I have always been an internet-fiend from its inception. Although not a technical geek or having any idea what coding was, I can remember the pure excitement when in my household it was my turn to spend an hour on our AOL-provided dial-up service in the mid-90s.
I was also riddled with social anxiety and being in my room in the online world was comforting. In more recent times I am fascinated by the balance between social connection and online and how to use the best of both without harm. Another guy that felt the same, but is now far more important than me of course, is “famously-shy” Craigslist founder Craig Newmark.
Craig explained a sobering realisation after working in big corporations in a 2016 Inc. magazine article: “I learned that my social skills--or lack thereof--really held me back professionally. And when you have big organizations, people form factions or silos, which sometimes operate at cross-purposes--and there are people who want to do a good job, and some people who just want to advance themselves”.
By pure chance I was doing a deep-dive search for new podcast material to listen to. I swing between three core topics at the moment, usually health/healthcare, crime, history and startups/entrepreneurial pursuits. So when I found a show called Internet History Podcast, and their recent episode called “The Story of craiglist”, my thumb could not press download hard enough.
For those not aware Craigslist is (cheers Wikipedia), “an American classified advertisements website with sections devoted to jobs, housing, for sale, items wanted, services, community, gigs, résumés, and discussion forums. Craig Newmark began the service in 1995 as an email distribution list to friends, featuring local events in the San Francisco Bay Area”.
The design of the site is notoriously old-school, text-based and simple, not significantly changing in over 20 years with a peace sign as its logo. The site’s reach however, did evolve, and it is now 570 cities in 70 countries. It has had its fair share of detractors, due to some seriously creepy incidents resulting from public postings, but its anti-establishment ethos has remained. Craig resisted calls to turn it into a typical Silicon-Valley style behemoth and passed up on billions of dollars in doing so.
Even in the 2000s as it took off like a rocket, Craig continued to answer all emails, queries, managing disputes and reviewing postings personally, each and every one. Even after recruiting a CEO, he still continued this and noted with humour and irony, he was in fact the “top and bottom” of the community, being Founder, on the Board and being the first contact.
The podcast host, Brian McCullough, remarks, “As the dot com era exploded in San Francisco, modest, simple little Craigslist became the virtual village commons of the burgeoning tech-scene,” and, “…he didn’t mind managing his community himself. He felt that community curation was his calling”.
I will not bore you with a line-by-line account of the podcast, but there were some particular quotes from Craig that sung out to me about the relevance of community (with Mr. Perfect not far from my mind).
“We’ve lost contact with our neighbours. We don’t know who they are but we crave contact with them. So creating a new place for people to interact with others in their own town is one way of establishing community”.
And a favourite of mine for its simplicity:
“Customer-service is public service”.
He ran Craigslist for many years as a “hobby” and felt it was serving the community and acting as a tool for them. When I reflect and think how powerful this intention is, it reinforces to me what Mr. Perfect can do to bring together men, their families and more of the community, those with mental health issues and those currently thriving, to reduce isolation, know there are others in pain and to get outside and breathe.
All the while, as much as I am the “public face” of Mr. Perfect (admittedly sometimes uncomfortably), and I enjoy being physically at a Meetup when possible like the old days, there is nothing that gives me more pleasure than being the “curator” of this community and now seeing tens of other groups grow with the same intention.