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from Spark Weekly, January 28, 2004

The day we (almost) met
By Ryan Cormier

At Craigslist.org you can find almost anything in your town - but the things people seek the most are their missed connections

It's probably happened to everyone. You pass someone in the subway, on the street or in a coffee shop. They see you, you see them. You smile, they smile. You don't act on it and go home for a prolonged sulking session. For the lovelorn, there may be a way to recapture that lost moment.

Craigslist.org, a wildly popular Web site - part personals, part yard sale - allows the lovesick to post messages about their fleeting crushes on a board known as Missed Connections.

"Sometimes you meet someone and don't do anything assertive and wind up being very pissed off with yourself," says Craig Newmark, the 50-year-old former IBM programmer who founded Craigslist in 1995. "That's even the case with me."

Giving people a second chance to make their first move was the idea of Newmark, a kind of anonymous cybercupid.

"I'm a bit of a romantic," he says.

From its birth in San Francisco, the site has grown to service 22 other cities, including Philadelphia, New York, London and Washington.

Jenn, a 24-year-old artist in Philadelphia, discovered Philadelphia's Craigslist (philadelphia.craigslist.org) about a year and a half ago.

One of her posts was to Missed Connections, the section of the board where people usually post messages to people they have never spoken to: women they passed on the street or a guy they saw at a concert.

Jenn, who wouldn't give her last name, says she reads Missed Connections all the time, and not because she thinks she will meet someone she has had a passing moment with.

"I read them because I like to see the personal side of people without knowing them or seeing them," she says in an e-mail. "People post things because they are too afraid to say things in real life. It's like reading someone's mind."

Jenn doesn't just post messages about people she hasn't met. One post was an extremely personal message to her boyfriend, from whom she separated:

"So, I didn't know we were together until we broke up. What the hell has been going on for the past few years? Have I not told you repeatedly that the emotional roller coaster was driven by the fact that we are together when we talk on the phone, when we see each other every few months, when we lay in bed alone at night and think of each other, but not when we are working on building our new lives, drinking in bars or dating other people.

"And now, now that we have seen each other, loved each other, created the perfect weekend, is the time you decide it's time to get off of the roller coaster. I have been going to bed early, refraining from drinking alcohol, all so that the will power against me picking up the phone remains in place.

"Why now? I don't want to do this, I want to move there, I want to be with you, I want to love you and give you things like yo-yos and Slinkies so you know I am thinking about you. I don't want this to end, I love the ride, and I don't want to ever get off. Missing you ..."

Is "What the hell is she thinking posting that?" your first question?

Well, Jenn says her boyfriend is still her best friend, and she just needed to let off some steam. "He doesn't read Craigslist. I know he will never read it," she says. "But it was a way for me to vent."

Other messages she has posted on MC, as Missed Connections is known, included a post to an emergency-room doctor who tended to her when she was sick and to a bike messenger she sees every once in a while.

She knows they will probably never reply.

"No one has to respond to it to work or for me to feel better," she says. "I use it because I know people like me will read it - the brokenhearted, the evil, the opinionated assholes, the sensitive types who will actually write e-mails to me commenting on my post."

Jenn says the replies are varied, ranging from "I wish you were writing about me" to "you are lame, grow up and get out of the house."

Messages to strippers are common on Craigslist, and they are normally hilarious. Whether that is intentional or not, only the writer knows.

Douglas Carrier, 25, of Boston, was in Philadelphia last week and ended up partying with a friend at Signatures, a gentlemen's club in Center City.

The next day, he posted the following message on Missed Connections:

"Porsha you hot 20 year old blonde dancer ... you danced for me twice in the back room. Your were the hottest girl there Saturday night. I asked if you did a side services on your own. ... I wish you did. You're are very pretty and hot."

So what was he thinking?

Well, he abruptly ended his interview for this article before we got that far. He might have realized this might not be a message he would want to talk about in detail.

But he said he regularly posts on the Boston Craigslist, selling stuff he doesn't need anymore and finding apartments.

He doesn't normally post to Missed Connections, he says. But he does read them. "Some of them are funny," he says, before adding, "but some are pretty serious." On the Craigslist site - a barebones jumble of categories and messages posted in blue against a simple white background - one can find dates, places for rent and available jobs.

Looking for tickets to a Radiohead show at the last minute? No problem. Need a used dresser? It's on there.

The personals and the MC posts are not for the bashful. We'll just leave it at that and let you use your imagination.

The no-holds-barred site is a commons of ever-interesting messages which have even spawned other sites. The most popular is a weekly column by Craigslist fan Amy Blair entitled Week in Craig (Blacktable.com), recapping the best of the best postings of the week.

"I read the site religiously," says Blair, 26, of New York.

The most entertaining Craigslist posts are on Missed Connections, she says, with writings that can be simultaneously comical and heartbreaking.

Missed Connections, launched three years ago, began as a place where you can post a message to that girl you were eyeing on the train, but didn't have the guts to approach.

It has now evolved into a place where you can also read drunken messages to an ex-girlfriend several years removed with the writer groveling for her to take him back.

Newmark admits that it's a real longshot that the person you encountered would read your plea, but there are success stories, he says.

"It does happen, although I don't know if it happens a great deal," he says.

For proof that connections are made, you need not look farther than Andrew Ettinger, a 31-year-old living in Manhattan.

In 1999, Ettinger shared a cab with a woman ("a 'Sex and the City'-type" who he says was out of his league) and left without getting her number.

Ettinger, who works in advertising, kept thinking about the woman even as years passed by. Finally, a friend urged him to write a post on Craigslist last July, a full three years after their "missed connection."

"The odds were so slim, but I figured it was worth a shot," he says.

After posting a message including the woman's name, where she went to college and any other information he could remember from their initial conversation, he got a reply in only two hours.

A friend of the woman saw his post and told the mystery gal about Ettinger.

"It was crazy," he says. "I'm still pretty jazzed about the whole experience."

The two had one date and that was it, but he says it was worth it.

Since then, he has become a self-described Craigslist addict, like many city dwellers in their 20s and 30s. He has bought furniture and found dates and roommates on the site.

"It's a lifestyle," he says. "You start looking at it every day."

For those addicted to Craigslist, any casual encounter can lead to an Internet posting, says Newmark, who still runs the site from San Francisco.

"It's something you can do instead of sitting by and doing nothing," he says.

The success of Craigslist - which gets about 4 million unique users a month - is still a bit surprising for Newmark.

"It's an odd, kind of stupefying feeling," he says. "In some respects I still don't believe it. In my gut, I still think of it as a hobby."

While it may be hard to tell which messages are for real, some are clearly meant as a joke.

Some are barbs thrown at politicians, celebrities and other well-known people.

Others mock MC users and the board itself, including this San Francisco post from 2002:

"You: black, Times New Roman font, English, well written.

"Me: cursor, lazily roaming around the screen, looking for a link to click.

"Your posting was beautiful. I tried to respond but my computer froze, and I was forced to log off. By the time I returned, you were gone, lost amidst a hundred thousand other sad Missed Connections. I tried to do a search for you, but just couldn't find you. Maybe you saw me too. If so write me back."