The money itself doesn’t interest Newmark. But it can’t hurt. Even if the number of New York listings were to fall to a tenth of their present number, that’s another $550,000 a month.
Buckmaster won’t confirm the figure. “We make very good livings, and the company’s business is very successful,” he says. “We’ve had the luxury of doing well and being able to follow a moral compass and not have much conflict between the two. There hasn’t been the luxury of doing that in other businesses. What’s going to come along to drop your business cost by ten- or one-hundredfold in the steel industry?”
He and Newmark can be called extravagant by no American measure. Newmark’s car is four years old. Buckmaster rides around in his girlfriend’s old Volvo. Newmark has a fancyish midsize house in the city, Buckmaster and his girlfriend share a fancyish rental in Marin. But both men seem indifferent to material things. Their indulgences have been big televisions.
From time to time, young people write Newmark with deep gratitude. “Craig . . . I know that you care about me,” one wrote. “You must, after all you’ve done for me . . . You’ve found me places to live, bought and sold a bunch of my stuff, gotten me laid, gotten me off my lazy ass and out on the town, listened to me bitch, given me wonderful advice, and taught me so much about people. Craig, I owe you so much . . . Please keep your list as cool as it is today . . . Please keep the space free of commercial ads. Please don’t sell out, Craig. I’ll love you forever, just keep it real.”
That anonymous poster was alarmed by the report a year and a half ago that Phillip Knowlton, the former staffer to whom Newmark had given shares, sold them to eBay for a reported $5 million. The two companies say they have a good relationship. Newmark will call contacts at eBay, for instance, when he needs a personal connection at an ISP to track down what he calls “a bad guy.”
Another theory goes that eBay is studying Craigslist so that it can eat it alive. It’s not the only one with an appetite. Google has recently come up with Google Base. Overseas, eBay already has Kijiji. Microsoft is trying, too. “You know there are roomfuls of guys at Microsoft, Google, and eBay thinking, How can we beat Craigslist?” Gibson says. They may never be able to replace Craigslist’s cultural cachet, but they might be more efficient and undermine the list that way.
The power of the Net could be used to sort out trustworthy from untrustworthy reporters. “I’m just trying to make newsrooms stronger,” he said.
The staff of nineteen is not going to outprogram anyone. “We’re on the trailing edge of the technology, never on the bleeding edge, given the size of our staff,” Buckmaster concedes. “But we can adopt new technology as well as anyone else can, and our users have always given us the benefit of the doubt in terms of getting bugs fixed. And our values are appealing. If you try to run something similar to us and subtract the sincere mission and philosophy or, worse, try to fake it, I’m sure that’s not going to work.
“But then, if something better comes along, so be it. People will be better off. It doesn’t have to be us. Our egos are not that big.”
In the situation comedy that Craig Newmark renders of his life, he is ruled by three looming faceless female figures: “the girlfriend,” “the decorator,” and “the nutritionist,” the last of whom issued strict orders to “step away from the buffet table” and keep his pedometer count above 8,000 steps a day. None of the triumvirate, however, told him to bite his tongue, and in England, Newmark spoke openly about the stealth media venture he has invested in to promote citizen journalism.
The power of the Net could be used, he said, to help sort out trustworthy from untrustworthy reporters, and promote stories that were important but not getting attention from the mainstream media, in which people were losing trust anyway. The epicenter of this erosion, Newmark told me when I spoke with him just before the conference, is the White House press room, which let us down over Iraq. “We need the corps to back up Helen [Thomas, the columnist, who opposed the invasion from the start].”
Newmark’s remarks were perceived as a “slam” at the mainstream media, and he was soon backtracking. We need trained journalists and editors and fact-checkers, he said. We need big newsrooms.
“I’m just trying to make newsrooms stronger,” he said when I saw him in December. Then he went on to deny that Craigslist was having any effect on newspaper revenues. “Somebody invented recently a myth that we’re hurting newspapers. I’ve done a lot of research. That appears to be an invention . . . We’re a minor factor.”