Craigslist: Your data belongs to you

by Mathew on October 11, 2007 · 2 comments

One of the themes of Web 2.0 (if there is such a thing) is that all of the data that gets aggregated by Web applications and social networks can be a very powerful thing, and can in some cases justify giving services away for free — provided people who use those services agree to let their data be sliced and diced and parsed in various ways, whether to generate ads or whatever.

In this way, data becomes “the new Intel inside,” as Tim O’Reilly has said (and Paul Kedrosky has echoed in a number of posts).

With that in mind, I thought it was interesting to read Jim Buckmaster’s response to a question along those lines that was submitted to the Freakonomics guys as part of their recent Q&A with the reluctant businessmen who run Craigslist. I found it admirable in a way that when they were asked what they planned to do with all that data from billions of online listings, Jim said:

“It sounds old-fashioned, but we generally don’t view information submitted by our users as data to be used for other purposes.”

About as old-fashioned as saying you don’t really want to monetize those eight billion pageviews you get every month, I suppose. You have to hand it to Jim and Craig — they may be passing up billions of dollars in IPO money or acquisition leverager, but they stick to their principles. My friend Leigh has some thoughts about the whole “I own your data” approach to Web services too.

  • http://blogs.talis.com/nodalities/ Paul Miller

    Mathew,

    you raise some interesting points here, and this is precisely why we have been investing recently in the development of licenses that are intended to encourage sharing, use and reuse of data in much the same way that Creative Commons does for ‘creative works’.

    The mesh of clickstream, attention, intention, recommendation, and more is incredibly powerful, and it seems naive of Craigslist to (appear) to suggest otherwise, although I can admire their intentions in not wanting to ‘abuse’ data contributed by their users.

    Explicit use of a license for those data would clarify things for all concerned, probably offer craigslist an additional revenue stream, and definitely create opportunities for an enhanced user experience.

    See http://blogs.talis.com/nodalities/2007/10/open_data_license_it_or_lose_i.php for pointers to the draft license and more.

  • http://craigslistcriticism.blogspot.com Delia

    Mathew,

    that’s vague and ambiguous: what’s “generally” doing in that statement? re: “we *generally* don’t view information submitted by our users as data to be used for other purposes” (my emphasis); as usual, I think you are taken for a ride…

    Delia

    P.S. take care, anyways! D.

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