from Time Magazine, March 3, 2003
Find it on Craig's List
By Anita Hamilton
Need a part-time lover or a secondhand sofa? This quirky site has it all
Craig Newmark runs his empire from the first-floor parlor of a tidy Victorian-style flat in San Francisco's cozy Cole Valley neighborhood. "I spent all morning fighting evil," says the soft-spoken computer programmer, who founded a modest electronic mailing list for local San Francisco events in 1995 that has spread to 17 other cities, from Phoenix, Ariz., to Boston, and evolved into a virtual community drawing more than a million visitors a month. Through its online classified ads, racy personals and raucous discussion groups, Craig's List craigslist.org) has become the best one-stop-shopping place for everything from jobs and housing to yoga lessons and one-night stands.
The evil that Newmark believes he is fighting is spammers, scammers and other cyberparasites who threaten to chase away his site's loyal following. "The culture of trust we've built is a really big deal," says Newmark, 50, who spends most of his workdays patrolling the message boards and dealing with customer-service problems reported by members. "We have to re-earn that every day."
The site is free to use (except for a $75 fee for job postings in the Bay Area) and free of annoying banner and pop-up ads. Its only revenue comes from the job postings, but that's enough to pay a staff of 14 and still be profitable, says Newmark. In fact, while other Internet businesses were collapsing, Craig's List was enjoying a growth spurt. Over the past year, its traffic has doubled, according to research firm Nielsen/NetRatings, overtaking Yahoo Classifieds.
In contrast to big commercial sites such as eBay, Craig's List has kept its homegrown, grass-roots feel. Customers in cities like San Francisco often complete their transactions in person. Quirky listings abound. "I have a dead raccoon. Looks like a male. About 15 lbs. ... Will sell for cash to highest bidder or trade for Six Feet Under - The Complete First Season on DVD," reads one. In the community section, members post everything from grocery-store etiquette to tips on how to give a cat a pill. In the forums, visitors rant against the projected war on Iraq and seek advice on how to unstick windows.
Perhaps most impressive is the enthusiasm of the site's users. Veronica Bailey, 31, an actress in New York City, says she spends an hour or two on it each day. "It's hilarious," says Bailey, who has used Craig's List to land a role in an off-off-Broadway musical, find roommates, get dates and score concert tickets. Terry Larimore, 50, a psychotherapist in Larkspur, Calif., adopted a pet rat through the site last summer. When Fuzz died in January, Larimore posted a death notice and received over 70 condolence emails, including poems and links to pet-loss grief programs.
Newmark's personal touch is part of the appeal. A self-professed nerd who wore plastic pocket protectors and thick black glasses in high school, Newmark insists that he's not out to get rich but to create a place "where people can get everyday stuff done." He likes to play practical jokes, such as issuing a press release on April Fool's Day stating that there was, in fact, no Craig. And he's proudest of the "random acts of kindness" he often sees on the site, such as the woman who offered her vacuum cleaner to a public school or the British immigrant who gave someone advice on securing a work visa.
As with any community, of course, not everyone is kind. "There is a lot of angst and anger," says Leslie Tagorda, 29, a technical writer in San Francisco. Especially in the forums, in which people are free to rant. "I wish they weren't so rude," she says. But she turns back to the screen to read more, admitting "I'm an addict. It's just a lot of fun."