from Record-Journal, June 21, 2004
Hartford area getting in on Internet's craigslist craze
by Paul LaRocco
Somewhere in Meriden, there's two cats living in exile. The situation is getting urgent.
"My baby is allergic and I just can't keep them," a young woman writes. "Right now, I have to make them live in the basement, please help!"
Meanwhile, another city woman "would like to take care of your kids." The catch?
"I do not have any references," she writes.
Among the couple looking for an East Side apartment and the teacher hoping to use her "sixth-year reading/remediation" degree to tutor students at the Wallingford Public Library, these are some of the pleas to be found on the newly launched Connecticut-branch of "craigslist.org." The site, already wildly successful in cities such as New York, Boston and Los Angeles, opened its "Hartford" link late last month.
More than a mere online-classifieds site or help-wanted database, craigslist, and its 780 million hits per month, has become a cultural entity of its own; a pop culture noun on par, in certain circles, with Yahoo!, Google and eBay. Reasons for the site's popularity range from its ultra-simplistic interface to its disparate offerings, such as ride shares, artists' forums and something called "missed connections" -- a place for people who have never actually met, and likely never will, to pine.
"Today you tied your hair up in a pretty way -- not that you are not pretty enough," a 25-year-old New Haven man wrote to his unrequited crush in a "missed connections" posting Wednesday. "I saw you first at Kofee? with a couple of guys around 7ish p.m. Then I saw you later at Starbucks around 10ish p.m. Do you have someone to walk you back? I hope you reached home safely."
Will their paths cross again? Will she even ever see her admirer's online declaration?
"Maybe someday I'd have the courage to speak with you," the post continued. "You're hot."
To craigslist founder Craig Newmark, a 51-year-old software engineer from San Francisco, something like this going on at the same place where you can sell your '95 Geo Prism and answer an ad for "physic detectives" is what makes the site unique.
"We're useful and effective," Newmark said, "but also, our site has kind of a personality to it that is the aggregate of the people who use it."
Newmark launched craigslist in San Francisco in 1995 as a way to let Bay Area friends know about happenings in the area. As positive feedback poured in, the site grew into something akin to a cyberspace community center, where nearly anything went. But it took five years for the idea to expand outside California. In 2000, Newmark launched sites in eight cities, including spots known for its young, techno-hip populations: Portland, Ore., Seattle, Wash., and Chicago.
But in the beginning, craigslist had nothing like oddball personal ads or "missed connections" postings. It wasn't until Newmark heard how women were creatively using his site for to meet men that those features were added.
"I spoke to these woman who would visit guys who were advertising for roommates. They said, 'In roommate ads, guys tell little stories about themselves -- and they don't lie,'" Newmark recalled. "Then I realized, our stories about people: we need them to connect, and a little ad tells a significant story about someone. We've kind of lost our sense of connection to other people, and the site is something that allows them to reconnect for that matter."
Today, craigslist operates sites in over 40 U.S. cities, with a dozen more -- like Anchorage, Omaha and Memphis -- planned to open before the end of the year. Sites in London, and major Canadian cities have also recently launched. And although it took nearly a decade for Connecticut to get its representation on craigslist, the company's CEO said it was only a matter of time.
"Proximity to an established market is a big factor, obviously," said Jim Buckmaster, "and Hartford is pretty close to New York, which is our number two city as far as traffic. It's also a large metro area in its own right."
Although it still goes by the "Hartford" label, Buckmaster said the Connecticut craigslist may soon become "Hartford/New Haven," or further, New Haven may be given its own link. For now, however, the site will continue to service the entire state, and one local software designer and consultant is happier for it.
"This is great," said Joe Pannone, who runs the Forza Computer Consulting company in Yalesville, as he looked at the site Wednesday. "As a developer, I'm a purist, and this is what we would create it."
Pannone was referring to the near bare-bones design of the site -- a trademark of craigslist that Newmark acknowledged as one of the biggest draws. That, and those slightly curious postings, of course.
"Been doing a lot of work around the house and am in desparate (sic) need of a strong theraputic (sic) massage," a man describing himself as "clean, normal, all-American," and "single," writes. He's looking for a female -- preferably from one of 9 towns, including Meriden and Southington -- to give him a massage. Though, like the woman with no references who would like to watch your kids, there's a catch.
"You don't have to be licensed," he writes, "but please be good! (or bad!)"
The former is how most people view the effect of craigslist in Connecticut thus far. According to Jen Bellemare, the woman who's trying to give away her two cats, the site "needs to get a bigger following."
Of course, she's got a serious reason to hope so. Her cats, by being exiled in her basement, "are lonely, and still have a lot of years to love someone." In the week that Bellemare's post has been on craigslist, there's been two responses, she said.
No one's come through yet, however. And the cats are still basement-bound.