Reasons for Craigslist Mess


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Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark. The great promise of the Internet is to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful. So when you arrive at America’s most popular dating site, you find a stream of anonymous visitors filled with insults, ads for prostitutes, nude pictures, and outright scams? In a design from the early days of the web, disparate posts compete for attention on page after page of blue links, no different than tags or ratings or even usernames. Millions of people seem to believe that love is waiting here, but it is well hidden. Is this really the best we can do?

Strange perhaps, but no stranger than what you see on the most popular job search site: another wasteland of hypertext links, line after line, without recommendations or networking features or anti-duplicate postings. of protection. Subject to a highly unpredictable filtering system that causes daily outrage among people whose help-wanted ads are removed without explanation, the site is not only free from its competitors—Monster, CareerBuilder, Yahoo! — beats all of them, but gets more traffic than all of them combined. Are our standards really that low?

But if you really want to see a mess, head over to the nation’s largest apartment-hunting site, the first likely choice of anyone looking for a rental or roommate. On this site, contrary to every rule of usage and common sense, you cannot simply browse pictures of apartments for rent. Customer support? If you enjoy being insulted, visit the help desk. What percentage of the market does this housing site occupy?  In many cities, a very large percentage. Since there are no competitors of this size, it is pointless to attempt to compare its traffic to them.

Each of these sites is, of course, one of many parts of Craigslist, which dominates the market in facilitating face-to-face transactions, whether people are buying or selling, giving away, renting an apartment, or They have some sex. With more than 47 million unique users per month in the U.S. alone—almost one-fifth of the country’s adult population—it’s the most important community site and still the most developed. Think about any web feature that’s become popular in the last 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, management will almost certainly throw up technical barriers to shut you down.

Not only is Craigslist massive and completely resistant to business collaboration, it’s also mostly free. The only things it costs to post on the site are job ads ($25 to $75) in some cities, apartment listings through brokers in New York ($10), and—more recently, a special one stemming from legal trouble. Case in point—advertisements in categories in general. Used by prostitutes, as authorities encourage vendors to maintain records that help investigators. There are no banner ads. They won’t let you join them, and at this price you can’t even beat them.

It has sometimes occurred to people that Craigslist issues can be resolved by appealing to its namesake, Craig Newmark. Newmark is under a lot of pressure these days. His company is being sued by eBay, a competitor and minority shareholder angry at being left out of company discussions. South Carolina’s attorney general has been vocal about prosecuting its CEO for allegedly facilitating prostitution, and other states are facing tough challenges from law enforcement. Tabloids have consistently run stories about two so-called Craigslist killers, one who allegedly used the site’s erotic services section to lure victims and another who used help-wanted ads.

What did Newmark responds to such criticism with great composure. Ask about his finances and he talks about his hummingbird feeder. When their Twitter page asks them, “What are you up to?” He retweets in a squirrel voice.

Although the company is privately held and doesn’t respond to questions about its finances, it’s clear that Craigslist makes a lot of money. A recent report, from a consulting firm that counted paid advertising, estimated that revenue could exceed $100 million in 2009. By these standards, Newmark is a very wealthy man. When someone reminds him of this, the Craigslist founder says he wouldn’t do anything with that much money if he got his hands on it. He already has a parking space, a hummingbird feeder, a small house with a view, and a shower with strong water pressure.

What else does he need? The frustration at these types of responses sometimes becomes comical. In a July 2007 television interview, Charlie Rose spent half the program trying to get Newmark to confess his good fortune, and failed. Newmark remarked, “I don’t have as much control as you think.

I’m not talking about how much control; I’m talking about percentage of ownership,” Rose said. Rose is usually kind to her guests, but the scent of unrecognized wealth revealed her horror.

“Oh, the same thing from my point of view,” Newmark said, trying to broach the subject.

Do you or do not own more than 50% of Craigslist? Rose asked.


“You don’t?”


“In other words, other people own it, or you gave it away or whatever.”

“Maybe, Charlie.”

“Okay, but why are you so…?”



“It doesn’t matter,” Newmark said. “I mean …”

Rose continued, a mask of pain covering her face, “I know it doesn’t matter.

