Here Are the Answers to Your Craigslist Questions

Craig Newmark and Jim BuckmasterCourtesy of Craigslist

Last week, you submitted lots and lots of questions for Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster, the founder and CEO, respectively, of Craigslist. They couldn’t answer every question but I think you’ll agree they’ve given us a lot of good answers, time, and ideas. I was particularly intrigued by Jim’s statement that investigative journalism has actually been damaged by newspapers’ past financial prosperity. While I don’t quite buy his argument, I see the logic behind it. Another topic for another day. Thanks to Craig, Jim, and all of you for participating.

Q: What do you think of the challenges to Craigslist posed by Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites that have the ability to implement similar free classifieds (such as Facebook’s “Existing Marketplace“)?

JIM: As Mae West once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

CRAIG: If these sites genuinely help people connect, then that’s always a good thing.

Q: How do you manage 450 massive classified Web sites with only 24 employees? More specifically, what internal processes and editing are involved?

JIM: We’ve bloated up to 25 staffers now, but the reality is that the 100 million Craigslist users prefer to manage the site for themselves, and are much better at it than we are. We hope they’ll remember us fondly.

Q: Do you care if something better comes along to replace Craigslist? Is your goal to enhance peoples’ lives, or to see Cragislist succeed? If something else came along that did a better job of enhancing peoples’ lives, would you acknowledge it as such and not fight it?

CRAIG: If something serves people better, they will vote for it with their clicks.

JIM: If there was a better Craigslist that was genuinely well-intentioned and sustainable, that would certainly make our lives easier.

Q: Do you have a favorite post of all time?

CRAIG: There’s the guy who wanted someone else to take the CPA ethics test for him. I’m also a sucker for people who’ve found lost dogs, or, in three separate cases, kidney donors.

Q: What was the first post ever to be posted on Craigslist?

CRAIG: The first emails had to do with Joe’s Digital Diner, and parties at the AnonSalon.

Q: Are there any plans to redesign the site and update its look?

JIM: A wag once said that Craigslist has all the visual appeal of a pipe
wrench, which we took as a compliment. But we are always trying to make the site easier to use, more accessible, and even speedier.

Q: How has the international section picked up? Are there international cities that have picked up on the service successfully?

JIM: We hear that Craigslist is the cat’s pajamas in Canada, and it’s becoming more popular in cities like London, Paris, and Tokyo. Local language translations (duh!) should make our international sites more accessible.

Q: Please explain how the flagging process works. I have had several legitimate posts flagged in the past and have never received any response in contacting support to ask why.

CRAIG: With over 30 million people per month visiting our site, the most effective way to deal with bad stuff is to enlist the community in self-policing. So if you find an ad that’s wrong, please flag it, and if others agree with you and flag it themselves, then it’s removed automatically. Almost always, flagged ads that were thought to be legitimate later proved to have violated community-requested guidelines.

Q: Is Craigslist good at self-policing? (Meaning, is it at least twice as effective as our government, however that’s measured?) Or is the policing system really made up of norms and policies established by you two and your 25 minions?

CRAIG: What works for us is the culture of trust our community has built with us. We have two core values: treat others like you want to be treated, and live and let live.

JIM: Benchmarking Craigslist against the government is setting the bar pretty low, which we appreciate. Seriously though, I am continually impressed by the wisdom and fairness of Craigslist users in setting community guidelines and then enforcing them.

Q: Are you taking any steps to prevent real estate agents from killing the value of your site by incessantly posting the same apartments? It’s a huge waste of time to go visit apartments all over the place because crucial information isn’t included in the description, and real estate agents are withholding it just to preserve their stranglehold on the business.

CRAIG: We solved that problem in New York City by charging a small fee.

JIM: We’re always open to new ideas. Please drop by our feedback forum.

Q: Is Craigslist planning on cleaning up the spam? Will there be a paid subscription service eventually? I would be happy to pay $10 just to have access without spam.

CRAIG: Our community flags away most of the spam, but we still need help flagging … as well as help from Internet service providers, who aren’t proactive regarding the problem.

JIM: Of course, users don’t see the vast majority of spam submitted to the site, and I think we can make further improvements without resorting to draconian measures such as charging for site access.

Q: What would you like to see the Web do that Craigslist can’t do?

JIM: User generated governance (UGG) by a networked citizenry to disintermediate ineffective (or worse) politicians and lobbyists, in an ultimate expression of the democratizing power of the Internet.

CRAIG: Counter disinformation, particularly some of the stuff appearing on the Web regarding the forthcoming presidential election.

Q: I know you guys don’t want to sell out to make a fast buck, and I
appreciate that independent spirit. But you could be making more money by charging minimally for posting in certain categories. Wouldn’t it be worth it to obtain that money, and donate it to non-profits, charities, or other worthy causes?

JIM: The traditional philanthropic model is to make as much money as possible and then give a percentage back to the community. We do donate more than 1 percent of our revenues to charitable causes, but we feel it is much more important to serve the community directly as our primary business.

CRAIG: It’s more effective to let people keep the cash. We also see
that groups like the Gates Foundation have lots of money to donate, but it’s very hard to do so in a sustainable way. No one has really figured it out yet.

