When You Practice What You Preach…

I’m hearing, anecdotally, that cultural transformation at VA and elsewhere might have been nudged into motion by relentlessly handing out my business card and practicing what I preach.

The big thing I’ve learned here is that for me, tech skills and money aren’t what gets the job done. What works is bearing witness to the good works of others. This can work partly through helping ’em get their social networks going, by sharing their stuff.

bizcard
My business card says “customer service rep & founder” and people see that I’m committed to that, every day.

Customer service is a big part of what inspires me; that, and my rabbi, Leonard Cohen. Ya know, customer service can really be corrosive, and it gets worse than the usual trolling and abuse. However, singer and poet Leonard Cohen really helps me get through the day, with a small but substantial assist from Dr Stephen T Colbert, DFA (Doctor of Fine Arts).

Seriously, my team, people smarter than me, and I, we’re listening, and what you say affects the trajectory of our work. If you feel we miss something, please tell us via craigconnects.org/connect, or if you really want, I’m personally at craig@craigslist.org.

(Recently I’ve made a point of reminding people that I haven’t been a spokesman for craigslist, or had any role in management since 2000. On the other side of things, I’ll be in customer service for a lifetime…)

Travel Tips, Inspired By Misadventures

Okay, you already know about useful sites like TripAdvisor and SeatGuru, and you’re doing your best to accumulate and use frequent-flier points. Here are some tips to cover the other stuff, inspired partly by my own misadventures.

The context for these tips is that I travel for public service and philanthropy, not business; I haven’t been in craigslist management since 2000. (I hear that people travel for “pleasure” or on “vacation,” which I understand are mythological concepts.)

Store everything online. Anything that has to be local, encrypt. Act as if you could lose your laptop anytime. Recently, I cleverly left my backpack in the cab taking me from airport to hotel, containing my laptop and medicines. The latter includes thyroid medicine, since I need it daily or I WILL DIE. (Slight exaggeration.)

As for forgetting the laptop, that’s expensive, but I keep very little data locally (anything sensitive is elsewhere). Worst that could happen is that someone would learn my terrible taste in music and books…

Learn to do pretty much everything on the phone. Seriously, I can do almost all of my work on a smartphone, though some tasks are much easier on a laptop. Regarding your phone, store everything online. Accept that your terrible taste in music and books will become public. Always carry your phone in a pocket or somehow attached to you. For male humans, if the pocket thing doesn’t work for you, learn to love the “murse.” May have begun with Seinfeld…

Before you get to the airport, or inflight with Wi-Fi, check out your flight status. Now and then, I get a flight canceled with little notice. Sometimes that happens when I’m in flight, and my connecting flight is the problem. I use flightstats, which also seems to have the most current ETA. Even if you’re at the airport, and they ask you to line up for customer service to get a flight, get on the phone while you’re in the line.

Do good while traveling. Sometimes hotels don’t have a preventive maintenance program, and you encounter a problem with facilities like the shower or A/C. Even if you’ll be there one day and have to deal with it once, call hotel engineering anyway. (The next guest won’t have to deal with it and will never know you helped, but do it anyway.) While you’re at it, bring an extra charger and cable, and loan it or give it away to someone who forgot theirs.

If you happen to mix business with pleasure, be prepared to dodge drool.

Sometimes, I’ll take a side trip and wind up in a family way. Pictured is the #20 nephew, aka The Kumquat. He’s the one (visibly) drooling.

Oh, and if you’re possibly getting married, and it’s possible that they might have a chair dance planned for you, I recommend scotch.

Photo: creative commons licensed (BY-ND) flickr photo by ♔ Georgie R; selfie with Billy the baby

Why I speak ONLY for myself

Hey, recently I’ve made a point of reminding people that I haven’t been a spokesman for craigslist, or had any role in management since 2000.

My deal is that, as a manager, I kinda suck, but I found my calling in customer service, and every day I saw how we helped people put food on the table and put a roof over that table.

Customer service is a big part of what inspires me; also consider that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”(Martin Luther King Jr.)

For a few years now (time flies!) I’ve been working on public service and philanthropy under the craigconnects.org umbrella.

