Craigslist

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History

Daniel Schackman:

"One notable virtual community that formed in the 1980s was The WELL. An acronym for Whole Earth ‘Lectronic’ Link, it was founded by the Whole Earth Review as an extension of its idealistic vision of an egalitarian society. In the early 1990s, New Jersey computer programmer Craig Newmark was a member of The WELL (“Craigslist: About: Mission and History,” 2005). Newmark describes himself as a classic nerd in high school, complete with a plastic liner to protect his shirt pockets from leaking pens, with taped-together black glasses, and lacking social skill (Kornblum, 2004). When in 1994, Newmark took a job in San Francisco, he used email to contact new acquaintances, and to provide information about local events and activities. “In 1994…I saw a lot of people helping each other out on the WELL and in so-called news groups. I figured I should do some of that, too, and that it would help me connect with people better” (“On the record: Craig Newmark,” 2004, August 15, p. J1).

Soon, the friends on his list (thus, Craig’s list) were sending emails not only about events, but also jobs and housing. Word-of-mouth helped the list grow, and in 1995, Newmark decided to set up a wWeb site to handle the expanded traffic. By then, commercialization of the Internet was underway. Gunkel and Gunkel (1997) compare the colonization of cyberspace to the age of European discovery of the new world, fueled by commercial interest. Newmark however, has attempted to keep his venture from becoming aggressively commercial. Although it has been a for-profit corporation since 1999, Craigslist uses the “.org” domain designation to signify its “service mission and non-corporate culture” (“Craigslist: About: PR: Factsheet,” 20097). As of SeptemOctober, 201007, Craigslist had 3025 employees, all of whom worked in San Francisco. Its operating costs are paid for by “Ad fees for jobs in 18 cities, brokered NYC apartments, adult and therapeutic service.” (“Craigslist: About: Factsheet”, 2010) were paid from fees for postings about jobs in San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles, and most recently by accepting payment for postings advertising housing by real estate agents in New York City.

Today, craigslist is a World Wide Web portal defined on Webopedia.com (2006) as a Web site with a wide variety of services and other offerings that provides community classifieds about community activities and events, housing, jobs, personal connections, sales and bartering of goods and services for over 70450 locations in 7the United States and 50 other countries, including the U.S. (“Craigslist: About: PR: Factsheet,” 201007). The original local site for San Francisco also serves as the home page of the portal. Discussion forums pages to post messages with opinions about a variety of topics from movies to gardening to philosophy are offered simultaneously across all the sites for all craigslist visitors to participate in from anywhere in the world. The format and style of the craigslist local sites are constant: very plain, with no frills. All sites use an English-language template, with most postings also in English. Newmark and craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster have expressed interest in translating sites into local languages (Pfanner, 2005), but English remains the portal’s lingua franca.

As of 2010, there were over than 530 million visitors to the sites — 25 million in the U.S. alone, — and over 208 billion page views per month across all of its local sitesin its sites around the world. , and Tthe portal was ranked the seventh most visited English-language site on the web. There were at the time over than 5025 million new classified ads each month, and over 12075 million postings in 100 discussion forum categories (“Craigslist: About: PR: Factsheet,” 201007). It has had the third largest market share among U.S. Web sites featuring classified advertising, after eBay and Monster.com (Yee, 2005). Craigslist itself does not advertise, instead attracting Web users by word-of-mouth (Vargas, 2004). However, they are not completely averse to marketing; A PR firm has worked with craigslist since 1994 (Gordon, 2004). The portal was estimated to bring in at least $100 million in classified advertising revenue in 2009 (Stone, 2009, June 10).

As of 201007, there were over than 530 million visitors to the sites — 25 million in the U.S. alone, — and over 208 billion page views per month across all of its local sitesin its sites around the world. , and Tthe portal was ranked the seventh most visited English-language site on the web. There were at the time over than 5025 million new classified ads each month, and over 12075 million postings in 100 discussion forum categories (“Craigslist: About: PR: Factsheet,” 201007). It has had the third largest market share among U.S. Web sites featuring classified advertising, after eBay and Monster.com (Yee, 2005). Craigslist itself does not advertise, instead attracting Web users by word-of-mouth (Vargas, 2004). However, they are not completely averse to marketing; A PR firm has worked with craigslist since 1994 (Gordon, 2004). The portal was estimated to bring in at least $100 million in classified advertising revenue in 2009 (Stone, 2009, June 10).

Recent controversies have brought negative attention to the portal and its operations. In light of incidents involving prostitution via Craigslist, the portal made an agreement in 2008 with 40 state attorneys general to charge $5 or $10 for erotic services ads, the proceeds going to child trafficking and exploitation efforts of law enforcement agencies in those states. (Techweb, 2009, March 6). However, this did not seem to deter such advertising; in fact, the portal was expected to make a $44 million profit on such postings in 2010. In the spring of 2009, the so-called“Craigslist Killer” was arrested in light of evidence that he lured his victims by responding to their ads for personal services on Craigslist (LaRosa & Cramer, 2009). On August 15, 2010, Markoff committed suicide while in prison awaiting trial (LaRosa & Cramer, 2010, August 18). After the headline-grabbing murders, Craigslist eliminated the erotic services section, and in a break from past hands-off policy, monitored each message in a new adult services section (Abelson, 2009. May 14). However, continuing concerns about sex-related crimes that may have resulted from these advertisments, and the bad publicity that the adult services section was bringing to the portal, led to the management shutting down the new section entirely on September 3, 2010. This was portrayed by the portal’s legal representation as a defeat in craigslist’s effort to cooperate with law enforcement on these issues. In what may have been a parting shot at their critics, the place on the home pages where the section’s link formerly resided were initially replaced with one word: Censored (Miller, 2010, September 15).

