As mentioned on Friday, Internet legend Craig Newmark was the featured speaker at last week's Consumer Reports Health Blogging Summit in Yonkers, NY.  Having lived and worked in the web-tech capital of the world for so many years, I couldn't help being a little awed to meet "Mr. Craiglist" himself in person.  And he didn't disappoint.

Craig is the quintessential nerd, and he revels in it. He must have said the word "nerd" at least a dozen times himself in his half-hour address.  He wore a rumpled dark-blue button-up shirt, plain blazer, and a very ordinary pair of dark khakis.  If you weren't clued in, nothing about him would suggest his net worth of ca. $5 billion.  The fact that the little guy's feet didn't even touch the ground from the armchair he sat in (unless he shifted sideways) was somehow the perfect complement to his hapless-nerd-millionaire aura.

He talked like the stereotypical thinker: slowly and thoughtfully, with continuous pauses that seemed potentially misplaced, and yet kept you hanging on his every word. Still, he's oh-so-plain-spoken, with a penchant for starting every other sentence with, "The deal is that..."

He started off chattering about Battlestar Galactica ("don't tell me, I haven't seen the latest episode yet!") and his newfound passion for Glittons ("they're not gloves, and they're not mittens — they're both!")  Then he chuckled while admitting that he uses his blog these days "mostly for indulging my quirky sense of humor."

OK, all very entertaining — but why was this guy addressing a group of niche bloggers and advocates gathered to discuss the progress of consumer-driven healthcare?

Turns out that like Bill Gates of late, Craig's on a mission to help improve the world.  (Craig also happens to be a member of the Consumers Union board of directors — but he made a point of stating that he was speaking only for himself at this event.)

He believes that at this moment, we've hit "an inflection point in human history... and a course correction especially for our country." He believes that healthcare is at the nexus of the change that must come — that will come — through a new type of "civil patriotism" that is "bottom-up, grassroots, and DIY."

What every citizen should be doing is to "get smart about one or more areas of national interest and then do something about it."  Since national healthcare reform is clearly one of America's most burning issues, his challenge to the bloggers and pundits in the room:  "Keep pushing for better healthcare in this country — that in itself is a service!"

For his part, Craig is working with, a San Francisco-based non-profit that lends money to entrepreneurs in the developing world. "The deal is that in most of the world, $100 or $1,000 actually starts a business. So they're not throwing rocks at each other if they're starting businesses," he said — in a way that sounded much more empathetic than it does here.

He's also trying to turn Colin Powell's catchy phrase "a Craigslist for service" into a reality.

[If there's one objective measure of a techie nerd's triumph, it's when Colin Powell mentions your once-provincial web service in national press conference.  "Just when I think my life couldn't get any more surreal, something else happens," Craig says with an inward grin.]

He wrote about his own notion of a "Craiglist for Service" in the Huffington Post last month, and he's now in the process of "talking to people to make this real."  The site would offer features like volunteer-match, where you can choose a cause to devote your life to; information on joining the military and peace corps (also service!); and links to donate money to various causes in case you happen to have more of that at your disposal than time.

Craig says he's also busy lobbying for "fixing consumer protection by the federal government." (He must have some sway indeed, as he came to see us fresh from "a pretty good spot" at Obama's Inauguration ceremony.)

Whatever personal sway he has, he's using "to speak truth to power," as he puts it.  He promised to pass on any good ideas we all might have about healthcare reform to the most receptive ears in the echelons of power. Seriously. As Mr. Customer Service, he says he checks his email constantly and replies to everything.  So if you have any great suggestions, please post them here and I will pass them right on.

I {heart} Craig's World.

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