Newmark’s claim to almost complete disinterest in wealth is reflected in the way Craigslist does business. Besides offering almost all of its features for free, it despises advertising, refuses investment, ignores design, and doesn’t innovate. Normally, a company that showed such complete disregard for normal business rules would suffer from competition, but Craigslist has no serious competitors. The site’s size and cost are its greatest assets. But seen from another angle, Craigslist is one of the strangest monopolies in history, where users are locked in by a fee set at zero and where an environment of neglect is not the way to get high profits. Rather, it is an expression of worldview.

The axioms of this worldview are easy to Your text will be rewritten by QuillBot. Start by typing or pasting something into this box, then hit the enter key. state. According to Newmark, “people are kind and trustworthy and typically just concerned with getting through the day. Newmark is making a lot of effort to increase the impact of his worldview.

If most people are good and their needs are simple, all you need to do to serve them well is to build a minimal infrastructure that allows them to come together and work for themselves. Any additional features are almost certainly redundant and may even be harmful.

Newmark is working hard to expand the influence of his worldview. His public pronouncements have the gleeful but apologetic tone of one who has stumbled upon a secret in plain sight and who finds it embarrassingly necessary to point out something that has long been apparent. should have He seems to have discovered a new way of doing business. He doubts that this may be the right way to run the world.

Public spirited and moderate, politically liberal and socially awkward, Newmark has a trait that has been crucial to Craigslist’s success: his willingness to do the same thing over and over again. During the company’s first years, Newmark approved nearly every message on the list, and in the decade since he has spent much of his time eliminating offensive messages. Even by the most conservative accounting, it has served tens of thousands of classified ads. Very few people can do that and thrive.

Newmark knows he’s not normal. He interprets things literally, and was often confused by other people when he was younger. In 1972, while a college student, he read S. I. Hayakawa’s classic book on communication, Language in Thought and Action, and it helped him better understand himself. It can’t be that everyone else is having trouble, I suddenly think. It must be me,'” he says.

We’re sitting in a San Francisco coffee shop called the Reverie Café Bar, where Newmark spends long hours and has given countless interviews. Many things are normal in their life. He has a collection of conversational jingles that he uses when he speaks, and his phone has a variety of sound effects, including a jingle,  that make it clear. He might be joking. He does not get angry when people misunderstand him. He claims, “I’m the Forrest Gump of the Internet.” Customer service is his passion. He declares, I’ll just keep doing this as long as I live.” He tapped his phone and began a ghostly wahahahaha. And after that, who knows?”

Email has always been an ideal outlet for Newmark’s genius nature. Craigslist began in 1995 as a mailing list for techies with announcements of events of interest, and as more of them began to subscribe, it encouraged readers to post their news. Saved the messages on the web page, and tried to make sure that all content was legitimate. After Netscape’s IPO in August of that year, became a portal in the scene. Within two years, he had thousands of readers, most of whom he did not know. It was a big responsibility for someone who is not an extrovert. “I emailed him every day,” says Christina Murphy, one of the first tech recruiters to regularly use Craigslist. If I make a mistake, I have to call him and ask him to change the job posting.

He becomes insane over it.” Murphy and Nancy Malone, an online consultant, met with Newmark to discuss how to make Craigslist more professional in the future.  that didn’t require its founder to make phone calls. Job postings were an obvious source of income, and in 1998 he started a nonprofit called the List Foundation. Recruiters will pay $30 for advertising, everything else will be free, and whatever money is left over after maintenance and administration costs are paid. Melvin was the CEO. Murphy was concerned about Newmark’s willingness to give up so much control and soon left the business. It was described as “a beautiful, ideal little world.” “And other forces were assuming control of it.”

The website was accessible for about a year under two different domain names: and the less embarrassing personal But Malone was pulling and Newmark was digging in his heels, or more accurately, Malone was pulling and Newmark was digging in. By the end of the decade, the Internet craze was at its peak and the brightest minds in the fledgling industry all agreed that the right strategy was to acquire quickly in anticipation of a sale or IPO. Malone wanted to raise prices. Newmark is concerned about charging for listings at all.