In the short term, I have a few causes I believe in and support a number of organizations who are good at getting stuff done for those causes.

In the long term, over a twenty year period say, my goal is to connect people everywhere, to support the stuff *they* believe in.

People often know me as the founder of craigslist, but these days I’m on my own public service mission. So, thoughts I share publicly here (or anywhere else) are my own, and I speak only for myself.

That way craigslist and its users won’t (or at least shouldn’t) get blamed for anything I say or do.

 

Thanks from the Chief Nerd

Hey, everyone, my team and I’ve been reading everything you’ve kindly posted in response to my updates and posts.craig

My natural, nerdly, inclination is to respond to all, but that doesn’t work, and my focus must be to get good work done.

That work is mostly craigslist customer service, public service, and philanthropy. In my gut, they’re all party of the same thing, the same mission. We articulate that on craigconnects.org.

(Reminder: I haven’t been a company spokesman or in management since 2000.)

Seriously, my team, people smarter than me, and I, we’re listening, and what you say affects the trajectory of our work.

If you feel we miss something, please tell us via craigconnects.org/connect, or if you really want, I’m personally at craig@craigslist.org.

The team I mention?

the team

Otherwise known as:

  • Jonathan Bernstein, principal advisor and consigliere, and Army vet
  • Bruce Bonafede, media relations
  • Susan Nesbitt, nonprofit org expert
  • Allyson Kapin and Justyn Hintze, Rad Campaign, social media
  • Nora Rubinoff, admin guru
  • Mrs Newmark

Thanks for everything, I really value that!

 

Things I Carry: A Nerd’s Survival Kit

An older photo of me with the Note II, I’ve upgraded to the III since…

To make sense of the following, consider that I identify as 1. nerd, fifties-style, and 2. customer service rep for over eighteen years. While customer service comes first, my time is also spent in public service and philanthropy, quietly for the most part. For me, all that means I need a lean and effective set of tools.

(Yes, this is obsessive, and it’s been each and every day for all of the nineteen years, but I really am a nerd, and that’s how we roll.)

Maybe eighty percent of my work can be done with a good, large smartphone. I’m using a Samsung Galaxy Note III, which gets the job done. It helps that I can use alternate on-screen keyboards, making typing much easier. What really helps are keyboards where you can swipe across the keyboard to type, like Swype and SwiftKey.

Home screen widgets also make my life easier, particularly my calendar, but also weather, and wifi, and 4G signal strength.

The Chrome browser syncs up with my desktop and notebook systems, easing my work burden a great deal.

With the shutdown of Google Reader, well, I’ve been trying out Feedly: So far, so good.

I also read a lot of books, maybe eight per month, and the large screen is good for my eyes. Using the Kindle app, but it’s growing problematic. (I’ve read around 700 books, mostly science fiction. See comment about 1. being a nerd, and 2. how we roll.)

This kind of phone is really a handheld computer/communicator, and that will be an increasing reality as its software evolves. Maybe in a few years a good phone will be the only system we have, automatically connecting wirelessly to larger screens and keyboards.

Speaking of larger screens and keyboards, sometimes I really need that, as well as some specific software. When I travel, my solution is a MacBook Pro Retina 13″. In my home office, I use the MacBook.

Stuff evolves, and my watch is becoming more useful. Through my life, a watch has been the only bling I wear, though I added a wedding ring last year. However, I’m now donning a Pebble watch, which combines a nice looking analog watch with extra function. It functions as a little smartwatch with caller id and text messages, which has proven unexpectedly useful. (For older readers, it’s the Dick Tracy kind of deal, you’d see me interacting with my watch. That’s no longer a sign of eccentricity… I think.)

My deal really does involve the smallest set of tools needed to get the job done, wherever I am. It’ll be interesting to see how the phone might supplant notebook and desktop usage, and to see how watches and other wearable computing gadgets evolve.

Less is more, but whatever tools I use, the job’s gotta get done. After all, a nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

10 ways to rule at customer service, hint: watch out for astroturfing

I’ve been doing customer service in different capacities for the last 32 years, more or less… I joined IBM in ’76, became a Systems Engineer in ’82, did CSRthat into ’93. And have been a craigslist (CL) customer service rep (CSR) since 1995. It’s a tech customer service kind of thing.

