Comments: My _Guardian_ column on Yahoo / China / journalist Shi Tao / network data


I'm wondering if you think that can be avoided? It seems to me that you could have non-profit competitors to current top players that would safeguard peoples' information -- you'd think people would flock there.


P.S. It would probably never be "completely safeguarded" but if you remove the profit aspect, serious money could be spent on figuring out how to do as good a job at that as possible. D.

Posted by Delia at November 15, 2007 12:26 AM

Delia, no, sadly, I don't think non-profit competitors would work. It's too much of a burden on people. I'm very much against supposed social "solutions" that fail if someone is tired or distracted or hasn't researched the issues thoroughly. Besides, the for-profit competitors almost by definition can out-spend the non-profits in terms of generating false PR.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at November 15, 2007 12:40 AM

I'm not sure what you mean, Seth.

What burden? what people? Why would people working for non-profits that are paid the market salary etc. get any more tired or distracted or sloppy as far as researching things, if that's what you mean...

PR is not the end and all of everything: I don't think a non-profit would need to outspend the for profits, PRwise (that should be the least of their concerns since they wouldn't have anything to cover up).

Imagine craigslist would have stayed for profit. Would have done *exactly what it does*, EXCEPT *much much* better by spending huge net profits on figuring out how to best safeguard users info, among host of other things important to the users. It could spend millions and millions on it! --> that would put the for profit alternative that would just pocket all those profits out of competition, as far as I can see...


Posted by Delia at November 15, 2007 11:43 AM

correction: imagine craigslist would have stayed NON-profit

Posted by Delia at November 15, 2007 11:49 AM

I meant the mental effort of ordinary users having to think "Competitor XYZ is a non-profit, which has pledged to preserve privacy, but is that really true, because popular blogger ABC has said it's all a phony, but I heard that blogger is really in the pocket of for-profit company DEF, which touts how it STOOD UP TO THE GOVERNMENT rah rah rah when a law-enforcement agent came by for a tour, and they really stuck it to the guy by making him sign-in and show his credentials to prove they are tough, it says so right in their press release touting their protective stance ..."

It's too much to ask reasonable people to do all that work. They won't do it.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at November 15, 2007 02:27 PM

Seth, I don't think people would have to think those things right away for the non-profit to eventually be a big success (and put its for profit alternatives out of business). The non-profit would just have to do right by its users... and keep doing it!

For instance, if it charges for ads or allows ads on the site to get revenue --> just tell the users what that money would be used for and *do* that! as long as it goes towards serving them, great! if it keeps doing that... the word is gotta get out at some point!

I find it hard to believe that none of the effective media outlets (in terms of publicity) would report on the uniqueness of it: "little people$list has spent the 20K -- or whatever amount they were able to raise through ads -- on developing a sophisticated way of protecting the users' information against unreasonable government searches."

This is how craigslist got all that great and free publicity early on (and still gets it, 'cause reporters continue to be taken for a ride, as far as I can tell): by being UNIQUE (by being something the media wrote about *without* having to spend money on PR).


P.S. What I'm basically saying: the way to beat Craig (and his equivalents) at his own game is to DO what he *says*! BE the community service with a philanthropic mindset...

The for profit craigslist (or other similar entreprises) would eventually become irrelevant: who would put up with the retarded development of the site if they HAD an alternative? Who would choose NOT to have their information as protected against unreasonable government searches as possible... if they HAD an alternative? etc. etc. D.

Posted by Delia at November 15, 2007 07:57 PM

Delia, sadly, you've made a bunch of statements above that conflict extensively with my bitterness and cynicism. My experiences observing the blog-evangelism people in particular, convince me that much which appears to just happen, is in fact carefully marketed. That doesn't mean that everything can be commanded - but rather, money talks. And rather more loudly than is comfortable.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at November 16, 2007 06:29 AM

> And the one-way broadcast aspects of blogs

... of blogs without comments, I should add (like most of Google's blogs, but interestingly enough not their public policy blog).

Good article!

Posted by Philipp Lenssen at November 16, 2007 08:08 AM

OK, Seth... show me!

How much money did Craig spend on PR *before* craigslist turned for profit? How much money did he spend up to that point, period? Apparently, not much at all... -- he got the people to pitch in and help and the media to sing him praises.

Did he plan it all out? may well be... but he didn't have to spend any money on PR to get the good press (and free publicity) and see the site grow enormously as a result.

Why couldn't someone else do this and NEVER turn for profit? Use all profits to further the mission like it was supposed to be: start out *and remain* a community service with a philanthropic mindset. The for profit models (such as the current craigslist) couldn't possibly compete.


Posted by Delia at November 16, 2007 07:42 PM

Philipp: Thanks. Note almost nobody reads comments. This is shown every time there's one of those too-good-to-check stories echoing around - the A-listers echo it from other A-listers, even though refutations can often be found on every comment area .

Delia: The problem is that it tends to be like "Look at that lottery winner! Why couldn't everyone else win the lottery?". You only hear about the one case which was in the right place in the right time - all the others, you don't hear about.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at November 17, 2007 07:09 AM


It doesn't seem to have much to do with being in the right place at the right time, as far as I can see. New craigslist local sites are added all the time and in very different places -- it appears that all you have to do is give it time and wait for the site to grow...

As long as you have no real competition. Most people are really frustrated at the point when they need help -- there is just nobody to help most of the users in need of help (way too many users per customer service employee and it's getting worse every day). But as long as they can't go elsewhere... they are stuck with craigslist, however badly treated!

In some foreign places, there are local options that have done quite well. As far as I'm aware none of these were non-profits. So given enough time, they couldn't compete with a non-profit alternative either...


Posted by Delia at November 17, 2007 10:24 AM

What I meant was that on the whole, in the main, overall, PR is a function of money. There are rare, unusual, exceptional, cases where someone gets a lot of PR without spending a lot of money. These attract intense interest, precisely because they are so extremely uncommon, and flacks want to know how to reproduce them. But close examination typically shows there isn't a lot that can be replicated outside the weird circumstances that gave rise to them.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at November 17, 2007 07:05 PM