Spin control: Craigslist stays on the “good guys” message

Over the years I’ve read various quotes from Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster defending craigslist’s business practices.

Every time there is a phrase pops into my head: Master politicians. They are as good at spin as any inside-the-beltway veteran.

Let’s parse this quote from Buckmaster:

“Walled garden� is a misnomer — this term arose to describe AOL’s attempts to keep their subscribers from accessing the internet at large — we do nothing of the sort, and in fact encourage users to go elsewhere

Here Buckmaster dodges the question by reframing the its intended meaning. Clearly, the intent is to use “walled garden” as a metaphor for craigslist’s unwillingness to open its site to third-party aggregators. Whether or not the original meaning of the phrase is as Buckmaster says it is matters not. He’s clearly spinning here. Instead of dealing with the criticism, he’s recasting the phrase into terms he can easily dismiss.

Of course, craiglist users can go elsewhere. That’s not the point. The real question is, are the people who supply the (mostly free) content that make craigslist what it is afforded the opportunity to benefit from wider distribution of their content? In that sense of “walled garden,” craigslist is, in fact, a walled garden. No amount of spin changes that.

I don’t mind that craigslist is a walled garden. I just think Newmark and Buckmaster should be honest about it.

Likewise, I have never before heard the term “proprietary� applied to craigslist, given our well-known near-exclusive reliance on free software.

Again, the question is being recast into a meaning that Buckmaster can wave off. Whether craigslist runs on open source software is irrelevant to the question of whether its business practices are proprietary. In fact, it’s ironic that Buckmaster would proudly wave the open source flag while defending very Microsoft-like business practices.

Newmark and Buckmaster are free to pursue whatever business practices they like, but they should stop hiding behind the spin of “we’re just here to serve the users.”

While I’ve said before that newspapers should not blame Craig for their woes, and I’ve also said Craig gets far more blame than he should, craigslist is also clearly not a friend of local newspapers. The company is far from harmless; it’s just that casting craigslist as the main villian is rather foolish.

That said, for all of Newmark’s and Buckmaster’s spin about how they’re not greedy capitalist, how they exist to serve users, how they care about communities, how they regret the decline of journalism, and value solid journalism, etc. — what have they done to help newspapers? Where are the partnerships that might benefit both a local paper and a craigslist site?

Newmark and Buckmaster owe newspapers nothing. They are under no obliation to seek partnership opportunities — opportunities that could benefit local communities on multiple levels — I’m just asking the question because I just don’t buy the craigslist spin that the company is all that White Hat.

Greed isn’t always about money. Sometimes it’s about control and attention. I suspect that Craig Newmark and Bill Gates aren’t all that different inside.

2 thoughts on “Spin control: Craigslist stays on the “good guys” message

  1. The real hypocrisy here is that Craigslist claims to be serving its users, claims not to be driven by profits, claims to care what the users want.

    My guess is if the people placing classifieds ads were asked whether they’d want their ad to appear on more places than just Craigslist, they’d say yes.

    The truth behind all of this is Craigslist is profit driven, the same as anyone else. It’s goal is to bankrupt competing classifieds services and then make money when it has a monopoly on the market.

    As I’ve said before about Craigslist, it’s already started to do this.

  2. Lucas, if Craigslist is to put other classified marketplaces out of business and obtain a monopoly, I suspect a different motivate than pure profit. I think it’s pretty clear that Newmark and Buckmaster are hostile to capitalistic businesses. I think they dream of some sort of socialist classified marketplace with them at top. Their talk about “users don’t demand this or don’t demand that” sound to me a lot like “some animals are more equal than others.” A socialist classified utopia with Newmark and Buckmaster telling users what they want.

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