Ostensibly talking about meeting the biggest challenges for public services now that Britain is broke, Newmark spoke about the impact that ‘little nudges’ rather than forceful do-gooding can have on people.
He compared these little acts with the “organisational inertia” that many large organisations and people in power get locked into through fear of doing it wrong.
What really stood out to me, though, were Newmark’s remarks about people and communities. And these remarks come after 14 years of Craigslist, making the Craigslist community one of the most mature across the net.
Craig Newmark’s ‘thing’ is that he calls himself the founder and customer service rep of Craigslist. He is so famous (in nerdy circles anyway) for this claim that I was staggered when an attendee yesterday asked him about this, as if it wasn’t true and in fact he had a huge team of staff. (The same excitable attendee hopped up on to speakers’ table for a photo opportunity with a befuddled Craig at the end).
But after hearing what this customer service involves, I dispute his claim slightly too. Craig Newmark is doing customer service, that’s absolutely true, but he is doing it in the role of a community manager.
He talked about ‘trolls’, and suggested that they sat within a group increasingly talked about in US politics: Noisy idiots. Dealing with this group brings you eyeball to eyeball with…
“…some of the worst of what people will say to get attention”.
And that’s something any community manager reading this will recognise.
Among his various bad jokes, he liked to drop relevant names and quotes, my favourite of which was a paraphrasing of Jon Stewart:
“You hear more from the extremists and crazy people because moderates have too much to do”.
But he kept coming back to a point that it’s very easy to overlook – especially when you’re dealing with noisy idiots – there are “very few bad guys out there”. Far more people are “interested in talking together”.
“Most people,” Newmark observed, “are inclined to do the right thing, they just need a little nudge”.
For me, this perfectly sums up community management at its best, at its most natural. Nudging people to do the right thing, clamping down on noisy idiots but recognising that most people are good and helpful and want to talk.