Wanted to be Newmark was married to the idea that Craigslist was a community service. Melvin was friendly, talkative. Newmark had extensive powers of passive resistance. A split was inevitable, and one day in late September 1999, Craigslist users visiting the address found themselves automatically bounced to a new, non-profit website called MetroVox. Run by Malone, it offered similar community listings and made a much more aggressive plan to grow. Newmark authorized the switch, Malone said. Newmark announced that he had gone blind.

This was Craigslist‘s first serious competitive challenge, and probably the last. Newmark had certain personal qualities that should be fatal in an entrepreneur. Aside from his communication problems and aversion to exercising authority, he didn’t care for entrepreneurship. But in his battle with MetroVox he had one asset that more than compensated for these shortcomings: for years he worked on his site with an extraordinary, machine-like consistency, all diligently and repeatedly. Worked at times that would have made most people hopelessly uncomfortable, and boredom, and he did them happily. And now his customers have given him back in the most obvious way possible: They stopped using the List Foundation address, started posting their free ads on again, and called Newmark when problems arose. Emailed Less than a year later, the bubble burst and Metrovox was gone.

Newmark balked at the idea of ​​running Craigslist as a nonprofit, which would require him to learn and follow a lot of rules. He realized that if he made a lot of money, no one could stop him from giving, and in the meantime he gave away a significant portion of his possessions to avoid gaining too much power. “I was worried about going crazy in middle age,” he says. He also kept a considerable distance between himself and any managerial responsibility.

The current CEO, Jim Buckmaster, joined the site as a programmer in 2000 and handles every business and strategic issue. It was Buckmaster who developed the current strategy for growth—a slow, bubble-like, seemingly unstoppable growth of new Craigslist cities, each an exact clone of the other, launched without any marketing or advertising. Sometimes a new site grows very slowly over a long period of time. But eventually the listings hit a certain volume, after which the site becomes so familiar and essential that it’s embraced by more or less everyone except the beleaguered publishers of local newspapers. Newspaper classified advertising revenue is down nearly 50 percent over the past decade, a drop of nearly $10 billion. Only part of that loss is due to Newmark’s company, but as the largest online classifieds site, it’s easy to blame Craigslist.

As the founder of a remarkable Internet company that helped drive the nation’s newspapers out of business, Newmark’s opinion is eagerly sought, and he is increasingly speaking at conferences and international meetings. Spend time, where they try to answer the questions. How to best defend the public interest in an age of cheap and ubiquitous media. As we watch the birds on Reverie’s patio, Newmark tries out some phrases he hopes to use in the coming months as he untangles Craigslist lessons. My main goal is to make representative democracy and grassroots democracy equal components of our government, he declares.

Jim Buckmaster

In 2000, Jim Buckmaster was employed as a programmer. He was made CEO a year later.

Tamara Brown/Artist Untied’s Plato Many people who have heard Newmark’s remarks in public find the ideal admirable but challenging to put into practise. What would such an approach mean in practice? This is not helped by the fact that if the Craigslist management style resembles a political system, it is not a democracy, but a lowly popular dictatorship. Its inner workings are obscure, it keeps no accounts of its income or expenses, has no obligation to respond to criticism, and all authority rests in the hands of one man. Ask Newmark about any feature you’d like to see on Craigslist and you’ll always get the same answer.

“Ask Jim,” he says.

“How do you get your opinion? Have you ever taken a poll or something?”

“The thought makes me tired. But you can give Jim that advice if you want.”

“What if Jim says no?”

“If you want to ask him again, you can,” he says.

At this point in our conversation I begin to feel Charlie Rose’s spirit upon me After all, Newmark founded the business, is a significant shareholder, and serves as its public face.

“What would it take for you to fire Jim?” I asked.

Newmark matches me with mischief.

“Ask Jim.”

It is easy to find hypocrisy in the idealism of a business owner who prescribes democracy to others and relieves himself of the tiresome burden of democratic consultation in the domain where he has the most power. But of course, Craigslist is not politics. It’s just an online classifieds advertising site, which manages to fulfill some basic human needs with astonishing efficiency.