This is a good time to mention that I do enough real customer service to keep my emotional investment in the CL and grassroots community, but my involvement in CL management ended well over ten years ago, and you need to look elsewhere for a CL spokesman. Getting perceived as spokesman, though, is a big pain in the butt, with no solution. That’s why I’ll direct you elsewhere for CL stuff.

As for my CSR stuff, here are 10 ways to rule at customer service:

1. Treat people like you want to be treated

 2. Talk to people about what they need and want.

 3. Act on what you hear from people.

 4. Repeat #2 – #3 forever

 5. Use your own product, AKA “eat your own dogfood.”

 6. At least, customer service should be a senior position, probably C-level.

 7. Ideally, CEO does customer service.

 8. Focus groups are no substitute for getting out there and talking to real people.

 9. Watch out for astroturfing, fake feedback.

 10. See #1

 

“The Baroque Cycle”: The Moment I Realized History RTs Itself

Around ten years ago, I read this historical fiction trilogy by a really influential science fiction writer, Neal Stephenson.
27e4dd2

At that point I had relinquished all management control of the site I started, was doing pretty intense customer service, and I was thinking about what it all meant.

My nerdly take is that The Baroque Cycle’s about the invention of the modern world, in the social normalization of attitudes and inventions including:

  • The Enlightenment perspective
  • Scientific method
  • Calculus as a possible “system of the world”
  • Representative democracy
  • Revolution via social media

It influenced the way I think about my own creation, and to cut to the chase…

Baroque Cycle helped me understand how “history retweets itself,” how people use social media to get big things done. Over time, human social contracts evolve via punctuated equilibrium wherein things slowly get better.

Improvements are not continuous, though. Normally, things are in balance, equilibrium, until we hit some kind of tipping point, which punctuate the flow of history. That’s something I learned from Victor Hugo, as often paraphrased: “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Until recently, the cost of getting your idea out there was very high; you needed your own printing press, or maybe TV station.

However, the Internet changes all that.

The way I look ahead and plan was substantially altered. My focus is not only getting stuff done in the here and now, but I’m considering what I learn and how it affects stuff in the long term (twenty years) and the longer term (two hundred years.) The work done by the historical figures in the trilogy are still playing out today.

(Yes, I’m writing in a far more nerdly manner than I’ve written in years, and to be clear, I’m going old-school nerd here.)

Okay, specifically, Baroque Cycle helped me understand a lot about the way people and history work. For example, I finally began to understand the ways that social media has been used, throughout history, to change the social contract and how we govern ourselves.

Specifically, I realized that people including John Locke (not the LOST guy) and others used blogging to effect the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It was (relatively) bloodless and short, and least compared to the preceding Civil Wars and for that matter, compared to the Wars of the Roses, etc.

The books helped me understand how the Glorious Revolution led to bloggers including Ben Franklin and Tom Paine, who helped create American independence and our own form of representative democracy. Then, I realized how Martin Luther blogged his way to major religious and social change. He used the efforts of a nerd, a guy Johannes Gutenberg, to great effect. (Gutenberg got great stuff done, but it was Luther who got big stuff done; Gutenberg also learned about venture capitalists the hard way. check out Jeff Jarvis‘ “Gutenberg the Geek.”)

Then Robert Wright helped me understand how Saint Paul used the social media of his time to get the word out regarding Christianity.

More recently, The Writing on the Wall by Thomas Standage documents all of this, from the Roman Republic through now. (Spoiler: looks to me that Julius Caesar was not only a blogger re the conquest of Gaul, but he kinda invented journalism in its most literal sense.)

The deal is that The Baroque Cycle helped me get this on a gut level, and that’s inspired all of my subsequent efforts.

In Stephenson’s book we see how people, working together, separately, and sometimes in competition, how they created major tipping points which came together in a perfect storm to create the modern world. (Sorry to invoke the cliche.)

