from Chicago Tribune, September 28, 2004
Best of Craig's List gives the inside scoop on others' lives
By: Eric Gwinn
If you've ever wondered whether everybody else's life is bigger than yours, the answer is yes. Don't believe me? Hang out at Best of Craig's List.
You'll howl at the (apocryphal?) account of a pit bull-raccoon staredown at 3 in the morning.
Smack your forehead at the unpretentious brilliance of a personal ad that perfectly encapsulates the differences between flawed modern men and the flawed, forgiving women they seek.
Gasp at a picture of a dusty car imprinted with the bodies of two naked strangers who used the car's hood for a moonlit coupling.
As you can guess, the world of Best of Craig's List is definitely a place for grown-up sensibilities.
Best of Craig's List sprouted up from craigslist.org, an online community of 5 million people a month who sell, barter, befriend and pontificate. San Franciscan Craig Newmark has been running the joint full time since 1999, after four years of running it initially as an e-mail list of grass-roots events in the City by the Bay.
The site has blossomed over the years, as people sold refrigerators, offered concert tickets in exchange for guitar lessons, hunted for apartments, posted and found jobs and met new friends platonic and otherwise.
The idea took root in neighboring communities and has grown to 48 cities in the U.S. (Chicago came aboard in August 2000) and nine overseas, all connected to a bunch of servers overseen by a handful of nerds in San Francisco.
While Newmark and his group could have scored big by selling the concept -- the site attracts 1 billion page views a month and 600 hits per second during the busy midday hours -- they've held on to the idea that they want to make only enough money to pay the bills and live comfortably. Last month, eBay announced it had acquired a 25 percent interest in craigslist.org, but Newmark approves, describing the history of the transaction this way: One of the original owners was among those with an ostensibly symbolic equity stake of 25 percent, which that person sold to eBay for an undisclosed, though apparently non-symbolic, amount. EBay has promised no meddling, only to offer wisdom it has earned building a community of buyers and sellers.
But it's not the dollar signs or the hit rate or the chance to score a $95-never-been-opened surround-sound home theater system that attracts me to Craig's List. No, what gets me is Best of Craig's List. Yes.
Reading slices of other peoples' lives, getting a feeling of "I know someone just like that" or "That's what I should have said to my ex" is like catching up on friends I've never met. Or it's like not having a life. Either way, it shows how we're connected.
Site visitors nominate their favorite ads or postings for inclusion on that day's Best of Craig's List.
"BOCL nominations likely number in the tens of thousands per month," writes CEO Jim Buckmaster via e-mail.
"I go through the nominations every few weeks and post the new "best ofs," weeding out self-nominations, repeats, plagiarisms, etc -- and picking ones I think are good!"
Buckmaster, who's been too swamped to update Best of Craig's List recently, added a smiley face to his comment, symbolizing the spirit of BOCL.
"I just read a couple of `why I left you' posts, and these triggered my guilt mechanism. I am sorry I ended things without the gut-wrenching, agonizing micro-analysis you wanted. So here are some of the reasons why I ended things between us:
" . . . You credit your multifaceted personality and mood swings and constantly shifting priorities and ambitions to the fact that you are a ...Gemini. Seriously. You use being a Gemini as an excuse to change your mind. About everything from your clothes to your life goals. Oh. My. God.
"You are careless, feckless, lazy, neurotic, on Paxil, self-absorbed, shallow, and not very bright.
"You just don't get it, and you never will.
"You are, however, a fantastic cook, and I will miss that about you.