Further dents in the public image of the portal and of Newmark himself may have been made with Wired magazine’s August 2009 issue, with the cover story: “Why Craigslist Is Such a Mess” (Wolf, 2009, August 24). The article depicts Newmark and his CEO Jim Buckmaster as stubbornly resistant to change: “Think of any Web feature that has become popular in the past 10 years: Chances are Craigslist has considered it and rejected it. If you try to build a third-party application designed to make Craigslist work better, the management will almost certainly throw up technical roadblocks to shut you down.” (Wolf, 2009, August 24). The Wired article portrays Newmark as almost pathologically untouched by the impact of Craigslist on society and on the business of traditional and emerging media, as he spends his time diligently handling customer service by answering thousands of emails every year." (http://ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/457/575)


Discussion

Clay Shirky:

"Imagine, in 1996, asking some net-savvy soul to expound on the potential of craigslist, then a year old and not yet incorporated. The answer you’d almost certainly have gotten would be extrapolation: “Mailing lists can be powerful tools”, “Social effects are intertwining with digital networks”, blah blah blah. What no one would have told you, could have told you, was what actually happened: craiglist became a critical piece of infrastructure. Not the idea of craigslist, or the business model, or even the software driving it. Craigslist itself spread to cover hundreds of cities and has become a part of public consciousness about what is now possible. Experiments are only revealed in retrospect to be turning points.

In craigslist’s gradual shift from ‘interesting if minor’ to ‘essential and transformative’, there is one possible answer to the question “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did, as octavo volumes did." (http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/)


Charles Leadbeater in We Think:

"The same culture is at the heart of Craigslist, no nonsense website that is a blend of shopping, gossip and flirting, which attracts millions of visitors a month. Craigslist started in 1995 as an email from Craig Newmark sent to other people in San Francisco alerting them to upcoming events. The service proved so successful that Newmark decided to turn it into a website. Soon people started emailing one another and they wanted to start selling stuff as well. Eventually something that started just as a hobby that was sustained by volunteers, turned into a company, which is funded entirely by charging companies to post job advertisements on the site. By 2006 there were more than 160,000 such job ads per month. Craigslist operates city-based forums, which in 2005 were attracting postings at the rate of 1m a month. “We think of ourselves as a community service,” Newmark explained. “We just have a business structure out of necessity.”

If it sounds ramshackle that is because it is. Yet the impact of Craiglist should not be underestimated. In 2005 Craigslist carried more than 5m new classified adverts a month. Goldman Sachs the investment bank warned that Craigslist could be a major threat to newspapers dependent upon classifieds. On Craigslist not only do people get their ads posted for free, to a very wide audience, they also get to interact with the buyers. What newspaper allows you to do that? In 2005, Craigslist attracted 2.5bn page views per month. It was operating in 175 cities across the world. Ten years after its start this mass, self-managed, hybrid mix of commerce and community had a staff of just 18 working out of an old Victorian house in San Francisco. Neither Bain, McKinsey nor News Corporation had seen Craigslist coming. It was too marginal to be on the radar and that was because it was not a proper business, with investors, shareholders, products and buildings. Craiglist’s only asset is its community of participants. That is why it threatens to be so revolutionary. Craigslist is proof of how rapidly the margins can become the mainstream.


Craigslist’s strengths and purpose, according to Newmark, include:

   * Giving people a voice
   * A sense of trust and even intimacy
   * Down-to-earth values followed through in action
   * Simplicity
   * No charges, except for job postings
   * Freshness of the material
   * No banner ads
   * Providing an alternative to impersonal, big-media sites
   * Being inclusive, giving a voice to the disenfranchised, democratizing ...
   * Being a collection of communities with similar spirit, not a single monolithic entity. 

What mainstream business would have that as its mission statement?

Newmark, like Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia and Linus Torvalds, is ironic, self-deprecating, physically unimposing and slightly whimsical. When I met him in 2006 he refused repeatedly to be enticed into making grandiose claims for Craigslist. “Really it is very simple,” he explained. “Give people to the tools to help themselves and the decent, law abiding majority will sort out the tiny minority who do not want to follow the rules or are intent on creating trouble. It is just about helping people to get stuff done.” Newmark describes himself as Craigslist founder and customer support rep." (http://wethink.wikia.com/wiki/Chapter_5_part_2)


More Information

Listen or watch:

  1. Craig Newmark on Craigslist: The founder of craigslist talks with Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales
  2. Craig Newmark on his experience with Craigslist: interview by David Weinberger.
  3. Craig Newmark on Customer Co-development at Craigslist
  4. 24 Hours on Craigslist: well-received documentary on the social aspects of Craigslist [1]