Added to this, I think I finally understood what a latter-day Martin Luther meant by “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” My take is that he was talking about what the books teach.

So, ten years ago I started to internalize all this and to figure out what to do about it, acknowledging that, well, I’m a nerd. Helping along a global tipping point is not in the nerd job description, which requires a lot of charisma, energy, and a lot of intuition to understand of the way people work.

However, the nature of the Internet suggests we’re not looking at the “strong man theory of history” anymore. Real and massive change will come from people who learn to lead by example, through their ideas, and from some intuitive knowledge of how to move ahead with ideas whose time has come.

I love The Baroque Cycle and recommend everything by Stephenson. However, it’s way more important to act on what it depicts, and my deal is to try to give a voice to people who never had one, and then to share their work. My stuff to date gives me a bit of a bully pulpit that I don’t need for myself. However, I use it on a daily basis to get the word out on behalf other others.

My joke, occasionally tweeted, is that I retweet a lot because 1) it’s good to share, and 2) it spares me the burden of original thought. Well, #2 has some truth to it, but #1 is the big deal for me, inspired by the actions depicted by Stephenson.

altruism3

That’s not altruistic as I view it. I guess it’s just a reflection of the abnormal social affect and dysfunction of myself and sometimes of my nerdly peers.

After all, a nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

My First Job: What Big Blue Once Was

My first real job was at IBM, in the old Boca Raton lab, in 1976. (Important: IBM has become a very different company in the last twenty years, so please assume none of this applies to the current company. Also, this is all to my recollection, and memory is unreliable.)

chunk

The offer was made early, and sounded great. I’ve never been in love with the beach, but thought it might be fun to live near the ocean, and live in a city whose name means “mouse’s mouth.”

The job was in “advanced technology” and dealt with systems architecture.

It took a few years to sink in, but turns out that in corporate language, “advanced tech” is a euphemism: It isn’t what it sounds like. But the software design process didn’t include asking actual customers about usability. I discovered later on, through founding craigslist, that listening to people is about the smartest thing you can do.

I got involved in some software development. That led to some customer involvement, but I was too easy to read, and customers looked to my reactions to see if marketing was, say, stretching things. We nerds are not great salespeople.

After some years, the opportunity to transfer to IBM in Detroit was made, to be involved in a joint effort with General Motors to do factory automation work. Well, I took the offer.

Detroit was pretty good for me, I liked the people and got involved with the local science fiction community, and the local artists community.

After a total of seventeen years, IBM was going through a lot of changes. I took a really good buyout offer and ended up moving to San Francisco, where I got another job and a few years later started craigslist in my spare time.

Photo: Adam Jenkins/Flickr

Startups, marriage, and other things I did after 35

Hey, I’m on Quora and I noticed that someone asked:

What do people in Silicon Valley plan to do once they hit 35 and are officially over the hill?

Since life in Silicon Valley ends at 35 unless you hit it big or move up in management (and simple logic tells you that most won’t), I’m curious what people younger than this think they’ll be doing at that age.

Well, I started craigslist when I was 42… Folks seemed to really like my answer, or were just surprised by it. To my surprise, the response has received 82K views, 3,200 upvotes, and counting.

MisterEd

On that note, I decided to write something regarding the onset of my sunset years…

  • I started craigslist in the last blush of my youth. Experience counts folks. I learned a lot in my other roles in other jobs and I brought that with me to craigslist.
  • My involvement in craigslist management ended well over ten years ago. I gave up any management role, but I’m committed to customer service. I do enough real customer service to maintain my emotional investment in the CL and grassroots community.
  • Every day customer service reminds me that we help millions of people put food on the table.
  • I did some work with nonprofits before 35, but didn’t formalize it until I began craigconnects in 2011.
  • Things are starting to not work, as in, my body just isn’t as young as I want it to be; am I right, guys?*

*Note: when I say “guys” I almost always mean “people”, but in this case I mean “male humans of a certain age.”

  • I’ve really accepted what I am, a nerd, modified by customer service.
  • Somehow I’m still surprised, people are asking questions about what they could easily look up.
  • …well, some of us waited til after 35 to get married.

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