It seems that Craigslist is always in the news. It’s usually negative. Recent stories include a woman selling stolen hard drives on the website, and the most recent political scandal
involving a photograph of Representative Chris Lee (R-N.Y.), who has since resigned.
Bad coverage or not, people are still using it for everything from jobs to apartments to finding missed connections. A quick survey of my colleagues proved that Craigslist has a largely favorable reputation, with a few exceptions. Personally, I’ve been happy with the service, acquiring a futon and sweet apartment in Boston’s North End, as well as advertising apartment rentals. I even used it when I was in Paris (there it was mainly expats using the site; French people were somewhat familiar with the concept but didn’t really use).
Craigslist’s presence is global, from Latin America to the Asia/Pacific region, and offerings are consistent – IT jobs ranging from Bangalore to Great Britain are available for perusal. While some call the design ugly, I admire its simplicity. No banner ads? Refreshing.
Incidentally, both design and mission haven’t changed much in 15 years and that could be why it is one of the world’s most popular websites. Founded by Craig (yes, really!) Newmark, a software engineer by training, the website was originally an email list for his friends and coworkers to help them connect around events in San Francisco. (Newmark was NOT featured in The Social Network). It quickly expanded to include jobs and other community items, in the name of public service. To steer users away from scams and fraud, the website’s rule #1 is “deal locally.” There is even a Craigslist Foundation, which hosts an annual “Boot Camp” aimed at boosting community impact (interesting podcasts and slides from the event itself here). Today, Newmark is still engaged in the community, both locally and internationally (check out his blog post from MLK day) and cites one of his particular interests to be “participatory journalism.” He has certainly made a name for himself in the social media community. He has a strong counterpart in Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, who uses the blog regularly and with humor. His posts include responses to scandals and accusations.
There are faults. The very nature of a site that compiles community listings can lead to scam and fraud. In 2009 Craigslist shut down its “Erotic Services” component after repeated lawsuits, which interestingly enough found an outlet in Facebook. As far as improvement, it has been suggested that Craigslist incorporate a user feedback system, as Amazon does. Imperfections aside, this is an organization that knows who it is. And despite the risks and sometimes terrifying stories around the website (I could argue that many things we do daily are more risky than replying to a Craigslist ad), I will continue to use and recommend it. Provided it keeps a no banner ad policy and its “missed connections” feature.