Tuesdays with T4A: Craig Newmark (01/14/14)

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Craig Newmark
Founder | craigslist and craigconnects
Craig is the customer service representative and founder of craigslist, the popular online classifieds site, and craigconnects, his personal Web-based initiative to stand up for organizations “getting stuff done” in areas Craig is passionate about. These include Veterans and military families, open government, public diplomacy, back-to-basics journalism and fact-checking, consumer protection, and technology for the public good. He recently joined the VA Center for Innovation as “Nerd-in-Residence.” He serves on the boards of Sunlight Foundation, OneVoice, FactCheckED, and VotoLatino. Craig lives in San Francisco with his wife Eileen.

Where did you grow up, and what do you remember most about it?
I grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, have vague memories about life as a young nerd. Fond of the long walk to the stamp collecting store, not so fond of how kids reacted when I showed off in class (I wish someone had warned me about that).
What was your first job?
First part time job was at a local department store, long gone, kinda like a K-mart that never grew into a chain. I printed signs for sale items using a very old printing press, all hand operated.

First full time job was with IBM in Boca Raton, Florida, in an “advanced technology” (not really) in the Series/1 minicomputer development lab. The Series/1 coulda been a contender if we got Unix on it early and pushed hard.

What is your first political memory?
In 1964, I remember that the election was big, and remember an (unfair) political button that said “Barry is the living end,” showing the rear of an elephant.
What is your favorite book?
I read too many to think, eight or more per month, but mostly science fiction and historical mysteries.

Recently, I read and highly recommend The Writing on the Wall, which describes the history of social media as used by Cicero and Caesar until now.

How did you come up with the idea of craigslist? What was the biggest hurdle you encountered transforming craigslist from idea to reality?
I started with a mailing list of sorts of arts and tech events in San Francisco, then listened to people for feedback and did what made sense. No real hurdles, just some big decisions like deciding to turn down huge money, then turning over management to Jim Buckmaster.
You have been a champion for uniting the world for common good via the internet, specifically through your non-profit craigconnects. Was there an explicit catalyst that motivated you to start this organization?
Well, there’s that thing about treating people how I like to be treated, and also “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”(craigconnects is my personal effort, operating under a nonprofit umbrella org.)

Our next question of Board Members has been how they view their roles and responsibilities as citizens in their community and as citizens living in a democracy. You’ve been tapped the official ‘Nerd in Residence’ of the Veterans Affairs Center of Innovation. Given your extraordinary work on behalf of veterans and military families over the years, I'm interested to know if your viewpoint on this has changed at all. Do citizens lead or are they led by government? Is it a combination? What do you think is the right balance in partnerships between the public and private sectors?

I like the idea of pragmatic balance, like if a market solution fails, à la health care, look to the government.

My time is Washington is proving real educational, and I’m focusing on the means to get done the stuff agency workers know how to get done. That means taking some heat, but I’m used to doing the right thing under pressure.

What has surprised you the most (if anything) about working with the public sector?
That there’s still a lot of untapped idealism and productivity among agency workers. Many are still in hopeful Dilbert mode, rather than going the full Wally.
As Americans, do you feel we value Veterans appropriately? Is there something each of us could do better to show respect?
Nope, since what happens is mostly lip service around Veterans and Memorial Days, but maybe we can make something real happen. (Not ready to disclose that…)
Who are your role models and why?
No role model, but I get a lot of inspiration from my rabbi, Leonard Cohen, best known as a singer, poet, and Zen monk.
Just about everyone (regardless of political affiliation) sees a large gap between our politics (Washington, DC as well as state capitals) and the reality on the issues we face as a Country. Why do you think that is? I know it's a tough question, but what do you think can be done to close that gap?
People don’t know what to believe, given a largely unaccountable press, and we’ve kinda given up.
Are political parties becoming less relevant today, particularly for young adults? Whatever your answer, why do you think that is?
I dunno. Humans far into the aging process, including myself, find it hard to connect with the youngsters. (BTW kids, get off my lawn.)

See #11 about the press; hopeful sign is that Millenials reputedly ignore bad information, somehow.

What is your favorite journey?
I don’t like to get outta the house.
If you could be anyone else for a day, who would you be?
Can’t think of anything.
What is your proudest moment?
Around the end of ’97, there were definite indicators, like large page view traffic, that craigslist was really a thing.

Nowadays, it’s bits of mail telling me that people found lost dogs or met their spouses on craigslist.

Meet me here: