Top 10 Things You Should Know About Craigslist it’s, origin, founder and the way it’s used today
10. Craigslist Began as a Tiny Email List in San Francisco
The number of famous entrepreneurs that have founded internet companies that became behemoths like eBay, Amazon, and Google are so few that most people recognize names like Pierre Omidyar (eBay), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), and Larry Page (Google). Who is the founder of Craigslist? Not surprisingly, it was a man named Craig. Once an employee of Charles Schwab, Craig Newmark was an early adopter of the internet and was convinced that people would be using the internet in droves once it became widely available.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Newmark said he started a simple mailing list for locals in San Francisco that would keep people up-to-date on various arts and entertainment events. As the email list became popular, he got in the habit of asking people for their opinions on the list, and he used their input to continuously improve. Eventually, the list grew to include communication about local jobs and other categories outside arts and entertainment. Realizing that he could turn the email list into a website that offered many other categories, he started working on the website with a few programmers. By 1999, Craigslist was formally created as a private, for-profit entity.
By the time 2000 rolled around, the company had grown swiftly to include many of the features seen today like the multi-city approach to listings, its search engine, and the discussion forums. What started as a small email list in San Francisco in the 1990s has grown to one of the most-visited sites in the United States with somewhere around 50 billion page hits every single month. One of the most incredible features of Craigslist is that the founder’s original intent with the website has remained a core part of its philosophy: to provide a friendly and usable service to the public.
9. Craigslist Uses Community Moderation to Police Its Site
According to Craigslist’s official page on community moderation, millions of advertisements are removed from the site every single month. The number of employees that Craigslist would need to have in order to perform the same level of listing removal would be incredible, and the website probably wouldn’t be able to survive in its advertisement-free format. Interestingly, Craigslist does admit that the moderation system isn’t perfect and that some advertisements are removed even though they don’t violate the terms of service.
Unfortunately, some overzealous Craigslist users actually go further by using software designed to flag certain postings with the intent of getting them deleted from the site. According to an article from Washington-basedKomo News, some users feel targeted by “flagging fanatics” who go out of their way to delete posts from particular users on the site. Sometimes, competing businesses making money from advertisements on Craigslist engage in flagging wars in order to make sure that competitors can’t get their advertisements listed. Interestingly, Craigslist has refused to publicize the number of flaggings a post requires before it’s automatically deleted from the website.
8. Craigslist Banned Sales from Puppy Mills After Public Outcry
For many years, one of the most popular types of sales on Craigslist featured animals from puppy mills, but the company received bad press regarding those advertisements because of the poor conditions in which animals from puppy mills are treated. A report published by the International Fund for Animal Welfare described how they tracked a variety of websites considered “high volume” for their sales of mill puppies. Researchers found that over 730,000 puppies were put up for sale in just one day, but that over 60% of those advertisements were from puppy mills. Activists have long targeted Craigslist for its puppy listings and have requested the company ban puppy advertisements.
After mounting criticism on its animal listings, the company changed its policy to ban advertisements from puppy mills. In its section of prohibited items, the company says pet sales aren’t allowed on the website; however, they do allow pets to be listed on the site with what’s referred to as a “re-homing” fee. While the steps taken by the company were appreciated by various rescue groups and animal organizations, the move wasn’t seen as good enough to actually prevent sales of animals from mills. One of the complaints from animal activists was the fact that puppy mills could use the re-homing fee as a way to sell animals, which would allow them to bypass the ban on outright animal sales.
Further, it would seem that the odd practice of “pet flipping” has also become popular on the website, which has disturbed animal advocates. A report by a local ABC affiliate in Missouri revealed that people have gotten into the practice of adopting pets and then selling them on Craigslist for a profit.
7. Craigslist is Run on Open Source Software
One of the biggest investments of an internet business is the software used to build the website and house its content, as well as provide visitors with a particular type of user experience. Companies will hire programmers to create software from scratch using various programming languages like Linux, MySQL, and Perl. Alternatively, they’ll purchase software that’s already been created and is appropriate for a particular type of interface. The interesting thing about the software that powers Craigslist is that it’s all from open source. Software that’s classified as open source is free for the public to use, and anyone can redistribute it or modify it.
On the official Craigslist website, the company is a “big believer” in open source and uses several different programming languages to create its website. In addition to using open source software to program its website, the company also provides links to the open source projects to which it has contributed. In fact, the company created a charitable organization called the craigslist Charitable Fund (CCF), and a variety of open source nonprofit organizations have benefited from donations from the fund. Some of the open source groups to receive money from Craigslist include the Perl Foundation, the Open Source Initiative, and the Python Software Foundation.
