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Zen and the Art of Classified Advertising
June 17, 2006 3:26 PM   Subscribe

craigslist could make $500 million a year. Why not?
posted by mr_crash_davis (65 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Two words: Jim's classy.

Also all that stuff about not dealing with venture capitalists and avoiding the problems of 'growing too fast,' etc. But hooray for at least one super-useful site that's remained un-ad-saturated. This is the main reason why I use Google, too.
posted by ®@ at 3:43 PM on June 17, 2006


Even businesses like Amazon still haven't made any money. They are still, over their entire lifetime, net negative.

What?
posted by Gyan at 3:56 PM on June 17, 2006


Gyan- Amazon barely turns profit. It was in the red for its first few years of inception. I think last year it made something like nine billion dollars in income, only $300 million or so of which was actual profit and didn't go back into stock and salaries.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 4:02 PM on June 17, 2006


What?

They posted losses (and large ones) for something like the first four or five years of their existence. Since then, their profits have been pretty marginal, in the millions or tens of millions per quarter, but not as much as they lost in their initial run. Or something like that.
posted by solid-one-love at 4:04 PM on June 17, 2006


YAYYY craigslist, founder, Craig Newmark, and CEO Jim Buckmaster ! I have sincere respect for their excellent service and handling their biz with integrity.

I used to have such admiration for Google but now it's in bed with Time Warner over AOL, hmm, no, not like before.

"Time Warner's AOL unit and Google unveiled an expanded partnership on December 21, 2005, including an enhanced global advertising partnership and a $1 Billion investment by Google for a 5% stake in AOL".

And "Google has also been accused of manipulating search results to favor its own coporate ambitions and interests. Some critics have suggested that Google may be involved in yet more undetected censorship of search results that have not yet surfaced."

Viva companies, like craigslist, with business integrity.
posted by nickyskye at 4:05 PM on June 17, 2006


As if having integrity of steel wasn't enough: my hosts insist on driving me back to my hotel.
posted by birdie birdington at 4:15 PM on June 17, 2006




I love the tone of skeptical mockery that just barely surfaces in these articles about Craigslist. More than just being a threat to old media, running a business with any integrity or lack of concern for maximizing profits is a threat to the slash-and-burn paradigm of corporate enterprise. I like that Jim emphasizes that the user is getting really a lot of valuable material for free, and yet the company is comfortably profitable. Yes, businesses can be run profitably and still serve the community and defer to its interests.

And he's right about newspapers -- as ownership of them has been consolidated over the last couple of decades, the concern with staying in the black has led to the real degradation of journalism we see today. Foreign correspondants fired, newsrooms cut back, in favor of "entertainment is news, news is entertainment," "Lifestyle" sections and big, colorful photos, a la USA Today (Worst example: SF Chronicle.) These papers deserve to die because they are increasingly irrelevant, incapable of doing what they set out to do in the first place. A Wiki version of the New York Times would be more accurate than the hand-fed lies dished out to lapdogs like Judith Miller.
posted by bukharin at 4:27 PM on June 17, 2006


I think this rocks. There's more to life than maximizing profits. But not for the Wall Street Journal. Their loss.
posted by MythMaker at 4:29 PM on June 17, 2006


Isn't Youtube losing about $8billion a second?
posted by fire&wings at 4:45 PM on June 17, 2006


The Craigslist strategy is fascinating. I think they're quite serious about maximizing long-term profits, but they intend to do it by rigorously defending their proven source of profits: total focus on user satisfaction. Lots of managers rue the day that they started to mess with a winning formula, to say the least of taking intrusive VC investments to finance doing it.

I think it's hard to call them corporate softies when they are brutally destroying every higher-priced listing service. I get 2-3 times as many qualified resumes for a $25 Craigslist listing as I get for Monster or HotJobs or newspaper listing that can cost 10 or 20 times as much.
posted by MattD at 4:53 PM on June 17, 2006


More than just being a threat to old media, running a business with any integrity or lack of concern for maximizing profits is a threat to the slash-and-burn paradigm of corporate enterprise. I like that Jim emphasizes that the user is getting really a lot of valuable material for free, and yet the company is comfortably profitable. Yes, businesses can be run profitably and still serve the community and defer to its interests.

bukharin, Well said!

I appreciate it all the more that craigslist didn't go the way of slash-and-burn paradigm of corporate enterprise.

I love the tone of skeptical mockery that just barely surfaces in these articles about Craigslist.

A Wiki version of the New York Times would be more accurate than the hand-fed lies dished out to lapdogs like Judith Miller.

The lapdogs are in bed with the snake agents and others in the publishing world, who deny any accountability for faked 'news'. Wish you'd do a good FPP about the lack of integrity in journalism these days.
posted by nickyskye at 4:56 PM on June 17, 2006


Amazon

Net Income, in hundred million

2005 - 359.00
2004 - 588.45
2003 - 35.28
2002 - (149.13)
2001 - (567.28)
2000 - (1,411.27)

High volume with low margins is what Wal-Mart does and it works well for them. The question is if Amazon leaves itself exposed to catastrophe (eating like a chicken, shitting like an elephant), my guess is that they employ a method similar to Wal-Mart to minimize wharehousing and merchandising carrying costs. The incredibly diverse product line (which probably accounts for the years of operating at a loss) helps hedge against swings in related product lines.

I personally am of the opinion that a CraigsList model may determine the success of ad-less information services (sorry for the jargon), I'd rather pay directly than see annoying poker site banners -- to boot I'd probably bypass this all together by using ad-blocking, which will become more common as the average user becomes more sophisticated and ad annoyance stays the same. Naturally, the WSJ investment audience is concerned with primarily the bottom line and future cash flows. If Craiglist can prove that sipping on a revnue stream and not gorging it is a good long-term investment I would assume we'd see more internet businesses modeled after them.
posted by geoff. at 5:03 PM on June 17, 2006 [1 favorite]


If Craiglist could really get significant revenue from running a few banner ads, which in a classic text format would not seem to me to present much difference to the user experience of the page, then why not? Except for the fact that running ads on what amounts to basically advert pages is a clear conflict of interest and potentially promotes competitors.

If Craigslist is so concerned that such a sudden avalanche of revenue would distort its growth, culture, or structure, then I'd suggest setting up an automatic siphon of the ad-derived funds into some sort of blind or neutral philanthrophic fund. You know, for kids or something. There are a lot of crappy public schools in the Bay Area that could do with some cash.
posted by meehawl at 5:14 PM on June 17, 2006


didn't eBay acquire a piece (25% maybe) of Craigslist last year?

did anything ever come of that?
posted by pruner at 5:17 PM on June 17, 2006


If Craiglist could really get significant revenue from running a few banner ads, which in a classic text format would not seem to me to present much difference to the user experience of the page, then why not?

It's amazing how offended some people can get by a failure to maximise profit according to traditional capitalist principles. Somehow, it's not "rational" to say "I'm happy with this level profit, let's limit it here". Personally, I find that to be an incredibly rational, moral and rare position to take. And it means the hundreds of thousand of people who use craigslist can do so without having to pay overinflated classified charges. Good for them.

If Craigslist is so concerned that such a sudden avalanche of revenue would distort its growth, culture, or structure, then I'd suggest setting up an automatic siphon of the ad-derived funds into some sort of blind or neutral philanthrophic fund.

I would argue they are being philanthropic simply by letting their users keep their money and not pay fees. I mean, imagine how millions of people would have a little extra cash if Microsoft sold Windows at a price that reflected more closely their costs, instead of the hyperinflated price they charge now.
posted by Jimbob at 5:21 PM on June 17, 2006


And he's right about newspapers -- as ownership of them has been consolidated over the last couple of decades, the concern with staying in the black has led to the real degradation of journalism we see today. Foreign correspondants fired, newsrooms cut back, in favor of "entertainment is news, news is entertainment," "Lifestyle" sections and big, colorful photos, a la USA Today (Worst example: SF Chronicle.) These papers deserve to die because they are increasingly irrelevant, incapable of doing what they set out to do in the first place. A Wiki version of the New York Times would be more accurate than the hand-fed lies dished out to lapdogs like Judith Miller.

On the one hand, I agree with you that these newspapers "deserve to die." The stockholders, publishers and non-newsroom corporate types brought it on themselves -- they want to keep their 30 percent profit margins, so they slash the shit out of newsroom staffs, increase workloads on already overworked reporters, force veterans out of the business and hire less experienced people -- mostly from outside their communities -- in their place.

That compounds the problem, because instead of coming up with new business models they just squeeze the shit out of their existing product to keep the profit margin steady, which is really just temporarily plugging a hole in a leaking ship. A decline in the quality of journalism always leads to a decline in circulation.

Classified and retail ads not selling? Fire more reporters. Can't figure out a way to make money off the Internet editions? Get rid of more reporters, trim the local sections and run more wire copy.

And, yeah, newspaper people have a ridiculous habit of blaming Craigslist, and WalMart, and newsprint producers, for all of their problems.

But the saddest part is, as you point out, journalism suffers. So your local congressman is probably getting away with whatever the fuck he wants, your local police chiefs or judges may be driving drunk, your local corporations may be dumping chemicals into your rivers and wetlands, and the reporters at your local newspaper are too young, too inexperienced and too overworked to really fill the watchdog roles they're supposed to. Assuming they care in the first place.

So the public suffers in the end, while newspaper publishers and CEOs cling to their sinking ships, proving yet again that they only pay lip service to their roles as watchdogs and that the lofty terms they use to describe their industry are just hollow bullshit. Sad.

Funny how when the news industry is paying attention to an issue, it demands accountability from others, but media types let themselves repeat the lie that Craigslist, Google, WalMart and the Internet in general are the reason their industry is dying.
posted by Alexandros at 5:25 PM on June 17, 2006


There's something unpleasant to people about the idea of an incorporated entity with a CEO not greedily maximizing profits for eternity. I mean, look at the guy who owns his own pizza shop- are people hounding him about the fact that he only employs 3 people and only made $50K in profits last year? Of course not. But once you get just a little bigger, it's like you're unamerican for being comfortable with making a decent wage and providing a service to lots of people.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:26 PM on June 17, 2006


"Sipping on a revenue stream and not gorging it" will never be as much a good long-term investment as it is a good long-term life choice. The craigslist model of low-bandwidth service may even protect it against net non-neurality - sure the ISP-partnered sites may get the big pipes but you'll still find good stuff faster on craigslist...
posted by wendell at 5:27 PM on June 17, 2006


So your local congressman is probably getting away with whatever the fuck he wants, your local police chiefs or judges may be driving drunk, your local corporations may be dumping chemicals into your rivers and wetlands, and the reporters at your local newspaper are too young, too inexperienced and too overworked to really fill the watchdog roles they're supposed to.

Aah, but this is Web 2.0 - surely someone with a Blogspot account is supposed to report on these things? Yeah. Likely.
posted by Jimbob at 5:32 PM on June 17, 2006


maximise profit according to traditional capitalist principles

I am amused to be accused of being overly capitalistic - believe me when I say that this is not something that usually occurs!

Consider this: if as I stated all revenues from these putative ads were diverted not into the corporate structure but into a philanthropic foundation, then is it really correct to call them "profits"?

they are being philanthropic simply by letting their users keep their money and not pay fees

If Craiglist started charging for all ad placement (instead of its current selective approach) then it would be using the Ebay model. I suspect then that its volume of ads placed and its growth rate would decline significantly.

Declining to charge consumers for a service without selecting or screening those consumers on the basis of need is not "Philanthropy" - it is a peculiar selling strategy of which many examples abound, especially within information economies not limited by material scarcity. Philanthropy as the donation of goods and services to charitable organisations or individuals screened according to some need or group membership is a classic way for capitalist organisations to publicly exhibit social awareness. I gather it is more popular in the US where the use of government taxation and revenue strategies to effect societal wealth and income redistribution is often out of favour, especially at the moment.
posted by meehawl at 5:49 PM on June 17, 2006


When is Craigslist supposed to IPO? I want in.
posted by Guerilla at 5:50 PM on June 17, 2006


Craigslist, Google, WalMart and the Internet in general are the reason their industry is dying.

Walmart? What's so good about Walmart?
posted by nickyskye at 5:52 PM on June 17, 2006


Philanthropy as the donation of goods and services to charitable organisations or individuals screened according to some need or group membership is a classic way for capitalist organisations to publicly exhibit social awareness.

And where do the capitalist organisations get the money to throw aroung to charitable causes in the interest of good public relations? Their customers. You are advocating "craigslist should take money off their users, so that craigslist can then decide how to be charitable with it". I am advocating "by not taking money off their users, craigslist leaves their users with more money to be charitable with themselves". Or indeed to survive with. Shit, now I almost sound like a libertarian, except instead of complaining about government taxation, I'm complaining charges from a private enterprize.

If you have a look through craigslist, there are a lot of people using it just to get by. Selling things for $5 that they don't need any more. Social networking. If you start charging for this, it could potentially be of great detriment to a lot of people.

But, I think rxrfrx has a great point: I mean, look at the guy who owns his own pizza shop- are people hounding him about the fact that he only employs 3 people and only made $50K in profits last year? Exactly. Why should a company try to keep getting bigger and bigger, and earning more and more, when they don't need, and are happy how they are? Just in the name of charity?
posted by Jimbob at 6:07 PM on June 17, 2006


Someone recently told me that Craig's List only really dominates in a handful of cities. Is that true? I've only lived in DC, Seattle, LA, and NYC, and craig's list seemed pretty essential there.
posted by cell divide at 6:26 PM on June 17, 2006


Craigslist has been a really cool story. But they benefit from the type of service they provide--it's not very asset-intensive. It'd be impossible to reach so many people and "give away" so much value if they were selling a physical product and had to deal with all the issues that go along with that (logistics, inventory, more employees, etc).
posted by mullacc at 6:33 PM on June 17, 2006


What a dishonest article. He completely -- wilfully! -- overlooks the 2002 Craigslist flirtation with banner ads.

didn't eBay acquire a piece (25% maybe) of Craigslist last year? did anything ever come of that?

Yup. And as far as I can tell, they get to send someone to the board meetings.
posted by dhartung at 6:37 PM on June 17, 2006


You are advocating "craigslist should take money off their users, so that craigslist can then decide how to be charitable with it".

You're going to have to show me exactly where I am "advocating" that Craiglist charge the bulk of its users for placement. In fact, when I mentioned that I also said I believed that exact strategy would diminish Craigslist's ad volume and growth rate.

I think that the WSJ article was suggesting something different, as was I: context-sensitive text ads that charge advertisers, not users. I believe that Metafilter runs something like this as well. It was invented back in the 1990s by one of Bill Gross's Idealab incubator companies (Goto/Overture, now part of Yahoo) called P4P and is quite a big deal these days. Just ask any of the first few hundred Google employees.
posted by meehawl at 6:44 PM on June 17, 2006


cell divide: I think it is true, but not because they've failed in some cities. They've been in the larger metro areas for longer and rely on word-of-mouth--obviously the more people that find out about it and use it, the better it becomes.
posted by mullacc at 6:53 PM on June 17, 2006


You're going to have to show me exactly where I am "advocating" that Craiglist charge the bulk of its users for placement.

Apologies if I interpreted your comment as advocacy if you were just intending to point out hypotheticals. Your original comment came across as suggesting craigslist were being wasteful. You said that if craigslist were so concerned that the extra income would destroy the company, they could divert it to philantropy instead, as if that was the only option they had. Infact, another option is to simply continue to not acquire that income, and maintain the status quo.

I think that the WSJ article was suggesting something different, as was I: context-sensitive text ads that charge advertisers, not users.

But craigslist are happy not to have them, because they don't benefit the users. Why have advertising on your site if you don't want the revenue? Unless you believe advertising provides a legitimate public service. I don't - I'd be happy in a world without it - but that's just me.

Just ask any of the first few hundred Google employees.

Once again, craigslist appears happy with 20 employees.
posted by Jimbob at 6:54 PM on June 17, 2006


But craigslist are happy not to have them, because they don't benefit the users.

well, in theory at least, context-sensitive text ads (on a site like Craigslist) would benefit the users.
posted by pruner at 7:06 PM on June 17, 2006


Craigslist has been one of those things to which I've paid almost no attention whatsoever, despite the fact that I spend as much time on the net as I do sleeping, damn near, mostly because it's a network of local sites, and never local to me.

Except Seoul Craigslist, more than a year old, and a complete flop (at least in terms of traffic), it would seem. I'm very interested in why that has happened.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:48 PM on June 17, 2006


I've seen lots of newspapers die both in relevance and economics by demanding higher profits at the expense of everything else. So, it's interesting to see craigslist turn the opposite direction.

That said, I wonder about craigslist's real viability. How much would it cost, really, for Google or Ebay or anyone else to swoop in and own this market? The only thing keeping craigslist going is their own customers' collective inertia. Offer these people something better, faster, etc, and they'll leave craigslist behind, in exactly the same way Google dusted AltaVista, Lycos and several other search engines.

So, with that in mind, I hope craigslist is performing R&D on the next big product, whatever it is. This is what Google is doing constantly (Maps, Calendar, Spreadsheets, etc). Doing that kind of R&D costs money. Can craigslist compete?
posted by frogan at 7:53 PM on June 17, 2006


I hope craigslist is performing R&D on the next big product

I think craigslist has done so well precisely because it has never worried about finding the "next big product." It has taken a very old concept--a community bulletin board--and found a way to scale it up without losing the community-feeling. Part of the reason why it has maintained this feeling is that it has managed not to act like a normal profit-oriented company. Rather than trying to create growth by pushing new products or features, it has relied on word-of-mouth growth and only made big changes when the community demanded it.
posted by mullacc at 8:20 PM on June 17, 2006


@stavrosthewonderchicken

Koreans tend to be pretty nationalistic and suspicious of outsiders. They also have a lively homegrown internet culture.

Perhaps Seoul craigslist encountered hostility because of its American origins or maybe there were pre-existing classified sites that did the job better?
posted by jason's_planet at 8:27 PM on June 17, 2006


Walmart? What's so good about Walmart?

I'm not making a value judgment, I'm just saying the newspaper industry blames Walmart for some of its financial problems the same way it blames Craigslist. In newspaper markets where there's a Walmart, retail ad revenues tend to be lower because the newspaper isn't running multiple ads from different hardware stores/groceries/pharmacies, etc.

With Craigslist, the newspaper people are upset because the readers in their circulation area can post widely-read classifieds for free on the Internet, making them less likely to fork over $150-$300 to the newspaper to run a classified in print.

Now we can say Craigslist is good and Walmart is evil, but that still doesn't change the fact that this is business and most intelligent people would think of a way to deal with that kind of competition to keep their company afloat.

Instead, the newspaper industry whines about Craigslist and Walmart, then stabs itself in the foot by slashing jobs from newsrooms, trimming news sections and generally making their product a whole lot crappier to keep their 30 percent profit margins. Then, when the profit margins are threatened two or three years later, they do the same thing again, incrementally destroying their product. Every time this happens, a publisher will issue a statement that says something to the effect of, "We have fewer reporters, but our news coverage will not suffer!" But take a look at almost any regional newspaper (not the NYT, USA Today or WSJ) and tell me that paper is better than it was five or ten years ago. Like I said, it's sad.
posted by Alexandros at 8:47 PM on June 17, 2006




Craigslist doesn't have much volume in any foreign countries, it seems, but it's useful for English-speakers who are visiting them or living there to connect, do apartment exchanges, etc. The thing is, Craigslist can open a site in a city and it really can't "flop" - it's not like expanding requires any overhead. As long as some people are using it.

My parents run a once-thriving classified ads weekly in Longview, Texas. Its margins are getting thinner and thinner due to more to increased printing costs and high gas prices. The other papers in the chain are failing, where in the 90s they really took off. At the recent national convention, the main focus was Craigslist. Even though Craigslist hasn't really cut into the heartland where these papers are run, they still know that the model means doom. The big honchos who run the company won't accept giving away anything for free, even if it means their survival.

But because of the digital divide, it will be at least a few years before Craigslist or anything like it takes off in the rest of the country, outside of the major metropolitan areas. When it does happen, it will be some amalgamated classified search of Google's -- which you can be sure Google is working on furiously. (I just looked around on Google Labs, etc. because they are introducing something like it, can anyone find it?)

John Q Public will get everything in one place -- search engine, classified ads, news, IM, email. That's what Google is counting on. I've known some late-adopters who think that their Excite home page is *the* Internet and that they *have* to start there. Once Google gets this going my mother's paper is dead, but so is Craigslist.
posted by bukharin at 8:51 PM on June 17, 2006


There's another problem with Craigslist, along the lines of the real estate pile-ons that they mention in the article.

The jobs section is constantly flooded with posts along the lines of this (promising unreasonable income for mystery shopping, then either sending you to one of those "offers" sites or asking you to pay for a directory of mystery shopping sites - info that is freely available online). It takes a lot of other forms, too - work at home answering emails! returning phone calls! pyramid-ish sales! Maybe some are legit, most probably aren't.

The parallel it has with the real estate listings is that these are posted over and over again so that the poster can get his or her referrals, legit or otherwise, and the boards are drowning in them. It makes looking for a legitimate opportunity more difficult than it should be, and flagging doesn't seem to be the answer because of the sheer volume of posts.
posted by anjamu at 9:44 PM on June 17, 2006


On the other hand, I had some direct dealings with Craiglist management, talking about a possible way to use their ads in a community-positive non-greedy way, and they were more than a little blunt and rude. My impression of them previously was wholly positive, but afterward...it wasn't their message, but their method of saying it that turned me completely off this company.

Basically, it was the sort of rude response I'd expect of a used car dealership, not any sort of 'classy' community oriented organization.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:53 PM on June 17, 2006


For those wondering about Google's version/answer/killer/etc of Craigslist, it's probably Google Base. Check out the FAQ and blog for more info.
posted by whatnotever at 9:56 PM on June 17, 2006


Hey, looks like they're in des moines now. Cute.
posted by delmoi at 10:24 PM on June 17, 2006


well, in theory at least, context-sensitive text ads (on a site like Craigslist) would benefit the users.

I don't visit Craigslist for the advertisements (context-sensitive or otherwise). The benefit is hypothetical and marginal at best.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:23 PM on June 17, 2006


Koreans tend to be pretty nationalistic and suspicious of outsiders. They also have a lively homegrown internet culture.

Yeah, I know. I've lived here in Korea 7 of the last 10 years.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:24 AM on June 18, 2006


I happened to hear about Craigslist in early 2000 and liked it a helluva lot more then than I do now. Very mixed feelings. In short, the good thing is that a lot more people know about it now. The bad thing is that a lot more people know about it now.

The percentage of cool, decent people using it has about gone through the floor. One used to see plenty of people selling tickets they couldn't use for face value; sound cars at decent, fair prices; etc. As a very infrequent seller on craigslist, the people who responded were almost always not flakes.

In more recent years, it has much more become a place for scalpers, car dealers, people seeking ludicrous prices for not-sound cars. I recently tried to sell a pair of concert tickets to a hot, sold-out show--at face value--and I heard from seven or eight people who said they WOULD meet me... and then I never heard from them. Ended up going with a friend from work....

I get that the flake factor has gone up as Craigslist has become something more people know about and that it's beyond anyone's control. If it's not clear, let me say I understand that as something grows beyond a niche-y thing, its growth can at once be good and bad and that Craig may or may not have much control over that. He could implement something like user IDs and feedback, along the lines of what eBay has done (which would cost him money).

My concerns about Craig are that he's something close to a liar and a facilitator of bad things.

There is some perky little note about not selling tickets for more than face value, but it is roundly ignored. The response to those who have expressed frustration at gobs of scalpers has been that they can't know how much tickets to each show costs.

Please.

It doesn't take a genius to know that two tickets to a Beck show don't have a face value of $250. If he was serious about his schtick that it is (or was??) a decent place for decent people, he could hire a college student or two to delete ads from obvious scalpers and/or monitor the big concerts, sporting events, etc., to know what tickets cost and wipe off the scalpers. Sure, they would not catch them all, but it would dissuade 'em.

But hiring those college kids would cost Craig money, wouldn't it?

(Lest it not be obvious, the ticket example speaks to what goes on in other areas of the site where people can sell goods or (legal) services. I pretty much don't bother with it any more because there's so much dreck to wade through.)

On a less operational level, I can live with the view that the "erotic services" sections--which are filled with blatant, oft-graphic, often-with-graphic-pictures posts for prostitution--are not exactly making a positive contribution to the world around us... which was supposed to have been a driving force behind the basic philosophy of Craigslist.

Is Craig proud of actively aiding and abetting prostitution?

If the approach is one of, "I'm out to make bucks," so be it and he has done well in that regard. However, it has come across as being something that reflects his being honorable, doing something honorable, etc., etc., etc., and it's evolved into something that much more comes across as Craig paying lip service--no pun intended--to that concept and being just another guy out to make money.
posted by ambient2 at 1:09 AM on June 18, 2006


Craig paying lip service--no pun intended--to that concept and being just another guy out to make money.

eBay or Google or [name your big media/internet company] would pay him $1 billion+ dollars today for craigslist. They wouldn't hesitate a second. If he was "just another guy out to make money," why wouldn't he just, you know, actually make the money that's available to him?
posted by mullacc at 2:10 AM on June 18, 2006


<3 Craigslist. At least the personals worked for me. Boyfriend and I are about to celebrate one year together. W00t.

Dunno about selling / buying stuff, tho.
posted by beth at 2:23 AM on June 18, 2006


Wow, can't imagine cragslist made this much of money!

Look like they got the right internet model -- we should all learn something from them!
posted by car donation at 6:17 AM on June 18, 2006


It's amazing how offended some people can get by a failure to maximise profit according to traditional capitalist principles.

I think too often companies begin to try to maximize profits and quickly lose focus of what their original bookstores were. For example, a bookstore offered on the stock exchange starts to sell candy bars at the register, that sells really well and increases profits, which leads to the store selling more gift items. Eventually you can't get to the register without making your way through a maze of gift items and books become harder to find.
posted by drezdn at 7:25 AM on June 18, 2006


I stopped when I read the word monetizing.
posted by humboldt32 at 8:36 AM on June 18, 2006


Its jobs board in Minneapolis is completely unusable because of the incredible volumne of scam artists who flood it with bullshit jobs. I know, I know, the community is supposed to flag these. But what community? I, for one, have better things to do with my time than moderate someone else's classified's board.

Similar scams are showing up throughout all of the services. If craiglist doesn't get a moderator locally, the site will be useless, as too high a percentage of all posts will be for bullshit. It's infinitely hackable.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:11 AM on June 18, 2006


I've never used the craigslist boards for jobs, because most of the postings looked scammy. I did use it for apartments, and got two good ones (in NYC!) out of it. Sure there were lots of scam ads, but honestly, it was so easy to spot them...and even (or especially) if they were re-posted over and over, since they used the same language each time, I just clicked right past.

I don't think it's that hard to avoid the dreck, if you have any common sense. And I might add, your average free/regular paper classifieds are not any better in that regard. Plenty of "get paid to shop!" ads there too. So I don't really get the whole "oh no, there are scammers here too!" sniffiness. If legit ads are there (which has been my experience), you can find them.
posted by emjaybee at 9:40 AM on June 18, 2006


The only thing keeping craigslist going is their own customers' collective inertia. Offer these people something better, faster, etc, and they'll leave craigslist behind, in exactly the same way Google dusted AltaVista, Lycos and several other search engines.

