Craigslist: Your data belongs to you

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.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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