- 12 Mar 08, 16:05 GMT
Imagine a website which starts in San Francisco in 1995, and keeps on growing. It now has 10 billion page views a month, and operates in 450 cities worldwide. Surely two things must have happened by now – the site must have sprouted every kind of Web 2.0 accessory, from videos to banner ads, and the owners must have built a huge fortune?
Well, nothing of the kind has happened to Craigslist. The listings and classified ads site has been a huge success on its home territory – though less so abroad – through sticking to a very simple formula. It offers free ads (to everyone except a few recruitment advertisers) and it looks as plain, uncluttered and – to be honest – downright dull as it did more than a decade ago. And its chief executive still lives in a rented house and does not own a car.
This week that CEO Jim Buckmaster popped into the BBC for one of a regular series of seminars that business journalists here hold with chief executives of interesting companies. Most of them arrive with batteries of assistants and powerpoints and proceed to spend half an hour belabouring us with visions of future greatness. “We’re looking at leveraging our dominance in the mobile widget space to give us huge earnings traction going forwards…” You know the kind of thing.
Well Jim was, let’s say, rather different. He was so laid-back I thought at one stage he might have nodded off, and information had to be gently prised from him. What’s more, he admitted that Craigslist had few ambitions, either to find new ways of boosting revenues or to make the site look shiny and new.
“We don’t even have a logo,” he explained, ”It’s easy to use and quick to load, and that seems to be what our users want.” He said Craigslist did not have to worry about shareholders or venture capital backers – and this gave it the freedom to concentrate exclusively on what its users wanted rather than trying to maximise revenue. “Other sites always have this constant balancing act where they’re trying not to annoy their users too much while satisfying their investors,” he explained.
The sit was founded - and is still partly owned – by Craig Newmark. But neither he nor Jim Buckmaster – who came onboard in 2000 – seems to want to cash in on the site’s undoubted success. “We don’t aspire to that kind of caviar, yacht and Gulfstream lifestyle,” says Jim Buckmaster.
Craigslist is one of the few survivors of the early idealistic days of the web. Will it still be around in five years time – and will it look any more interesting? That, I suppose, depends on whether it really has tuned into what its users want in a way that rivals have failed to do.
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