Q: With such an incredible amount of information on your Web site and in your databases, have you found uses for, or do you plan to use the site’s data in any way?

JIM: It sounds old-fashioned, but we generally don’t view information submitted by our users as data to be used for other purposes.

Q: How do you feel about your own media coverage? I see that Craigslist
often gets reported on as the de facto way of picking up prostitutes.

JIM: We’ve been hearing increasingly from newspaper reporters who confide that they are only allowed to write negative stories about Craigslist these days, because we’re viewed as competition by their newspaper’s business managers. And, obviously, sex sells papers, more so than stories about finding a used couch, so while we do follow our media coverage, most of our attention is devoted to direct feedback from our users.

CRAIG: We’re comfortable with anything honest, including good research and fact-checking.

Q: Tell us about the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

CRAIG: It’s a group that is doing a lot of the heavy lifting involved in online rights, including notable efforts regarding attacks on rule of law by crooked politicians.

Q: Do you like the movie 24 Hours on Craigslist?

CRAIG: I think it’s a pretty good film about the people who use our site in San Francisco.

Q: My personal experience is that Craigslist is extremely useful in the Bay Area, but not so useful in Des Moines, Iowa, where fewer people know about it. How do you generate the scale to make your service valuable? Have you advertised or considered advertising?

CRAIG: We really don’t advertise or promote in any significant way, and we don’t market the site. Word of mouth has worked well for us.

JIM: Surprisingly, postings to smaller markets like Des Moines often get more page views than ones in large cities where there are more postings competing for attention.

Q: Do you see a smart online business model for traditional media that will permit newspapers and other publications to continue to do deep reporting and attract talented journalists?

CRAIG: Not yet. While there are people working on it, like Jay Rosen and Dan Gillmor, no one’s figured it out yet.

JIM: Investigative journalism at traditional media outlets has been hurt badly by financial prosperity. The bigger and more successful the media companies get, the more likely they are to be dominated by bottom-line business managers, and from a business standpoint it makes no sense to alienate the most powerful persons and institutions, who by definition are those most in need of investigative reporting. Hence the lack of tough questions from well-funded media, leading to a misled public and situations like this disastrous war in Iraq.

Q: I’m surprised I couldn’t find any mention on Craigslist of the fabulous new “Craigslistlieder” songs with texts from actual Craigslist posts composed by the talented songwriter Gabriel Kahane and premiering this week at the Houston Grand Opera. Did you ever envision Craigslist becoming so ingrained in popular culture that it would inspire art?

JIM: No, but I often sing postings to myself when I’m in the shower.

Q: Do you ever hear success (or horror) stories that arose from your Missed Connections or other post categories? If so, what’s your favorite one?

CRAIG: I know a couple of people in the neighborhood who found their steadies via Missed Connections.

JIM: In addition to many “missed connections” that have resulted in love and marriage, we frequently hear of users finding high school sweethearts, old friends, and even long-lost siblings and biological parents. The odds are much better than they seem at first blush.

Q: Do you use Craigslist yourself? If so, in what areas?

JIM: I found my current job and several dwellings on Craigslist, and have bought and sold lots of stuff, and I use the discussion forums daily.

CRAIG: I’ve used it to sell my car, and to buy and sell small electronics, and sometimes to get the word out in causes I support. Now and then Missed Connections is just a good read.

Q: Do you find that the Craigslist boards in each of the different cities have noticeably different styles or are used differently? For example, years ago a friend and I contrasted the “tones” of the personals boards in San Francisco and New York.

CRAIG: In New York City, I’ve observed differences in the housing postings, since real estate is a blood sport there.

Q: As a longtime Best Of Craigslist fan, I’d like to know if the winning posts are based on the number of flags, or if there is a review process?

JIM: We try to winnow the nominations down to original postings that seem worthy of a laugh, a cry, or a think.

Q: I was recently looking for a TV on Craigslist, and I found a post about a free 42-inch TV in downtown Boston. Much to my chagrin, I emailed the poster and it ended up being a shady promotion. What (if any) safeguards has Craiglist put in place to prevent these scam-like posts from occurring?

CRAIG: Mostly flagging, but we also have measures we can’t disclose. Again, we could use help from some ISPs.

Q: How does one reconcile their inner anarchist with their outer corporate self?

JIM: I always tried to avoid having a corporate self, which was a bit career-limiting initially, but worked out okay for me in the long run.

CRAIG: For me, it’s mostly listening to my moral compass, particularly the whole Golden Rule thing.


No 1 of Consequence

Awesome interview! Craigslist is the grandmother to social networking as we know it and Craig and Jim are lighting the way. I am tweeting this link to twitter right now.

Keep up the good work

No 1 of Consequence

Tirade

Good read. Kudos to Jim and Craig for taking the time out of their busy lives to answer a few of our questions!

Linda

Jim....Jim....Mae West did not say "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery". It was Charles Caleb Cotton in the early 19th C. Mae West was way too dumb to be so profound.

Charles

You have to love the personal touch in each answer. Gave a very 'open book' feel to the entire interview.

