It is not far fetched to say that craigslist has become a household phrase all across the United States and has expanded to reach over forty countries worldwide. The site, which features everything from classified ads to car sales, originated as a community site for the San Francisco Bay Area, but has grown to 28th place for Internet companies worldwide (7th place in the U.S.), serving in excess of four billion page views per month.1 Perhaps the most remarkable aspect to craigslist is that most services offered on the site are absolutely free. This model, as conceived by craigslist founder Craig Newmark, relies heavily on a concept of trust and looks to foster a thoroughly connected, self-policing internet community.
Most recently, Mr. Newmark has stunned some by commenting that he is not interested in selling craigslist in an age when a popular site like MySpace.com has sold for $580 million. He was quoted as saying that he and craigslist Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster "know some people who own more than a billion (dollars) and they’re not any happier."2
Of course, it would be of inestimable value to know something about this unique philosophy that has made craigslist so successful – and what better way than to question the creative genius behind the site? Mr. Newmark has been extremely gracious and has taken the time to answer some questions that the O-Nerd staff posed to him in a recent email interview.3 Now those insights which have carried Mr. Newmark to the summit of the internet world and revolutionized web business, are available to you. What follows is a little glimpse into the philosophy, mechanics, and drive behind Craig Newmark and craigslist.org.
OmniNerd: You’ve said in the past that the success of craigslist can be attributed most directly to a "culture of trust" and "sense of community." Do you think this represents a new internet business model and, if so, do you feel your example is changing the face of business?
Craig Newmark: I just think it’s a new incarnation of the way people have always worked; I just hope that it’s somehow absorbed into corporate cultures.
OmniNerd: Are corporate cultures looking to craigslist for inspiration? Have you seen others out there emulating your business practices?
Craig Newmark: Anecdotally, we hear some of that; hard to tell, though.
OmniNerd: Undergirding business in the traditional sense is the rather ubiquitous profit motive. Yet craigslist seems to have done so well by purposefully putting profit on the back-burner, so to speak. Can you explain this remarkable phenomenon?
Craig Newmark: I remember hearing at IBM that if you focus on your customers, then treat them as you want to be treated, that’s more effective and profitable. That works, though people often forget it.
OmniNerd: As I understand it, craigslist’s rise to its current prominence has not been without some hiccups. What kept you going in the face of adversity and did you always believe that craigslist would be such a success?
Craig Newmark: I created some problems for CL, then got really good help, largely in the form of the current CEO, Jim Buckmaster.4
OmniNerd: At what point did you realize craigslist was "bigtime?" What milestones directly preceded that point in the history of the site? Was there any point after that initial realization that you thought the bottom would fall out?
Craig Newmark: I’ve never wanted to believe we’re "bigtime" and don’t focus on that. At times I kinda realized something was really going on, like hitting one million page views per month, end of ’97, hitting a billion, August ’04, and recently, we were a clue on Jeopardy.
OmniNerd: We at OmniNerd get questionable content submitted to us from time to time. Craigslist undoubtedly gets gigabytes of it every day. What has been your general stance on censorship? How do you draw the line between a free and open community and what’s simply uncalled for?
Craig Newmark: We don’t get a lot of it, and our community polices the site for the most part, using the flagging for removal mechanism.
OmniNerd: Given the amount of traffic that craigslist sees daily, one can assume that your site’s back-end must be rather large and complex. Additionally, it’s probably safe to say that your site started small and couldn’t have handled the load it does now. How did you plan for such massive growth? What do you think helped you the most in being able to scale to new demand?
Craig Newmark: Eric Scheide, our really good CTO, handles that. Eric and his team have built a scalable architecture, based on Linux, that does a lot of caching and grows vertically and horizontally as necessary.
OmniNerd: Now that craigslist is such a success, how much time do you spend a week directly working on the site? Browsing the site? What do you do with the rest of your time?
Craig Newmark: I’m full time in customer service, hope to do half time soon. Also, I do spend time working on media requests. My new hobby is working with the people changing the nature of news media, commenting on my blog, cnewmark.com, now and then.5
OmniNerd: Where would you like to see craigslist in ten years?
Craig Newmark: More cities, multiple language support, better customer service.
If you would like to know more about Craig Newmark, craigslist.org, or the mechanics behind the site, the following resources should be helpful:
- Craig Newmark’s blog: http://www.cnewmark.com
- craigslist: http://www.craigslist.org
- craigslist management: http://www.craigslist.org/about/management.html
- Database War Stories #5: craigslist: http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2006/04/database_war_stories_5_craigsl.html
1 "Related Info for: craigslist.org." Alexa.com. Accessed online 28 September 2006 from http://www.alexa.com/data/details/traffic_details?url=www.craigslist.org. Also see "pages vs employees." craigslist.org. Accessed 28 September 2006 from http://www.craigslist.org/about/pages.and.peeps.html.
2 "Craigslist founder says he won’t cash in." Reuters.com, 28 September 2006. Accessed 30 September 2006 from http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=internetNews&storyid=2006-09-28 T131335Z_01_L28672677_RTRUKOC_0_US-CRAIGSLIST.xml&src=rss&rpc=22.
3 All interview material was obtained via an email interview conducted by Will Waddell with Mr. Craig Newmark between 30 August 2006 and 31 August 2006.