombarded with mindless political ads instead of something substantive… we can all agree.

Craig Newmark: We have a lot more in common, left and right, than people like to think. People talk about culture wars, but I do think there are some values that we all agree with. I’m a uniter, not a divider. And we should push that kind of thing hard. I’m a part of OneVoice, a Mideast peace group. Everyone in Israel and Palestine, they want the same thing. But the media hasn’t presented that view. Only the extremists. We share more than we know. Culture war? Well, we can look at erotic services stats on our site — people everywhere have a lot of the same interests. In San Francisco we talk about stuff more, but that’s the principal difference.

Jimmy Wales: In a community, people find ways to get along. Whereas traditional media likes the clash. Most people assume that the Wikipedia fights are left vs. rights. But it’s really the reasonable people vs the jerks.

Craig Newmark: But people are normally a tremendous voice for moderation. They don’t want to argue. Reasoning with people works most of the time. Sometimes I have to block them or contact their ISP. I do work with a lot of people in ISPs. Most people in corporations want to listen and do right, but their corporate culture is counter to that. And I want to help change that. I’m working with an understaffed ISP and their public spokesman is embarrassing the organization. I’ll be vague about that.

Jimmy Wales: Journalism.

Craig Newmark: My role has been overblown somewhat. I’m doing a few things. But I’m an amateur and a dilettante. But people will listen to what I say and I like the sound of my own voice. But. In order to run a democratic society, you need good sources of news. People to tell you what’s going on. That’s how life is. But Craigslist is affecting journalism. We are draining some of their ad revenue. But a much bigger effect as a citizen is that we need better info about what’s going on within our country. The Guardian in Britain is telling us stuff that’s really important. Better info. Better investigative journalism. Newspapers have been firing expensive investigative journalists. So the stuff I’m doing — I’m working in a modest way with some people on a collaborative filtering venture. Using ordinary people, commenting on the news. Driving traffic to newspaper sites and to citizen journalists that will publish stuff normal newspapers won’t publish. And I’m working with Dan Gilmour whose big effort is putting together a think-tank on citizen journalism. You can’t find a specific report about what’s going on with citizen journalism. And I don’t have time to deal with that. I’m dealing with people bickering in the pets forum. They’re much worse than the people bickering in the political forum. There are always other news efforts going on. And what’s exciting is the Center for Public Integrity. They write a book every few years called “The Selling of the President.” But a year after the fact, that doesn’t help. So they’re thinking of blogging it. And that could make a difference in 2006. And they’re also thinking of putting up DBs from the Federal Elections Commission so we can see who’s paying which politicians for what reasons. So this opens up opportunities for citizen journalists. This could be significant. How much trouble will I get into for propagating it? I don’t know. “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.” — Oscar Wilde. The most trusted sources of news I have and the Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and the Onion.

Jimmy Wales: Interesting about the dogs. We have huge brawls over anything having to do with dogs. Worse than Israel-Palestine.

Craig Newmark: Fascinating in the abstract. But I have to deal with it hands on and there’s no right or wrong.

Jimmy Wales: Questions.

?: I’m an investigative journalist. What the hell should we do?

Craig Newmark: I’m an amateur. Talk to Jeff Jarvis. Jay Rosen. And Dan Gilmour. In brief, I know about engaging the community and getting people involved with working with reporters on stories, writing them, posting them themselves. Paper is expensive. Portable electronic media are coming. Investigative journalism is a really big deal and maybe newspaper chains could [something].

?: Newspapers have made themselves more irrelevant by missing out on things and when we have to go to blogs to figure out what’s going on.

Craig Newmark: I’ve spoken to analysts who’ve said that newspapers have lost more to niche pubs like Auto Trader. Newspapers should be community services. The return to that will bring circulation back up. Talk to the people who really do know what’s going on. […] An internet site can be local or global — you decide.

?: Can you talk about cultural differences in Craigslist overseas?

Craig Newmark: We haven’t seen much because we haven’t looked much. Right now our sites are pretty much English-only. It’s remiss, but there’s usually something bigger in the way like keeping the site fast. One overseas thing I have seen involved the use by women of our casual encounters section… Well, it involved the word “randy.” People everywhere have the same needs and values for real. A place to live. A job. Sell something. Get a date. In LA, people are more into getting TV jobs. And in NY real estate is a blood-sport. The guy who’s responsible for the expansion is Jim [missed last name — Butler?]. He discusses Valleywag where he was voted 2nd sexiest man in Silicon Valley.

?: A concern is that citizen investigative journalism is not supported by the knowledge of how to put together a good story and resource problems (time, etc.)?

Craig Newmark: You’re right. Any journalist, the notion is that you should put something out that’s reasonably accurate. And newspapers fact-check. And this is good. But the pressures of a fast news cycle is that sometimes misinfo gets out there. Recently there was the coal mine disaster where people were reported alive erroneously. The mainstream models fact-check in theory, but in citizen media, it’s publish first and then hope that people fact-check. This doesn’t happen much and it’s a problem. People should remember that it needs to be checked and needs skepticism. It’s a given in all media that not everything is well fact-checked. Two really good models: Fact-check.org, endorsed by Dick Cheney. They’re really, really good at looking around a story and seeing what’s real. We could see fact-checkers being trained to address these issue. Good fact-checking? The Daily Show.