It’s possible that anyone interested in creating a website exactly like Craigslist could do so by using the same software employed by Craigslist’s programmers to create their website. Craigslist even provides links to information on each of the programming languages and codes that the company used to build its website. For example, one of the programming languages used is called Haraka, and it’s used by websites like Craigslist that receive heavy traffic each month.
6. Craigslist Maintains a “Best Of” Listing of Its Strangest Posts
Every once in a while someone will share a crazy listing on Craigslist with their friends, and the posting goes viral because it’s so odd. There was the one about the woman who wanted to rent out her bathroom, and that one about the one-night-stand who lost her dentures. There was even one post about a couch for sale that would require time travel. Because of the free nature of Craigslist, they’ve had an incredible problem with spam, and many people have come to regard the internet’s premiere classifieds site as the number one place for spammers to acquire easy targets.
Anyone who has an email address usually puts up with a lot of spam, but it’s possible to be fairly careful with an email address and limit the amount of spam coming in. Unfortunately, Craigslist is a hotbed of spammers who gather email addresses, phone numbers, and other personal information to engage in fairly innocuous projects like email spam to more serious endeavors like identity theft. Additionally, anyone who sells anything on Craigslist has a significant chance of being contacted by a fake buyer.
However, despite these assumed dangers and the healthy community of spammers that Craigslist houses, the website remains the single best option for people who want to sell something online to a local buyer. Websites like eBay charge a fee to list an item and then there’s the shipping to consider, as well as the credit card transactions. Craigslist, on the other hand, allows its members to list virtually anything without having to pay a penny. Your grandmother’s jewelry? That old tube television? A broken cell phone? Wording an advertisement with enough pithy sentences and wit might just get the listing posted to the best of Craigslist.
5. Craigslist was Accused of Promoting Prostitution
For several years, one of the features that brought in revenue to Craigslist was its adult services section. Generally inhabited by escort services, massage parlors, and other groups that offered erotic services, the adult services section came under fire after various groups said the website was promoting prostitution, as well as child pornography and sex trafficking. Craigslist resisted changing its website for several years, but a few lawsuits and some bad press soon led to changes. One of the most significant events that led the web site to retire its adult services section was an open letter that two women posted in The Washington Post.
The letter said that one of the girls had been forced into prostitution at the age of 11 and that most of her time was spent handling advertisements on Craigslist. She’d been taken all over the country for prostitution and accused Craigslist of making it easy for people to conduct human trafficking. The other girl said she’d been forced into prostitution at truck stops and that hundreds of Craigslist advertisements were taken out during her time on the street. She said the man who forced her into prostitution made $30,000 every month from posting Craigslist advertisements.
The company was also sued in 2009 by a sheriff in Illinois who claimed that the website was knowingly promoting prostitution. The lawsuit demanded that Craigslist shut down its erotic services section. The court found that Craigslist was immune to the wrongdoings of its users according to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Despite the sheriff’s loss with the lawsuit, Craigslist eventually retired its adult services section and kept a basic personals section.
4. Craigslist Only has About 40 Employees
Dominant internet and technology companies have thousands upon thousands of people working for them, but Craigslist is a true anomaly in that department. Internet titan Google was measured at over 53,000 employees in 2014, eBay had more than 34,000 employees, and Amazon had an incredible 154,000 employees. Even “small” internet companies as far as employee figures were concerned had thousands of people working. Facebook was pegged at over 9,100 employees, Yahoo had 12,500, and Twitter had just over 3,600. Clearly the value of companies like Google and Amazon is many times more than that of Craigslist, but the fact that Craigslist only has around 40 employees is incredible.
The official fact sheet from Craigslist reveals that around 40 people work at its offices in San Francisco. Not surprisingly, open job listings from the company are listed through their website and are all in the San Francisco Bay area. To lure high quality applicants, the company says it’s a “tech nirvana” and doesn’t require employees to attend boring sales and marketing meetings or bow down to people with MBAs or to venture capitalists with a huge stake in the company. The company even boasts as one of its perks a CoffeeBot 9000.
Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, decided to transform his email list to an actual website in the late 1990s with the help of just a few employees. Around 2000, the company only had around nine employees, and they all worked out of Newmark’s apartment in San Francisco. That number had more than doubled about six years later, but it would take several more years before the company would reach its current level of approximately 40 employees.