This seems wrong to me, since what you're describing as inertia is something more like 'community.' Would you leave metafilter if something 'better, faster, etc.' came along? I'm surprised no one has made the comparison, but I've never seen two sites with more similar missions and management styles. I suppose metafilter doesn't pull down $25 million, though. :-)

The complaints about heavy posters also sound off. You can easily narrow your search criteria to avoid the scammers, at least outside of NYC et al. Again, it's pretty much the same functionality as all the greasemonkey scripts people here use to ignore [hated poster]. So what's the big compaint?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:47 PM on June 18, 2006


If a single text ad (perhaps on the sex pages?) could pay handsome salaries to a few more employees to keep the site spam and scam free I think that would be awesome. After all, the functionality of the site depends on keeping the crap to a minimum and obviously they are too understaffed to do as good of a job as they conceivably could. Still, craigslist kicks ass, and the "free" section alone (the area where people just give stuff away) should convince anyone of the essential goodness of the site.

But, if google throws a billion dollars at the idea and hires a large, full time team of people committed to keeping everything in the forum on the up and up I could see craigslist taking a dive. It won't be hard for Google to take their traffic either, since most of these people/companies are already used to advertising on multiple sites, and even in multiple mediums for the same products and services, employment opportunities, et cetera.
posted by my homunculus is drowning at 5:45 PM on June 18, 2006




That's unfortunate to hear about CL in other cities, but Craigslist in the Bay Area still has a lot of integrity. I furnished my entire apartment with really nice, nearly new furniture that yuppies were throwing out (couch doesn't match new rug, etc.) for less than $300. I've found three jobs there and met my Russian teacher who has since become a close friend of mine and with whom I'm collaborating with translating various obscure texts. Last two apartments I found through Craigslist, no problem. There is some element of obvious scams on our CL, but they're so obvious that they're easy to overlook.

I've also wondered about the erotic services section and how they justify even having one. My only guess is that they figure people would be offering these things anyway, it's best to segregate them from the Personals and Casual Encounters boards, and it's relatively safer compared to walking the streets at night. I've read more than one article about a prostitution police sting involving a post on Craigslist... so in a way, it's making it easier for law enforcement, although I personally don't think it's right to criminalize the world's oldest profession.
posted by bukharin at 6:00 PM on June 18, 2006


I think a lot of the criticism here is not really fair to craigslist. It's like criticizing the people who paved roads for people drivin' crazy. I think in terms of community or just not being solely motivated by profit, craigslist compares favorably to any other site of its magnitude. Sure there are people scalping tickets, but it doesn't mean you have to buy them, and I second the comment about it being very easy to skip over the bogus no fee apartment listings. I haven't been on craigslist in at least a year, but I've found apartments, sold stuff, found employees, etc. on it and found it quite effective.

Also, with regard to what bukharin said, I have seen them create new categories specifically to draw inappropriate postings out of an existing category. Before complaining, I think people should think of the alternatives. Is it better to have an erotic service section, or to have users contaminate other sections with these postings? It would probably be much easier to control spammy or undesirable listings if craigslist required posters to enter a bunch of personal information, but isn't it nice to have at least one site on teh internets that starts with an assumption of just trusting people? If we as a community can't handle that, it's not their fault.
posted by snofoam at 7:46 PM on June 18, 2006


plus, anyone who complains about a site where people give away free stuff from drum machines to futons to fish food and you can post a free ad to find the next bass player/drummer/accordionist for your awesome band doesn't deserve a drum machine, futon, fish food, awesome bands, or the internets.

no one really talks about how craigslist is killing off the tradition of putting boxes of books you don't want out on the sidewalk for people to take or how bulletin boards in the back of record stores are barren and deserted now. just sayin'.
posted by snofoam at 7:58 PM on June 18, 2006


sorry to triple-comment, but i guess what i was saying in my last comment was that if you look at the parts of craigslist that are inherently not commercial, like giving people a place to tell other people they're starting a book club, you'd probably find those parts to be more useful. the parts that are inherently more commercial will be corrupted by people who want to make money. i think this is probably true of any online service. for example, the google results for something like the scientific name of a moth are probably a lot more useful than the results for a search for home loans.
posted by snofoam at 8:07 PM on June 18, 2006


It's like criticizing the people who paved roads for people drivin' crazy.

No it isn't. It's like criticising the people who own the roads for not enforcing speed limits and not punishing drunk drivers. I looked on the local Craigslist for a job tonight and 3/4 of what I saw was a violation of their policy. Some were outright scams, others were just looking for people to do free work. If I have to wade through that much crap to find the few things that might be worth a damn, I'm not going to do it, and if I were an employer I would be wary of posting.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:40 PM on June 18, 2006


This seems wrong to me, since what you're describing as inertia is something more like 'community.' Would you leave metafilter if something 'better, faster, etc.' came along?

By inertia, I mean "reluctance to explore competing products because the current product meets your current perceived needs." If someone came along and managed to offer something that was "better" than craigslist, to the point where they could overcome that customer inertia, they'd go in a heartbeat.