The scale of this success is hard to overestimate. Craigslist gets more traffic than eBay or eBay has more than 16,000 employees. Amazon has over 20,000. Craigslist has 30. Craigslist may have little to teach us about how to make decisions, but that’s not the aspect of democracy that Newmark is most concerned with. He cares about the details, about getting all the little obvious things done that we want government to do. He declares, “Governance interests me more than politics. Customer service is public service.

Last year, Newmark received about 195,000 email messages. He estimated that about 60 percent was spam. He read all the others and gave many answers. He now has a boss, a customer service manager named Clint Powell, who was hired about six years ago. But he maintains his habits for reasons that have little to do with the normal logic of the task.

They are part of his identity, an unorthodox way of introspection through which he captures a barrier that has always separated him from the world and turns it into a kind of performance, Athletes compete, Artists create, Newmark responds to email. He knows it will look ridiculous on the outside, but he is blessed not to care. In fact, he loves to make people laugh whenever he can. Sometimes its intent is impossible to discern precisely, and this is essential to effect. On my way out of the cafe, I step aside to let Newmark go ahead, and he goes first, facing the plate glass door.

Jim Buckmaster is tall and thin, Newmark is short and rotund, and when they stand together they look like binary numbers. In 2004, I watched him give a speech in which Newmark, who is 5’7, stood on a milk crate and barely made eye contact with his CEO, who is 6’7. It was a memorable performance, but they don’t have many gig opportunities these days as their appearances together are rare. In the Craigslist office, the two men work in the same room, but their desks are set up so they sit back to back. They are not sociable, and in fact they almost never talk. Newmark doesn’t excel at chit-chat, and Buckmaster is also the quiet type.

In 1986, Buckmaster left the University of Michigan’s medical programme. He claims that the marketing sector experienced a boom.  He hung around the university for 10 years, studying classics, doing data entry work, and teaching himself programming. By 1999, he was working as a webmaster for a dotcom called Creditland in San Francisco, where he was unhappy. “There was a boom in the marketing side,” he says. On Craigslist, he placed his resume, and Newmark discovered it.

Craigslist was the exact opposite of Creditland. “It wasn’t even really clear who made the decision to hire me,” Buckmaster says. She looked around and started looking for things. He wrote forum software to allow users to interact. When he realized he had to manually review and publish each post, he created the automated process that allowed Craigslist to grow. He coded the search engine.

A year after his arrival, he was the CEO. There was no job competition, no formal transfer of power, and no instructions. I don’t think Craig has ever told me, ‘That’s the way it is,’ in the entire time I’ve been here, says Buckmaster. is the peace symbol found on the Craigslist website. Craig thought it was associated with hippies and that hippies were stigmatized,” says Buckmaster. has among the most desirable things.”

The long-running tech industry battle between engineers and marketers has been put to rest by the lack of marketers on Craigslist. Only programmers, customer service representatives, and accounting staff work on Craigslist. There is no business development, no human resources, no sales. Consequently, there are no meetings. Staff communicates via email and IM. It is a good environment for employees of a certain temperament. Not that we’re Shangri-La or anything, but no technical personnel has ever left the company voluntarily, claims Buckmaster.

The purity of this culture is its strongest defensive asset. A few years ago, Philip Knowlton, a Bay Area psychologist who was on Craigslist’s staff in the site’s early years, sold his 28 percent stake in the company to eBay. Buckmaster and Newmark approved eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, himself a programmer, as eBay’s representative on the Craigslist board. But at the time, Omidyar no longer ran eBay, and was replaced by an eBay vice president who oversaw the acquisition of a Craigslist competitor in Europe.

When eBay launched a competing service in the US, Buckmaster responded by rebranding Craigslist and weakening eBay’s influence. The companies have since sued each other. While complaints of duplicity hinge on questions of stock depletion and conflicts of interest, it’s hard to imagine any traditional business executive being satisfied with the way Craigslist operates. What type of company declares itself uninterested in profit maximization? Companies that want to generate the least amount of revenue should present consumers with as many opportunities to do so, according to Buckmaster.

