from The Globe and Mail (Canada), May 29, 2003
Craigslist is plainly effective
By Zack Medicoff
On-line job board and ad-free community site growing through word of mouth
As a concert and events production manager in New York, Jared Siegel is frequently on the lookout for energetic young staff. When he's hired to produce a show -- such as the TriBeCa Film Festival, his current project -- the Montreal native assembles a crew to help co-ordinate concerts and gatherings. Since time is often of the essence, Mr. Siegel usually turns to the on-line world to quickly publish his job listings.
But instead of using popular employment banks such as Monster.com or Yahoo Inc.'s HotJobs, Mr. Siegel relies on another destination, Craigslist.
"I look to Craigslist because that's where the artist community is. I know the people I hire are always going to be young, enthusiastic and prepared to work," Mr. Siegel says.
He is part of a growing and devoted community that has transformed Craigslist (http://www.craigslist.org) into one of the Internet's more unusual success stories.
The site claimed about three million unique visitors in April in the United States. That compares with a recent monthly figure of 9.9 million visitors for the well-known Monster.com and five million for Hotjobs.com.
Craigslist's traffic, though short of monster.com and hot jobs, is impressive given that Craigslist has spread entirely through word of mouth, without advertising.
A cross between a community site and a job board, Craigslist also caters only to a handful of cities, including Chicago, Boston, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco (where it started). But the word is spreading. A Vancouver Craigslist was added last year, followed more recently by Toronto. A Montreal list is in the works.
Craigslist is much more than a job board, though. It contains events listings, classified and personal ads, as well as discussion forums in which people can share advice on everything from travel to setting up a business.
Shannon Jewers is also an avid follower of Craigslist. Ms. Jewers, a former Haligonian who resides in Seattle, used the site to research pet behaviour. She says the information from Craigslist was crucial in starting her pet care service, Blue 'n Pals. "It was the only place where I could get honest answers."
Curiously, one thing that sets Craigslist apart is something that harkens back to the early days of the Internet -- it's non-commercial aesthetic. It looks virtually undesigned. There are no fancy graphics or moving pictures, just plain text and hyper-linked words pertaining to the various categories.
One other feature that distinguishes Craigslist from competing job boards and community sites is its virtual lack of advertising. It only accepts fees for employment ads on its San Francisco site. Nor does it require visitors to register or reveal any personal information.
The Craig behind the name is Craig Newmark. Mr. Newmark worked as a programmer and systems engineer for International Business Machines Corp. for 17 years prior to pursuing an internal consulting post at investment firm Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. in San Francisco.
Mr. Newmark started Craigslist in 1995 when he and some friends began e-mailing each other about cool parties and get-togethers in the Bay Area's arts and hi-tech communities. Mr. Newmark applied his coding expertise to develop a scaled-down listing-based site that year, much like the Craigslist of today.
In 1999, he devoted himself full-time with four other people and now boasts a staff of 12. Employers and recruiters in the San Francisco area are charged $75 (U.S.) an ad, with block-rate discounts. That's the only source of revenue.
"I saw other people helping each other out or giving each other a break. I thought that I could do that too," Mr. Newmark says.
No matter how large the site became, he remained true to keeping the virtual community in the hands of its residents. That almost took a turn in late 1997 when Mr. Newmark was approached by a Microsoft subsidiary that wanted to purchase banner ads.
"I could have lived on that amount alone. And at that point I was an overpaid contract programmer and I figured I didn't need that extra cash. I feel that most banner ads are pretty stupid, so I'm committed to never doing them," he says.