Socialized Computing (23 Jun 2005)
I figure that reasonably good customer service is part of the social contract between producer and consumer. In general, if you're going to do something, you should follow through and not screw around. As a nerd, I have the tendency to take things pretty seriously, so if I commit to something, I try really hard to stay committed.
This isn't altruism or social activism; it's just giving people a break. Pretty much all world religions tell us that one moral value is to help other people if you can. I feel that customer service, even when you get paid for it, is an expression of that value, an everyday form of compassion.
Also, I've learned from the open-source movement that people want to contribute to endeavors of mutual benefit. So at craigslist, we've turned over a lot of control over the site to the people who use it. We seriously listen to suggestions and actually change the site in response to them.
Anyone who feels a posting on our site is wrong, for whatever reason, can flag it for removal; if enough people agree, the ad is removed automatically. A similar philosophy is embodied in the Wiki movement, particularly in Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia whose roughly two million entries are created and corrected by the site's users). We plan to turn over even more control of our site to the people who use it. Mainly, we need suggestions about what to do next.
Currently, we're trying to figure out how to charge the New York rental agents for apartment listings (they've suggested this as a way to improve site quality) while giving a break to the smaller agents.
I feel that all this is a deep expression of democratic values. From a business point of view, of course, it makes good sense, too: it lowers our costs and improves the quality of what's on our site. Finally, it helps keep management in touch with what's real--or at least that's what we hope.
Article URL: http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/05/08/issue/invite.asp
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