We don’t want to do that, which, in my opinion, helps Craigslist succeed. I’m having a conversation with Buckmaster in Susan McTevish Best’s penthouse apartment in San Francisco; she runs a small public relations firm. For five years, Best and Buckmaster cohabitated as a couple.

 Although they’re now separated, they remain friends, and she continues to act as a kind of translation mechanism through which Craigslist management gestures and silences translate into press-friendly responses. . The questions, in recent months, have mostly been about sex and violence. That the world would expect Craigslist to take responsibility for the rare violent criminal who lures victims with an ad that makes Buckmaster ridiculous. He points to the thousands of people who die in auto accidents every year. Does somebody make a call to the head of GM and say, ‘Someone just died using your product? How can you sleep at night? Don’t you realize that a person has died?

Buckmaster’s passionate protest reflects his mind. Emotional appeals are more likely to arouse his skepticism than his sympathy, and he is especially prone to ridicule when complaints come from internet wannabes. He hears a lot of such complaints, because the most interesting thing about Craigslist is that a company designed and run entirely by programmers is so hostile to outsiders visiting the site. Want to draw neat technical tricks to improve. A few years ago, independent programmer Jeff Atwood created a service that would allow people to search multiple cities at once or search Craigslist globally. Buckmaster arranged some technical intervention to end it.

Another programmer named Ryan Sett created a service called Listpick, which scraped photos from Craigslist and put them into an interface for browsing: You could scan all the photos from apartment listings or adoptions. You can see all the dog pictures for Buckmaster also removed Listpik.

He had specific objections to both. Listpik ran ads, it put a huge load on Craigslist servers, and when he looked at traffic records, he saw that Listpik was being used mainly to enjoy the sexy photos that people were looking for. Post ads for your erotic services. Universal search defeats Craigslist’s mission to enable local, face-to-face transactions.

This increases the risk of scams and can be exploited to steal deals, giving technically sophisticated users an advantage over casual browsers. But the surface of these practical objections—many of which are likely technical solutions—indicates that the real explanation lies elsewhere, and with a minimum of pressure the Buckmaster will clearly state it. This is the reason why Craigslist never did anything that gained acceptance among web entrepreneurs, which is why it never updated its 1999-era web design. That’s because Craigslist users aren’t asking for such changes.

I hear it all the time,” Buckmaster says. “You guys are so primitive, you’re like cavemen. Don’t you have any sense of aesthetics? But the people I hear this from are always working for firms that want site remodeling work. Of all the complaints and requests we get from users, this is never one of them. Time spent on site, number of people posting — we’re the leader. It might be that we get one or two things right. doing”

That ends the argument for him, but his tone is oddly unconquering. In fact, Buckmaster’s customer loyalty statement has a tired tone that I didn’t understand until weeks later. Only after spending every spare hour on Craigslist—browsing ads, tracking spam, reading help forums, contacting customers—do I finally begin to understand his situation. The truth is, a lot of people complain about Craigslist. Buckmaster is right that few of them complain about the design.

They complain about spam, they complain about fraud, they complain about posting rules, they complain about search, they complain about uploading photos. They complain in every way that a classified transaction can go wrong. They rarely complain about the amazing new features that they imagine they might want to use, because they’re too busy complaining about the simple features that they miss. Dependent that they don’t work as they want. By eliminating marketing, sales, and business development, Craigslist programmers have cut away all cushioning layers that separate them from the customers they serve, and any right to teach them lessons in public service. It derives from the peculiarity of running a company. Directly subject only to the public. Here’s the lesson: The public is a motherfucker.

Craig Newmark says that Craigslist works because people are good, and he stands by that view without wavering. Whether you accept this as truth will depend on your standard of goodness.

Sometimes entire Craigslist categories are rendered almost unusable by spam. Con artists rig listings, pay sellers with fake cashier’s checks and trick buyers into sharing their credit card numbers. Other evils are more subtle. Business owners whose judgment is clouded by selfishness fail to understand the rules and put the same item in multiple categories or post it multiple times a day to ensure As it stands out, the crowd of other sellers gathers. The woman listing the car forgets to tell buyers about the problems with the title until they make the long drive to see it. All transactions have the potential for misunderstanding as well as abuse, and at 99.99% perfection there are still thousands of angry people every month.

