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Rory Cellan-Jones

Craigslist - daring to be dull

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 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.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 05:15 PM on 12 Mar 2008,
  • slac wrote:

I definitely respect craigslist for offering classified ads, housing listings and personals, all free of charge.

Here in Spain, we use the same page software, but it has been slightly revamped and upgraded (it's called loquo.com) to make it a little sleeker and features gmail style text previews after each listing which I quite like and wish criagslist would implement.

I love the simplicity of Craigslist. It's great that they haven't succumbed to the "feature creep" that so often plagues such long-standing applications.

Gumtree.com is another Craigslist clone with which I've had some success selling some old things.

  • 3.
  • At 12:34 AM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Jas Awla wrote:

I have used Craigslist on several occasion and each time with success. It is indeed a very useful and valuable tool for people at large.

To Jim, hats off to you my friend for the kind of outlook you have, refreshing and inspiring. Rest assured if I ever make a million I have Craigslist on top of my list to donate to. Keep up the good work!

  • 4.
  • At 09:44 AM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

I love Craigslist but it isnt available everywhere, especially outside of the big cities.

I live in the Black Country and use www.UsedBlackCountry.co.uk
They also have a site in Gloucestershire too, UsedCheletenham.co.uk I think

  • 5.
  • At 09:51 AM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • y's flies wrote:

Craigslist is an invaluable service. A few clicks around the site and one can find extensive information on a wide variety of topics. A rare jewel, to be sure. I do hope the site owners continue to stay the course and keep the site going strong. More and more people are jumping aboard every day. Craigslist has unlimited potential. A huge thanks to the owners for bringing this service to the people. If/when operating costs increase, I, for one will be more than willing to pay a nominal/fair membership fee.

there must be a future in online simplicity

site/corps like facebook must realise this sooner or later

  • 7.
  • At 12:05 PM on 13 Mar 2008,
  • Paul wrote:

We're moving from Seattle back to the UK and have used Craigslist extensively as an alternative to ebay for items I'd rather not ship - I even sold my car on Craigslist. Nice to see there is an East Midlands Craigslist, although it does not look well used. We'll be on it when we get back. PS One downside is the rather draconian (authoritarian?) enforcement regime - go to any of the US help forums and look for entries such as Why Won't My Item Appear ... my personal favourite is the 1 listing per 48 hour rule, which people (speeders) only find out after they've spent hours creating their listings. Well, it is free.

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