Eater

I'm disappointed (although not surprised) they didn't answer the question about blocking Listpic.

"What have been the repercussions of your decision back in June to block listpic.com? Has the aftermath of that decision caused you to rethink how Craigslist should balance the simplicity of a text-based interface and the convenience of images?"

Toni

Mae West was far from dumb, but you are correct about the quotation. As for the interview, I'm all a-flutter that they answered my question. Thanks for the forum.

Anne (Listpic question asker)

Me too, Eater. Disappointed but not at all surprised.

Paul

Linda, Mae West may not have originated the quotation, but she obviously saw its merit. After all, you know what they say about imitation...

BlackAndy

I agree with Jim's assessment of why the news media is increasingly complacent...as large news and media institutions become an ever-more-integrated part of the Status Quo, they are less and less likely to (probably because they cannot) question it. After all, it's a lot easier to do something that you might get sued over when you have less to lose (and when you don't have someone looking over your shoulder pressuring you not to do things that can get you sued).

At the same time, I think that simply looking at large news/media institutions' increased financial power for an explanation of current trends isn't taking the larger picture into account. Plenty of smaller outlets (some of them on the fringes of the big players, some wholly independent) are in fact willing to ask these questions...they just don't always have the expertise or scope (yet) to really do so effectively. And there are still some bigger players that are willing to ask questions and point fingers, although notably fewer and notably less often these days.

But you probably won't find them on the boob tube; the TV networks have too much to lose, and in this world even the 24hrs don't have enough time to go into depth on much of anything before a new cycle begins. Video on the web, however, is showing itself as having the power to transform this, although exactly how that's going to play out is still up in the air, and print on the web (and especially forums like these) encourages a lot of people to become more involved in what's going on. You'll see this play out locally first, but as time moves on I think it'll move up the chain to regional and eventually national/international news reporting and commentary.

Read more...

kim

Craig and Craigslist are great. Notice how much different these guys are than Ballmer and Gates?
Wow, I just thought about a Microsoft "List" site. It would load tons of spyware on your computer, maybe "trial" versions of lots of stuff, it could only be viewed with Explorer and MediaPlayer, etc. It would charge a fee of coures.
Thank god for Craigslist, Google, Openoffice, Linux, Apple, etc.

Joe DiStefano

I'm a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Thanks for posting these comments from the Craigslist crew. A couple of Jim's howlers were worth the price of admission. I laughed at his throwaway claim that unnamed reporters from unnamed outlets have confided to him that they're under orders from "business managers" to write anti-Craigslist stories. Also his backward notion that rich news organizations face more content pressure than poor ones. Real reporting takes resources, both to write it and to defend it. Cheers, Joe DiStefano, Philadelphia.

Craig Newmark

for people interested in listpic, check out:

http://sfbay.craigslist.org/bik/

(an experiment)

Craig

Vern at AimforAwesome

I love Craigslist for the speed of the site. I don't need photos everywhere. I don't need gui-ness. I just want INFO fast! Thanks Craig - awesome site. I'm in Bangkok and we use it quite a bit. I've posted about 20 ads on there for FREE. What better deal than that? You guys rock. Vern

Easton Ellsworth at BusinessBlogWire

I can't look around my home without seeing traces of Craigslist all over the place - the old stuff that's gone and the new stuff that's arrived. Anyone else have that experience?

Thanks for the Q&A, guys!

Joseph

And that is why I've been a loyal user of Craigslist since 2002.

James

Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions.

I like the listpic test. It looks quite nice and functional.

As a suggestion, how about having the general layout css-able / theme-able. That might stop some of the complaints about the bland look (although I personally am a big fan).

Michael Drips

As I write this, I can hear my used dryer running that I found on Craigslist for less than the cost of repairing my old dryer (which has been passed along for free to a new owner via Craigslist).

I love Craigslist. I am currently using it to find a particular used car and a house in Maine so that I can move out of California.

SF_Gal

I love love love CL. I use it for buying/selling, finding my apartment, finding my last two jobs, and also for pure entertainment.

I do NOT need there to be ANY additional frills. NO! Don't give in to the hype!!

Des Moines will eventually catch on like everyone/where else has. NYC, when first launched was pitiful. But now? C'mon, who even gets the Village Voice at 4:00am on Thursdays anymore to look for apartments? Do even read the classifieds of your local paper at all anymore? I don't.

I showed my boyfriend the site and pointed him to the parisian edition(where he lives...sniff) and he was beyond thrilled. It's all about word-of-mouth.

Lastly, CL has become the better easier EBay for local shizz. You post it, someone sees it, they buy it. No waiting for a week or more for the auction to end, no shipping, it's awesome.

Oleg K.

Kudos to Craig and Jim for being so forthcoming in their answers and for taking the time/putting in the effort to satisfy the curiosity of users/future users.

Thank you very much. (If only more business leaders would be like you the world would be a different place.)

anonymous

The little thumbnail pictures in the experimental bike page are a nice start but they need to go further.

Listpic was the *perfect* interface, since no ad without pictures is worth reading.

License the Listpic interface.

And keep a text-only page for clueless luddites .