from Times Online (UK), June 22, 2003
This virtual life: Classifieds with heart
By Danny O'Brien
At first glance, it looks like the most boring classified-ads section in the world. All the usual categories are there - furniture for sale, job ads, lonely hearts - but there are no images, no banner ads and no pop-ups.
Yet, somehow, the pages of www.craigslist.org are viewed more than 300m times every month by more than 2m people. The site makes enough profit to spin off a charitable foundation, and its shy geek owner has become a people's hero (and most eligible bachelor) in San Francisco. For many people in the Bay area, Craigslist is not only a part of their online life - it has helped to assemble the rest of their life, too. And now it is coming to Britain.
I found my house through Craigslist, and I know people who have found their whole world via its uncensored free adverts: jobs, roommates, nights out, romance. The lonely-hearts listings have a Sleepless in Seattle-style addictiveness. Missed Connections (where people involved in chance encounters on escalators and trains desperately try to relocate one another) and racy pleas for love advice in the Discussion Forums are equally captivating.
The site's income comes from its £45 commercial job classifieds. That is enough to employ 14 people, including the eponymous Craig Newmark. He continually explains how embarrassed he is about the site's name - especially given the cult of personality that has sprung up around the shy 50-year-old. Almost by way of expiation, he awards himself a nominal salary and gives a large chunk of the profits to charitable works in the areas covered by the site. This increases his celebrity.
Since 2000, the listings service has crept from San Francisco to Boston, then to Seattle, followed by New York; now, more than 20 metropolises have dedicated sites. It is not a bid for greater profits - more a matter of expats begging him to open up in their area. Craig is insistent that his company aims only to keep him and his workers employed, not to become the Starbucks of the lovelorn.
Quiet and as modest as ever, Craigslist sneaked into London recently. Will it succeed? Who can tell? There is a lot of mean and dirty competition in the capital for small ads and lonely hearts, and Craigslist is a genteel latecomer to the party. But if london.craigslist.org has enough gumption to run ads such as the "17 pairs of chicken feet. Please trade me a 12-pack of caffeine-free Diet Coke" entry that I have just been reading, we will all - Londoners or not - be in for an entertaining ride.