11/15/2009 02:53 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Curation, Crowd Sourcing, and Sexy Aliens

You may have noticed that lots of the folks that make media for a living are pretty unhappy these days.

If you listen to Craig Newmark, the king of digital classifieds and the namesake of the now ubiquitous Craigslist – the newspaper folks he’s talked to don’t blame him for the demise of the newspaper business. It’s cool.

Newmark, standing in front of a room of media folks from print, TV, and publishing told them in his trademark sly whisper, “privately, they’ve told me they don’t blame Craigslist for their economic problems, just look at magazines – they’re having the same problems and they don’t even have classifieds.” But the crowd at The Harvard Club didn’t seem entirely convinced.

In fact, out in the hallway, one of the tenuously employed media folks told me, “If I could get in a time machine, and be there when Craigslist was being conceived, I’d have pulled the plug on Craig's computer.” It appears the ‘democratization’ of classifieds hasn’t made Craig a lot of friends on what is now respectfully called ‘old media.’

If Craig notices, he seems to hardly care.

Instead, he entertains with a mix of geek-humor, self effacing jokes, and an oblivious style that seems to be crafted to summon memories of Peter Sellers in Being There.

Once Craig gets through his standard list of “Customer Service” complaints and service apologies (”Spam is bad, we’re working on that every day”) and New York City apartment rental scams, he launches into the topic that seems capture imagination of late: Curation.

As he explains it, back in the good old days of media (aka Before Craiglist) media sites had editors. They choose things. They put them in order. They sorted and collected and presented things. He sites the New York Times as a great example of news editing.

Today that same function is called “curating.” And while it’s been democratized by the Web, its still a human function that requires skill, taste, and discernment. Buried somewhere in this is good news. Perhaps better news for folks in the room is that Craig seems less inclined to build a “Craigslist” style media company than he once was. The idea of being a content platform seems to have come and gone. (Room breaths a sigh of relief.)

Meanwhile – the idea of Curation continues to capture Craig’s imagination. And he’s not alone – the crowd-sourcing of content is gathering steam among many of the more established media companies as they begin to embrace audience contributions.

The New York Times‘ tech guru David Pogue, who's cloned himself into so many outlets and sources that he’s almost as easy to find as a repeat of Law and Order, is taking crowd sourcing seriously. In a recent column, Pogue found himself unable to properly name the new class of cell phones that are vying to compete with the iPhone. As Pogue put it, “Smart Phone” just doesn’t do the new devices justice. So Pogue (@Pogue) turn the question out to his twitter followers (1,156,638 of them!). And @mentalworkout responded with his favorite answer: they are “App Phones” – platforms to store and support your apps. Crowd source the question, and expert Pogue curates the answer. Craig would be pleased.

And the Times isn’t alone in this. CNN anchor and rising social media star Don Lemon was preaching the gospel of a new “Social” CNN at BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas recently. Lemon’s pitch – if you see news happening or have a tip – hit him up on Twitter and he’ll read and respond (@donlemoncnn). A feisty blogger from the audience took issue with Lemon’s offer to allow them to be part of his ‘crowd-sourced’ newsgathering team. “Hey, why should we give YOU our best leads and scoops?” the belligerent blogger demanded. Lemmon paused, flashed his trademark anchor grin and said: “Because our platform is bigger than your platform.” True enough.

Back at The Harvard Club, the media elite were munching on pastries and coffee, and trying to size up just how much of a threat Craig Newmark might be. His 30 person shop had wiped out billions of dollars in classified advertising income, and along the way built a huge new platform for the worlds oldest profession. Would news and media be next?

Here Craig is surprisingly direct. He claims he is lazy, and has to force himself not to be a couch potato. Television, he says, has finally found its way to serve him and his fellow geeks. After all – they’ve remade the series V.

“What more can you ask from TV?” Craig wonders out loud. “I’ve found what I’m looking for as a geek – sexy aliens.”

Around the world, buyers and sellers of used Ikea Furniture breath a sign of relief. It appears Craig’s is going to stick to the knitting.


(P.S.   my research shows that T'pol is voted the #1 most Sexy Alien from fans -- so here's a picture so you can decide for yourself.)