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from Review Journal, February 21, 2004

NO COLOR: Online neighborhood for LV grows quickly
by Henry Brean

'Personals,' 'housing' and 'services' popular on craigslist offshoot

Forget Henderson and North Las Vegas, Southern Nevada's fastest growing community just might be the 4-month-old cybersuburb known as craigslist.

Since it was launched in November, the free online community, located at http://lasvegas.craigslist.org, has expanded by 30 percent to 45 percent, depending on which measuring stick you use.

The site is the latest offshoot of craigslist San Francisco, which was launched in early 1995 as one man's listing of "cool" Bay Area events. Now it serves as San Francisco's unofficial, Web-based commons area, a place crowded by users who spooled through 289 million pages and posted 650,000 messages last month alone.

In 2000, craigslist sites were added in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and six other cities. Craigslist Las Vegas was one of 14 new sites launched last year, bringing the total number of communities to 32.

"At the time, Las Vegas was the most requested place," said Craig Newmark, the site's founder and namesake.

Though its volume is only a fraction of what San Francisco receives, craigslist Las Vegas sees more traffic than the online communities launched at the same time in larger cities. The most popular categories here are "personals," "housing," and "services," which includes everything from Web design to exotic dancing.

Users can post almost any kind of message they want at no charge. Only employers must pay to place job listings on the site.

JoAnne Bykowski logs onto craigslist at least once a day, mostly to check out what people are talking about in the discussion forums, which are divided into 45 subject areas.

The 21-year resident of Las Vegas discovered the San Francisco site early last year when she saw a passing reference to it in the feedback area of another Web site.

The first thing she posted was a question about her Brittany terrier, Birdie, who had a skin condition on her nose. Within an hour, she got six responses.

Now she uses the site for everything, from advice about major home improvement projects to cooking questions that require immediate answers. She even weighs in on other people's questions from time to time.

Why would she, and scores of others, choose to trust the advice of a total stranger identifiable only by a cryptic, online name? "Because you're not paying for it," Bykowski said.

Absent the sometimes-corrupting influence of money, Bykowski said people in the discussion groups are there simply to volunteer their knowledge. "You still have freedom of choice. You can take the advice or not take the advice," she said.

Newmark put it another way: "You trust people and they tend to act in a trustworthy way."

Those who don't can expect to have their listings "flagged," a process by which users can call attention to shady characters, offensive content, potential scams and overpriced merchandise.

"Our site has a personality that reflects the people who use it," said Jim Buckmaster, chief executive officer and programmer of craigslist.

In that regard, "the Las Vegas site is not quite up to par yet," said Steven Ponce-Enrile, a frequent craigslist user and recent transplant from the Bay Area. "There's just not a lot of people using it."

Ponce-Enrile, who washes cars in the valet parking lot at McCarran International Airport, earns extra money building and repairing computer equipment. He uses craigslist to track down parts and sell his wares. "It's simple, like a bulletin board."

He discovered the site in 1996 the way most people do; he overheard some friends talking about it. Craigslist does not advertise, relying instead on word of mouth and an increasing amount of media attention.

In March, the passive publicity campaign by craigslist will hit the big screen when a documentary about the site debuts at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. The aptly named "24 Hours on craigslist" chronicles a female impersonator who sings classic rock songs as Ethel Merman, and other interesting characters who posted on the San Francisco site on Aug. 4, 2003, a day literally picked from a hat.

The popularity of craigslist continues to grow despite its no-frills appearance. The look of the site hasn't changed significantly in nine years. All of the text is in one of two basic fonts. There are no banner ads, no scrolling messages, no flashy logos.

"As is obvious to anyone who looks at it, the look and feel of the site is kind of a time capsule of 1995. But it loads quickly, and it's not crashing your Web browser," Buckmaster said.

Like the Internet as a whole, however, a good bit of it is nothing you want your children to see. The personals can be particularly racy, especially the area devoted to people, most of them men, seeking "casual encounters" of every stripe. There is also a discussion forum dedicated to kink.

The adult content isn't restricted to sexually explicit material. In one post, tourists planning a trip to Las Vegas made a plea for "marching powder." A call made to the New York City telephone number included with the post went unreturned.

Newmark said he has used craigslist to buy computer gadgetry and sell his car, a 10-year-old Saturn with ridiculously low mileage. "I'm a light driver," he said.

Buckmaster got his job with craigslist by posting his resume on the Web site in 1999.

Since then, he has used the San Francisco site to hire other craigslist staffers, sell a futon, and find a good place for pick-up basketball games.

Buckmaster has even posted in "missed connections," an area where people try to track down childhood friends and old flames or link up with someone they met briefly in a chance encounter.

"In my case, it was a `saw you on the other side of the train platform' sort of thing," Buckmaster said. "It didn't work."