Jeff Jarvis fields a post from Ted Redmond from the San Francisco Guardian branding Craigslist as a **GASP** digital Wal Mart. It funny because I was just talking up Craig’s List to two real estate guys at Panera’s yesterday. They were talking thousands of dollars in housing listings. I’m not sure they understood what I said.
A little background. Mr. Newmark, whom everyone calls Craig, has created a system of online advertising that has pretty much wiped out traditional daily newspaper classified ads in many of the 115 US markets where he now operates. He’s also hurt the alternative press, although the damage to the dailies is deeper. Some say Craig has single-handedly destroyed thousands of newspaper jobs.
Frankly, that’s a little silly: The guy figured out how to do something that the newspapers weren’t doing, and they were way too late in responding, and he got their money, and that’s how capitalism works.
But Craig still annoys me, and here’s why:
Over and over in his brief speech, he talked about building community. He acted as if Craigslist was some sort of nonprofit with lofty goals and he a humble servant of the people who wants only to help improve human communications.
The problem with that is simple: When Craig comes to town (and he’s coming to just about every town in the nation soon), the existing community institutions â€“ say, the locally owned weekly newspaper â€“ have a very hard time competing. In many ways, he’s like a Wal-Mart â€“ yeah, landlords get cheaper real estate ads, and consumers find some bargains, but the money all goes out of town. And he puts nothing back into the community: He doesn’t, for example, hire reporters or serve as a community watchdog.
Jarvis, who is upfront and reveals his professional and personal links to Craig, calls Redomond a jealous whiner. He writes:
Why wasnâ€™t that local paper â€” alternative or not â€” that Redmond wants to protect doing what Craiglist was doing â€¦ long ago? Letâ€™s go look at Vermontâ€™s alternative paper, Seven Days, which today is asking its readers to send us your sex secrets.
Well, I suppose that could build community, one birth at a time. I see them charging people to listen to personals on voicemail â€” a model that was outmoded 10 years ago. I see them charging not insignificant rates for most classified categories.
I donâ€™t see any open exchange on their site, allowing the community to meet and share, not even any forums or community-run blogs. Nothing stopped them from building that simple functionality years ago. Nothing stops any newspaper from doing that.
But even alternative papers â€” allegedly, papers of the people â€” canâ€™t stand to hand over control to the public, the way Craigslist does. And they all wish this internet thing would stop ruining their businesses.
Jarvis and Redmond both make valid points. What do you think?