Jimmy Wales: Everyone tells jokes, but we still have professional comedians.

Craig Newmark: Yes. We speak of pro journalists and citizen journalists as if they’re different. But there’s a spectrum. But sometimes there’s no substitute for someone who’s a professional writer. Writing is hard. I’m not that good at it. You do need professionalism in news.

Jimmy Wales: And the work they do can be amplified by working with the community.

?: Congrats for making the cover of the Costco Connection. That means a lot to me. And my mom. And people I helped on a Katrina blog connected with Craigslist. The design makes me really happy — it hasn’t gotten sexy or flashy or anything, it’s just been a bulletin board.

Craig Newmark: The Costco Connection. That’s the big time. We’ve gotten more mail on that than pretty much anything. My mom likes the hot dogs there. The Katrina thing. Thank you, but the biggest thing we did was get out of the way. People repurposed our site as they needed it and a lot of people connected with their loved ones or whatever through our site. We got out of the way, and that’s important. About the look-feel: Fortunately I don’t know any better, so I did something as simple as possible. Jim has maintained that tradition. We’ll stay philosophically the same way. We’re not interested in changing the design except making the front page much less about San Francisco. But there’s a session today about redesigning our site, I hear.

?: What’s the future of Craigslist?

Craig Newmark: Most of the answer is more of the same. More cities. I like the idea of using Google Maps to locate things. But we’re not sure. We try to avoid FUD because we don’t want to screw around with other people’s plans to do things. We’ll start changing for more things like job listings in Washington DC and Boston. And for apartment listing in New York. Apartment brokers in NY have asked us to charge them to improve quality and eliminate some of the outright scammers. Other minor tech stuff is going on. We just keep plugging away.

?: Craigslist seems to be the only open, public, immediate-entry website that has people helping the victims of Katrina. Also, we’re still waiting for permission from your site to get the text from the Katrina discussions so we can analyze them.

Craig Newmark: E-mail Jim for the latter. As for the first, I don’t know if that’s true. But I haven’t paid that much attention. People came in and used our site for what they needed to. Some of our people did things like make a Baton Rouge site and put up a help page and added resources. Don’t give us too much credit for that. Remember that people who use our site are the people who run it. We handle infrastructure and special circumstances and then get out of the way.

Jimmy Wales: It emphasizes to me how important the community around craigslist is. It’s user-generated content, though we do some heavy-lifting. The EFF helps us out, as well, by people who might sue us.

?: What’s been the impact of eBays acquisition of part o craigslist?

Craig Newmark: This happened a couple of years ago. They bought it from a former employee. There’s no news. Sometimes we’ll chat or have a dinner. The only effect I can think of is that we ask favors from their trust and safety group. Sometimes when you’re dealing with a bad guy, sometimes an effective strategy is to talk to their ISP. And an ISP contact usually gets the job done.

?: Comment on the economics behind your businesses that are community-driven. I’m sure there’s money temptation for both of you.

Jimmy Wales: I should talk about two projects I’m involved with Wikipedia and Wikimedia. These are both non-profits. So no big pay-offs for me. Dumb because it’s worth a lot of money now. Smart because that’s what makes Wikipedia work. But then there’s Wipedia(?). That’s ad-supported and for-profit. You can’t abuse your community or your loose it. You have to be fairly respectful of their needs or it’ll blow up.

Craig Newmark: We realized we needed to may the bills. I mentioned the philosophy of how we decided what to charge for. Most of our site is free. So we’re contributing potentially hundreds of millions of dollars back to the community. In 1997 I chose not to run banner ads. I reflected on nerd values. And I really am a nerd. But I figured people will pay me too much to program, so it’s cool to work to change the world a bit. And we’re doing well financially. We don’t talk about it because it is personally. I only have a vague idea of how much we’re making right now.

?: Comment briefly on Google’s rise to global dominance and their role in community and sharing info, esp. WRT China.

Jimmy Wales: I love Google and I use it all of the time, though I’m uncomfortable with what they’re doing, now, in China. Wikipedia is currently blocked in China. Blocked for 6 months. We discussed it and we’ll never compromise, so we’re stuck. But Google has taken an unfair amount of heat because we love them and their motto is Do No Evil. So they’re taking heat for things other companies have been doing for a long time. But part of my role is to be the person that says, “there’s a better way than to capitulate.”

Craig Newmark: Maybe they thought Google would do more good using the slow, gradual approach. I don’t know. But I’m willing to trust them because I see how they behave pretty consistently. On the other hand, we have much scarier free speech issues here, and in my head that’s the higher priority. We see info being fooled around with by our statesmen. Info gets deleted. Scarier stuff going on. We need to stay the shining light of free speech and get our own house in order before we make judgments elsewhere.

Jimmy Wales: That gradual argument is plausible, but we need to watch-dog them on that. Because it’s easy to throw that out as an excuse.

Craig Newmark: We’re both in the position where we can make unintended consequence. But we don’t know. Sometimes you do screw up, but I don’t have any answers. But we have bigger concerns within this country.

Jimmy Wales: Thanks everyone for coming!