Monday, March 13, 2006

Keynote - Craig Newmark and Jimmy Wales

This session is really the highlight of the festival. Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist (, is interviewed by Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia ( Both are pioneers in the community-oriented usage of the Web. Craigslist has turned the classified ad industry upside down, and Wikipedia has changed the way we think about information and its authors.

The first area of questioning dealt with scams on the Web, particulary of interest to both these sites. Both said that these problems are happening, but are not necessarily prominent and have been part of their sites since the beginning, not a new concept due to their current popularity. Wales said that most people are inherently good, but often it is the bad things that are emphasized in media.

Wales asked Newmark about his recent comment that Wikipedia would be the savior of democracy. Newmark went into a divergence on West Wing episodes, but then came back to answering the question. Skipping through commercials (including political commercials), and that would be a good thing. The nature of news and political advertising would have to change. DVR manufacturers should create a 30-second skip feature. Newmark said he did not usually express publicly his own politics, but talked about the importance of community to circumvent traditional campaigns and positioning in media.

Wales said that on Wikipedia, it is not always an argument between left vs. right, but mostly an argument between the reasonable and the jerks. Newmark said he tries to reason with most, but sometimes has to block unreasonable users or solicit help from their ISPs. Although, he said that most were reasonable.

A major part of the discussion dealt with the changes in journalism to the role that Craigslist is playing with Journalism. Quite often, there are important issues addressed online, but are not emphasized in the mainstream media. He mentioned Oh My News and the work of Dan Gilmor (We the Media) in regard to citizen journalism. These are both topics that we discussed in MASC 151. He also mentioned the Center for Public Integrity, documenting unethical behavior in elections, but publishing it a year later doesn't help. It would be helpful it was blogged as it was happening and can have an impact on the election.

Newmark was a funny speaker, with many divergences and antecdotes. He said the most trusted news sources are Daily Show and Colbert Report (only slightly tongue in cheek), and making a reference to show on another channel (referring to O’Reilly) that’s not as good as Colbert.

Newmark responded to a question about old media. He said that paper and delivery are expensive, and electronic media is going to happen. It is just a matter of time before the devices allow us to have the same level of access and portability. He also said that investigative reporting would be revolutionized with the Web.

Challenges to investigative journalism:

Accuracy, fact-checking (newspapers do a good job of this), pressures of 24-hour cycle mean that sometimes misinformation gets out there. Has always been a problem, just more of a problem now. – look at all sides of story, fact-checker training, referenced the Daily Show. Wales suggested a hybrid model of mainstream and citizen journalism. Newmark agreed that there is a spectrum of quality across both categories.

A question was asked about charging schemes and other changes on Craiglist. One is a debate over whether the homepage should lose the San Francisco focus. In regard to charging, Newmark discussed how certain areas, like real estate listings in large cities like NY, would have charges associated, but the large majority of postings would still be free.

Newmark, people who use the site are the people that run it. We just need to get out of the way.

A question was asked about Ebay’s ownership. Newmark said it was the result of a former employee selling their shares to Ebay. They have little influence, but he does sometimes use them for their power with ISPs.

In regard to censorship, Wales said that Wikipedia would not compromise by censoring content in China. He did say that he did understand Google’s position and that they were getting a hard time in the media. Newmark said that Google might do more good by being, slow gradual approach. Newmark said that we have our own issues of censorship and freedom of information in the US.

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