A Few Things Learned from Craigslist
published: Aug. 7, 2012, recorded: November 2008, views: 3578
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In his unassuming way, Craig Newmark believes his eponymous website might just help nudge people toward greater civic engagement. While Craigslist.org “is a simple platform where people help each other out,” focusing on everyday needs like getting a job or an apartment, it is also a profoundly collaborative venture, with political potential.
Newmark outlines the Craigslist success story, which began as a hobby for him in the early 1990s. Newmark quickly detected the Internet’s social networking possibilities, and built an email list for friends “to get the word out on cool events, arts and technology.” He developed an instant fan base, with people suggesting new items to add to the list like “stuff to sell,” and he soon felt encouraged to expand. His name for the site was “SF Events,” but friends nixed that title, infinitely preferring their own version: “Craig’s List.” Says Newmark, “I had a brand already, and it was personal and quirky. I didn’t know what a brand was at that point, but I learned and they were right.”
By the end of 1997, the site was receiving one million page views per month, but was still being run on a volunteer basis. Newmark was doing software and customer service, and recognized he could not also provide strong leadership. As a self-professed nerd who “lived the Dilbert life,” Newmark grasped that his hobby had grown too big to manage on his own, so in 2000, after having formally incorporated, he hired a CEO, and threw himself into customer service, corporate governance, and staying on top of technological innovations that could enhance the website. Craigslist is now approaching 13 billion page views per month.
Through this explosive growth, Newmark has remained true to his business values: “We can do well as a company financially by doing good stuff for people.” He has no plans to sell Craigslist. “There’s nothing altruistic, noble or pious about it. We figure once we make enough money to live comfortably and provide for the future…it’s more satisfying to change things.” He’s been involved for years “with a guy named Barack” and views himself as a “community meta organizer,” using the internet to allow face to face communication on a scale of tens of millions. Some prominent interests: using social networking to spark volunteer national service; making government more transparent; shining a light on campaign financing, and helping out returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets and their families.
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