Newmark says Craigslist works because people are nice. The fight flows back and forth. Captchas — garbled words that humans can interpret more easily than machines. Then it came back in full force, not because spammers had solved a hard problem in artificial intelligence but because they had hacked a simple problem in global economics. I recently struck up a friendly email dialogue with a young man in Dhaka, Bangladesh, who works on a 13-person team that spams Craigslist. He fills out Captchas, creates new accounts with masked IP addresses, and posts ads all day long using text from a database provided by his employer, an anonymous spam king.

A spam post on Craigslist costs about 50 cents, with a large discount for volume. When I told the Buckmaster about my new friend, he took the news with satisfaction. These are highly skilled individuals who take pride in their work, so when we take them down, they don’t simply decide to look for something else to do.  You could say we’re creating the perfect spammer.”

Without a computer science research department to work on evil-fighting algorithms, or a call center to take complaints, Buckmaster has taken a different approach, including Haiku. The short poems he has written appear on the screen at times when users might expect a helpful message from the staff. They serve as a cognitive signal that what you’re seeing is intentional, while discouraging further conversation or inquiry. For example, start too many discussions in forums and your new threads may fail to appear. Instead, you’ll see this:

Frogs croak and gulls cry.

Silently the river floods.

A red leaf is floating.

Try posting a message that’s similar to the one you’ve already entered, and it might appear:

A wafer thin mint

It has been shipped before it was seen.

One is enough, thanks

A slight delay in cognitive processing is what makes these haiku so valuable. They open up a space for reflection, during which you can rethink your need for service. But haiku can’t solve everything. There are thousands of users who support poems willing to spend two or three seconds flagging inappropriate ads or forum posts. Too many flags on an ad and it will disappear. Staff can reduce the number of flags needed to vaporize an ad if they want to clean up a particularly polluted category, and increase the limit if people are happy with the flag.

Users whose listings are flagged on the site have no indication of what they may have done to attract the ire. Instead, they are directed to a “FlagHelp” forum, where fake volunteers will offer an educated guess while having some fun at their own expense. Last spring, a puzzled user posted a question about why his ferret for sale ad had disappeared. Within 60 seconds came the reply: “Train the ferrets to read the terms of use. Maybe they can help you next time. The sale of pets is prohibited on this site.”

An ad may be flagged from the site for any reason. Reject too many people for job openings and they may still flag your ad every time they see it—and every new ad you post. Describe yourselves as seekers of the incredibly beautiful and sinister history that might sway you in favor of the innocent. The claim that Craigslist, used by millions of strangers, is somehow a democracy seems entirely believable, here in the crud, irritations, prejudices, and minor forms of harassment that characterize small-town life. Highlights where any of your suggestions are subject to. Everyone’s decision.

Flag something as inappropriate in the discussion forums, where Craigslist employees have the final say on what goes on, and these lines appear.

Thanks for flagging this

The staff will see it soon.

Hey, a dragonfly!

Buckmaster’s crafty haiku offers a whole scene. Somewhere, right now, an innocent party is staring at a computer screen, angry at an offensive comment. Someone else is trading gratuitous insults with the volunteers at the help desk. A third person is checking the site repeatedly, looking for a listing that was submitted but never appeared. All Craigslist can offer in these moments is a slant and fun in the style of a Dilbert cartoon. This is old fashioned.

But Craigslist is old fashioned anyway. It relies on e-mail and telephone in the age of SMS and social networks. It sticks to traceless transactions in an industry that collects data from every touch. And just as people running tech companies are growing confident in their ability to invent new forms of community based on sharing everything, Craigslist still treats social life as dangerously complex, too cautious. Deserves caution. Corporate secrecy, user anonymity, the rejection of excessive profits, and the slowly adopted new features all point to Newmark and Buckmaster’s insight into what people, including themselves, can accomplish when given the chance. are Despite the peace sign on every page, Craigslist’s implicit political philosophy has a tragic overtone and a strong conservative bent. The social web’s choristers share their advice on transparency and trust every day. Craigslist doesn’t follow any of that, and it grows every day.

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