from Associated Press, August 6, 2003

Tacos to trannies: Craigslist has it all
Documentary chronicles online community

By Rachel Konrad

Michael Ferris Gibson has been awake for 24 hours, and the frazzled filmmaker can't think straight after chugging countless cans of soda spiked with extra caffeine.

Should he dispatch camera crews to shoot the Ethel Merman drag queen auditioning drummers for his '70s-style rock band? The penny-pinching foodies seeking comrades for a late-night taqueria tour? The cash-strapped transsexual selling "erotic services" to pay for a sex change? Or the heart-tugging tale of a woman looking for someone to adopt her blind Australian Shepherd dog?

Such are the quandaries of the director of a documentary about Craigslist, the wildly popular Web site where millions of people buy, sell, swap and debate everything from politics and condos to poodles and casual sex.

Gibson hopes his 90-minute "Craigslist: The Movie," which chronicles 24 hours in the life of the online forum, makes it to the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. His company, Zealot Pictures, monitored thousands of Monday's postings and shot digital video of several dozen people who wrote them. Camera crews will spend the next three months following the most interesting stories.

"We want to show how Craigslist is the digital commons," the 32-year-old director said Monday in Zealot's "war room" -- a sunny loft strewn with bags of bagels, energy bars and bottled water in San Francisco's gritty South of Market district. "We want to show how it preserves the freethinking, young, intelligent, anti-capitalist attitude of people trying to save the world."

Staying true to community

Craig Newmark founded Craigslist in 1995, at the urging of friends who enjoyed receiving his e-mail roundup of local events. The bare bones site was meant as an "online community where folks help each other out with everyday stuff." He now runs it with 12 other employees and a chief executive, Jim Buckmaster.

"It's all very surreal," said Newmark, a former IBM programmer who spends about 60 hours a week chasing spammers and deleting inappropriate messages from Craigslist.

Despite the venture capital boom in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s, when offers of acquisitions flowed into the Victorian storefront that serves as Craigslist's San Francisco headquarters, Newmark insisted the site remain "not motivated by the possibility of making big money."

It charges companies $75 per job posting and may soon charge landlords for apartment listings, but Buckmaster said it would never charge individuals for classifieds, personals and discussion forums.

Big in San Francisco

Craigslist expanded to Boston, then Seattle, New York and 19 other regions. But San Francisco still generates 50 percent of the 450 million page views and 4 million unique visitors per month. Northern Californians write 500,000 of the site's 800,000 forum postings per month.

Rachel Berney, 32, turned to Craigslist to sell a ticket to Burning Man, an experimental village that rises up every September in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. The doctoral student at University of California, Berkeley, needs to recuperate from shoulder surgery, and would not sell her $225 ticket anywhere except Craigslist -- for face value, not profit.

"The people who interact with Craigslist fit the type of people I want to interact with," she said.