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from News Observer, February 18, 2004

Web site boosts Triangle's status
by Jonathan B. Cox

A bigger house. A temperate climate. A variety of dining options. Those were factors that attracted Paul Overton and his longtime girlfriend to Durham as they considered leaving Oakland, near San Francisco.

Oh yeah, and Craigslist.

"It does bump the cool factor up," said Overton, 36, who arrived in Durham this month. "Anywhere that has a Craigslist is going to be cool sooner or later."

The online bulletin board has united employers, workers, buyers, sellers and lovers in San Francisco, New York, Miami and 31 other cities around the world. And it has finally come to the Triangle.

Craigslist (http://raleigh.craigslist.org/) was created in 1995, the brainchild of Craig Newmark, who says he just wanted to help people help others. He began an e-mail list to alert friends to events in the San Francisco area.

It expanded. More than 4 million people now use the site each month.

"I never expected any of this to happen," said Newmark, 51. "The deal is I just figured I would do this itty-bitty thing, people asked for more and we kept doing it."

Where there is supply, Craigslist helps find demand. It is a first stop in major cities for those seeking apartments, furnishings and special -- even exotic -- services.

There are discussion groups on food, video games, politics, parenting and other topics. A "best of" section provides entertainment. It showcases funny and racy stories about, for example, the benefits of Tide detergent, a bully guppy (yes, a fish) and bedroom exploits.

Craigslist is free. There are no banner or pop-up ads to annoy users. The site covers its costs, including a staff of 14, by charging businesses in San Francisco $75 for job listings. It is profitable, said spokeswoman Marcia Estarija, and has no reason to charge in other cities.

"We love them," said Kenya Lewis, public relations manager for the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Everybody in the entire city of San Francisco has found an apartment, a dog, a boyfriend, a microwave oven, a new stereo, a new car on Craigslist."

Before moving, Overton and his girlfriend, who are swing-dance instructors, sold furniture and two computers by posting on Craigslist. They drove cross-country in a 1991 Toyota 4Runner that they bought through the site. It is the second vehicle they found that way.

Once in the Triangle, the couple sought vintage 1950s and 1960s furniture, where else? On the list.

"It's a great place to barter and trade stuff around," Overton said. "It's like its own little economy."

Craigslist came to Raleigh late last year and is slowly gaining traction. Last month, 28,000 people visited the Triangle's corner of the online community.

Among people who have posted on the site is a woman seeking to meet Indians as she moves to the area, an artist who wants to model for cash to expedite a move to New York, and a man seeking to sell sports collectibles before his baby arrives.

Newmark said he decided to bring Craigslist to the Triangle because former, and envious, users asked for it.

Of course, it also helped that he spent time here in the late 1980s. Newmark worked for IBM and did a short stint at the computer company's sprawling campus at Research Triangle Park.

"I know that Raleigh is very high-tech," he said.

But Craigslist is not alone in its efforts to connect residents. Internet users buy and sell goods on eBay, find people with common interests on Meetup.com and locate housing, jobs and cars on local sites such as Triangle.com, owned by The News & Observer.

Craigslist "filled a void pretty early on in San Francisco," said Thomas Beckett, who in 1998 co-founded InterNetWorkers, an e-mail discussion group for area workers in the tech industry. "In the Triangle, there was nothing central that did that. Various channels have served that purpose."

Raleighlist (http://www.raleighlist.org/ is one of them. Tony Spencer started the site more than a year ago after moving back to Raleigh from San Francisco. While there, he visited Craigslist several times a week, and used it to sell a 1995 Saab 900.

When he returned to Raleigh, he asked Craigslist to begin a site for the area. It declined. "It's a bit of a surprise that it popped up," said Spencer, 30. He tried to emulate Craigslist as much as possible, letting users post free classified and personals.

He's not concerned by the arrival of the original, confident that features such as movie listings will keep users returning to his site.

"It's not a problem for me," he said. "Obviously, I prefer that Raleighlist survives and supersedes Craigslist here."

Those who are using the better-known site say it hasn't reached critical mass in Raleigh yet, limiting its effectiveness. Overton, who gave away two desks within 90 minutes of posting to Craigslist in San Francisco, hasn't gotten any leads on the furniture he's now seeking.

Chip Miller, a chef who is looking for work, has had a couple of responses from a post on Craigslist. The headline "Chainsaw-carving chef seek work in Raleigh" hints at his hobby: carving wood with a chain saw. But despite the catchy title and his eclectic mix of skills, the responses haven't panned out.

Give it time, Overton said, and Craigslist will prosper.

"It's such a handy tool for anything," he said. "It's like this little perfect community."