3. eBay Owns About a Quarter of Craigslist
One of the most surprising features of the Craigslist business model is how long they’ve sustained a successful website without turning to paid advertisements and user fees. Many of the internet’s biggest players rely upon advertising revenue and place advertisements on virtually every page. Every Google search comes with a dozen advertisements, eBay runs advertisements around its auctions, and Facebook is littered with advertisements. Craigslist, on the other hand, has remained blissfully free of banner advertisements and other routine ads.
What makes the lack of adverts on Craigslist even more incredible is that eBay owns a fair amount of the company, but it hasn’t been able to gain control of enough of the company to force it to include advertisements to make more money. eBay bought around a quarter of the company in 2004 when someone who was part of the company decided to sell. The owners and operators of Craigslist were so incensed that eBay had acquired such a large stake in the company that they tried to dilute eBay’s shares so that they wouldn’t control as large a percentage of the company. The dilution of stock occurs when a company issues more shares, which means current stockholders end up with a smaller overall ownership of the company.
In 2008, eBay brought a lawsuit against Craigslist and charged that the company had engaged in “antitakeover moves” that diluted eBay’s share of the company from 28.4% to 24.9%. eBay also alleged that Craigslist tried to make it difficult for eBay to sell their shares. Although the trial was decided in eBay’s favor regarding the stock dilution, the judge didn’t force Craigslist to backtrack the steps it took to keep eBay from being able to name a director to Craigslist’s board.
2. Craigslist Receives More Than 50 Billion Pageviews Every Month
The majority of visitors to Craigslist come from the United States even though the company has created local pages for cities all over the world. Measurable visitor levels outside the United States tend to come from India and Canada. According to internet statistics website Alexa, Craigslist ranks at 11th for overall traffic in the United States and 61st worldwide. When people visit the site, they tend to view around 16 different pages and spend somewhere between 12 and 13 minutes surfing. The only sites that tend to get more visits than Craigslist are search engines like Google, video streaming sites like YouTube, and consumer sites like eBay and Amazon.
According to data company 3taps, a significant portion of the site’s revenue comes from the San Francisco Bay area, which isn’t surprising since the website began in that locale. Another hotspot for visitor activity is New York City, which also boasts significant revenue from its apartment listings. California metropolitan areas like San Diego and Los Angeles also provide a respectable amount of revenue, as do East Coast cities like Washington D.C. and Boston. Although Craigslist survives solely on the income from these job listings and a limited number of housing listings, their prices for listings remain far below those of competitors like Monster and Career Builder.
With its focus on improving the user experience and a lack of interest in making big profits, Craigslist has been able to reduce the number of true competitors. Virtually no other company the size of Craigslist has been willing to run on a platform that’s not driven by profits. It’s conceivable that another company could beat Craigslist at its own game in the future, but it’s highly unlikely. Everyone wants profits.
1. Craigslist Owners Won’t Reveal Its Revenue
With billions of hits every month and scores of classified advertisements, the owners of Craigslist could probably earn billions of dollars a year. However, the company has maintained a surprisingly ad-free interface with its revenue based upon just a small portion of the overall listings on the site. The company has said it hasn’t made a profit since its inception in the late 1990s, and that making money isn’t part of its business model. As one of the sites in the United States with the most overall traffic, seeing Craigslist pass up the chance to make billions of dollars has annoyed Wall Street investors who’ve considered the company a potential cash cow.
Other websites and print newspapers have traditionally charged for listings, which has created some animosity between Craigslist and newspaper publishers. One of the major sources of income for Craigslist is its job listings, and employers and job-seekers alike have been migrating to the internet for years instead of relying on traditional print job listings. Besides fees for job listings, Craigslist also charges for apartment listings in New York City. Those listings are the only other area besides job listings where the company pulls in revenue. The company once charged for adult-only listings for escorts, but public pressure led to the canceling of that section of the website.
Estimates published by ABC News suggest revenue at Craigslist was around $7 million in 2003 and has risen to an astonishing $120+ million in recent years. Revenue reportedly saw a slight decline during the Great Recession, but the post-recession economy has been particularly nice to Craigslist with continued growth seen each year.
Basic and easy to use, Craigslist has become a part of millions of lives in its history. From helping people find jobs to getting those things in the attic sold, the website has truly accomplished its goal of becoming a simple and useful community website for local interactions. Its method of community moderation is unique in that it allows the company to remain small and tidy as far as its workforce is concerned.
Craigslist does have its critics, and there have been some controversies in its history, but it’s weathered the storm particularly well. It should be fascinating to see how Craigslist grows in the future and if they’ll be able to hang on to their advertiser-free interface and free classifieds. Just about everything of value on the internet costs money these days, and yet Craigslist has been operating for years without making its users shell out the big bucks for its valuable services.