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At Craigslist 'camp,' Facebook takes on Twitter

People with excellent intentions came together at Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp to try to get some of those intentions realized. The event also featured some interesting tensions between Facebook and Twitter.

Connect. Inspire. Act. These three words were engraved on my invitation to Craigslist Foundation Boot Camp.

It was Saturday, and I was a little tired. So I was barely in the mood to connect with the daylight, never mind offering it inspiration.

However, I arrived just at the moment when inspiration was being served. In a large outdoor tent in Berkeley, Calif., about 1,500 people who had come together to make communities matter listened as a nice lady from the Craigslist Foundation said that everyone was about to network with the person immediately to their right.

She then asked those persons immediately to their right to score them out of 10--although she insisted that if you only got a 2 it didn't mean your pitch was terrible.

The secret of the networking pitch is, apparently, enthusiasm. So in order to demonstrate, a Berkeley student named Olga was invited to the stage to pitch to Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg.

Olga had her one business card at the ready, when the nice lady announced she would be pitching to Randi's husband too. He works in venture capital, she said. So he's a good judge of pitches.

Olga didn't buckle under the binary pressure. Afterward, everyone stood up and began to pitch to the right.

A panel discussion at Boot Camp. CC Cambodia4kidsorg/Flickr

At the back of the tent, it seemed as if there were a lot of short men pitching to tall women. Even volunteers were pitching to one another. At least I think they were pitching, although the hubbub bubbled so loudly that they might have been wondering about where to get a fine glass of cider.

This mixing of doing good with hard-nosed business was a curious sight. There was passion. There was belief. But at some moments, it almost felt sad that caring was now a business and that business principles needed to be enacted in order to get us pathetic, jaded humans to care and share.

Then Zuckerberg made a well-received speech about, well, how wonderful Facebook is.

She spoke of how the Obama administration had demonstrated "open government" through its embrace of the site. She spoke of how Lenny Kravitz uploads pictures of all his audiences onto his Facebook page. She spoke of how Roger Federer on Facebook really is Roger Federer. In order to emphasize this, she said, he uploaded a video of himself.

She also spoke at some length about events in Iran.

For one weak, fleeting, terrible moment, a slightly cynical drip of sweat ran down my back as I pondered whether Twitter had rather co-opted Iran (in the public eye, at least) and now Facebook was trying to get on level terms.

I let it pass--until, that is, an extremely passionate woman called Pamela Mays McDonald took the microphone to ask what the Twitter tag was for the Boot Camp, as she would like to Twitter with attendees and tell them about her new Facebook group, Hope Against Hate, that was fighting against hate-based violence and speech.

With a swift reflex reaction, Zuckerberg intoned that an alternative to Twittering might be to update your Facebook status.

For all Zuckerberg's extremely well-intentioned passion about social technology being able to bring people together in order to do good, I just wondered whether an additional advert for Facebook was really needed right there.

Especially as Mays McDonald was describing a group against hateful speech, something of a slippery area for Facebook.

This all left me with a peculiar sense that perhaps Facebook feels it needs to compete with Twitter for hearts and minds because they will, in some future way, lead to pockets.

The truth, though, as the enthusiasm and passion for so many different causes at this extraordinary day made very clear, is that we still need pockets to help us convert those hearts and minds.