This is what happened to the search engines. Google came along and did it better. The customers left Lycos behind. This is why I hope the craigslist guys aren't sitting around congratulating themselves for Sticking It To The Man for not making as much dough as they could. Money is a tool. It helps you stay in business if you use it right.

I don't know what you mean by "community" on craigslist. There's about as much community as Ebay, I suppose. But would I leave MeFi if there was something better? You betcha. The bar would be pretty f'n high, as "better" would have to include squishy concepts like "quality discussion," but rationally, the collective populace will always move toward the thing that provides us what we want with the least amount of output/effort.
posted by frogan at 11:41 PM on June 18, 2006


Astro Zombie: I don't know that craigslist claims to provide the level of law enforcement you're expecting, and I don't necessarily think that it is obligated to. As a "self-service community commons," the law enforcement is done by members, who can flag posts that are inappropriate: "If a post receives enough negative flags it will automatically be removed, with an explanatory note sent to the poster (only one flag per person per post is counted)."

In theory, if people did treat it more like a community, including taking some responsibility for keeping it tidy, then it would be better than it is now. Hiring an army of people to inspect every post would have the same effect, but that would be expensive and the site would have to change in order to raise the money to pay them. It would also be undemocratic.
posted by snofoam at 6:17 AM on June 19, 2006


I don't know what you mean by "community" on craigslist. There's about as much community as Ebay, I suppose.

This is what you're missing. Ebay is international. Craigslist, while it maintains multi-city listings, is about helping people make business and personal connections. It doesn't suffer from the same set of international frauds and nigerian scams that Ebay does. Fundamentally, it's a better way for neighbors to interact. Now, in NYC, there are a ton of factors that make that hard to understand. The pressure's too tight and the population's too dense to create that sort of community city-wide. (Better to have borough sites, I should think.) But here in Nashville? There aren't that many users, and it's hard to corrupt a small city from afar.

The metafilter connection is simply this: you get out of the site what your fellow members put in. Google can't manufacture that sort of thing; they can't pay Nashvilleans to switch, nor do paid commentators, free accounts, or other such inducements make a better community site. People in my city will switch classified services when everyone else switches. They'll use the new site when CL loses the quality postings of used furniture: where I can go to your house, meet you, and smell the couch for cat urine, before you help me carry it down the stairs and I pay you at the door. You can't buy that for any price.

But I guess some people don't understand community.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:43 AM on June 19, 2006


But I guess some people don't understand community.

And here I thought we were having a good discussion. Tell you what ... why don't you go "hang out" at craigslist and tell me how many friends you make there.
posted by frogan at 8:48 AM on June 19, 2006



why don't you go "hang out" at craigslist and tell me how many friends you make there.

Why don't you go hang out in the Denny's parking lot and tell me how many friends you make there? Craigslist replaces the demolished, privatized town square and marketplace. It offers people a chance to do what towns and cities have done for centuries: bring people together for cultural and commercial exchange. I've made numerous friends through Craigslist. The girl I bought an old TV from a year ago ended up becoming a good friend of mine. And anotherpanacea puts it perfectly:

where I can go to your house, meet you, and smell the couch for cat urine, before you help me carry it down the stairs and I pay you at the door. You can't buy that for any price.

That's been my experience too.
posted by bukharin at 2:19 PM on June 19, 2006


Look, I apologize for the snarky double entendre. I didn't mean to say that you're a bad community member, necessarily, I hinted at that in my phrasing. (Again, sorry about that.) I just meant that you're underestimating the value of the user-base for a site that gets its content from those users. Craigslist has an avid userbase and vocal defenders. A company like Google can't just manufacture that by sewing together twenty-dollar bills.

The bigger problem is that most craigslist users only use it a few times a year, so they're necessarily conservative. They go with what worked the last time they needed a couch or an apartment. And the people with apartments and couches go where the customers are. Just like you hang out here looking for good conversations because... occasionally they show up. And in both cases, the people in charge have determed that changes should be the result of user demand, not profit-expansion. They 'understand' that communities, even if they are constituted by neophilic info science types, are change-averse.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:20 PM on June 19, 2006


sorry again... should be "...a bad community member, though I hinted at that in my phrasing..."
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:21 PM on June 19, 2006


In theory, if people did treat it more like a community, including taking some responsibility for keeping it tidy, then it would be better than it is now.

In practice, in Minneapolis, this doesn't happen. And I'm not sure it should. If my newspaper told me I was somehow responsible for going through it's classifieds and flagging the ones that were objectionable, and, at some point, they might get around to removing the objectionable post, if enough members of this manufactured community happened to object (an amount that is not disclosed), I would simply switch to a different classifieds that did that work for me. I'm looking for a job (or a sofa, or a girlfriend), and if doing so means taking on another job -- policing an online classifieds page -- then I'm going to look elsewhere.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:41 PM on June 19, 2006


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