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Craigslist for Media?

At a recent conference messy with A-list bloggers, a small voice emerged to talk about values, customer service and a new 'way' of doing politics.
 
 
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In case you haven't noticed, (having suddenly awakened from, say, a persistent vegetative state) the blogosphere is officially "hot."

How hot? So hot that there are now at least 10 million weblogs in the world -- one third written in English, but one fifth in Japanese and another fifth in Korean -- with more on the way every day. In fact, Technorati estimates that 40-50,000 weblogs are created daily -- one every 2.2 seconds. With both the number of blogs and the volume of posts doubling every five months, we may have to rename it the "bloatosphere" soon.

How hot? So hot that Arianna Huffington's new celebu-blog (www. HuffingtonPost.com) has already spawned several satirical bastard offspring ( http://www.huffingtonstoast.com; http:/huffington.isfullofcrap.com/; http://www.bluffingtonpost.com/) So hot that even The New York Times -- late, as usual, to the blogwagon -- has finally started running characteristically kooky commentaries explaining the phenomenon to techno hoi polloi.

So hot, in fact, that the "A-List" has now morphed into the "Bipartisan Who's Who of the Blogosphere."

I know because I saw and heard the "Nation's Top Bloggers" (sic) when they converged on Manhattan the other day to examine "the implications and impact of internet technology on politics" at the second annual Personal Democracy Forum. As executive editor Micah Sifry put it, "Politics is now being driven by a 24/7 cosmos of self-starting, citizen-driven networks of bloggers and activists who are upending all the old rules of the game ... we will hear from the new movers and shakers themselves and find out how this new world works, who gets it and who's being gotten by it."

Here's what I learned from the A-Listers: the best way for newbies to succeed at blogging is either to "be knighted by an A-List blogger" or to "Find a market niche that is underserved and work it hard;" bloggers now constitute a "Fifth Estate," checking on the Old Fourth Estate media as they in turn check on politics and politicians; aggregation of blogs into superblogs may be "the next big thing;" political bloggers occupy "a sweet niche," with the MSM relying on them as a guide to the rest of the 'net; and bloggers (or at least those on the A-list) are "trendsetters" whose audience is "70 percent Influentials."

Well, maybe I don't get it. Maybe -- as a proud member (along with Kathy Griffin) of the "D-List" -- I'm "being gotten by it" instead. But I can't help thinking that attempting to impose the same old hierarchical, branded, anointed celebutante model of the past onto this ostensibly "new world" -- otherwise hailed as "people-powered," "citizen-driven," grassroots, bottom-up, and even "potentially" revolutionary -- is a terribly tired and ultimately counter-productive concept.

A-List aside (yes, Arianna was in attendance, along with Jeff Jarvis, Markos Moulitsas [a.k.a. DailyKos], Hugh Hewitt, Jay Rosen, Dan Gillmor, Josh Marshall, Doc Searls, et al) the highlight of the conference was hearing from Craig Newmark, a soft-spoken, mild-mannered, self-effacing anti-celebrity who refers to himself as merely a "customer service representative."

Newmark spoke with Sifry and Zephyr Teachout, once director of internet organizing for Howard Dean and current fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, on a panel entitled "A Craigslist for Politics?" Craig, a software engineer who worked for IBM for 18 years, founded his non-commercial community bulletin board in the Bay Area in 1995 as a useful service for his friends and their friends. A decade later, Craigslist is in 120 cities in 25 countries, and is used by eight million people every month.

What's behind its amazing, word-of-mouth success? "We provide a simple and effective community service," explains Newmark. "We are persistent about basic values, and establishing a culture, systems and structures of trust and goodwill."

Sounds simple enough. So why isn't there a "Craigslist for Politics" yet? According to Newmark, it's because there's a lack of trust in our political system. "At Craigslist, we view customer service as a high expression of moral values," he noted. "People are looking for institutions that reflect their values. Our political parties are not service organizations."

Of late, Newmark added, he has been looking into media rather than politics. "News operations must also deal with issues of morals and trust," he said. "We need better, more moral and trustworthy information."

Newmark concluded by stating that he is "very optimistic" about the possibilities of change that lay before us. Not, however, among the A-List in the blogosphere ... but instead among the various groups now busily examining the opportunities and challenges presented by "citizen journalism."

So if you're also looking for trust and moral values -- and the real Next Big Thing -- maybe we should forget politics for a while and create a "Craigslist for Media" instead?

This and other articles by Rory O'Connor are available on his blog.