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Making the list

Craigslist was developed with the thought that technology could bring increased productivity, but also just a really good way to find a job, and maybe an apartment, or a killer local band in Boise.

When looking at the Internet’s top 20 companies by page views, there are the usual suspects, like Google and Yahoo, as well as other companies whose names can be rattled off by any savvy nine-year-old with a dial-up connection. But nestled on the list is one contender that, despite steady growth and millions of users, doesn’t immediately come to mind: craigslist.

Started as a way to harness the enthusiasm felt by early Internet users, craigslist was developed by (who else?) a guy named Craig who thought that technology could bring increased productivity, but also just a really good way to find a job, and maybe an apartment, or a killer local band in Boise.

A visit to the site >www.craigslist.org< reveals a stripped-down, non-graphical way to connect with fellow Internet denizens in cities from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. The site boasts housing listings, personals, items for sale, and discussion forums, but since its inception, it's drawn the most power in its jobs section.

Employers have a hassle-free way to find employees, and job seekers have responded in droves. Founder Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster chatted about the site’s evolution, and where it goes from here.

How did the site get started?

Craig Newmark: Ten years ago, I was a tech guy at Charles Schwab and evangelizing the Internet. I saw a lot of people helping out a lot of other people online, and in early 1995, I figured I should do a little of that myself. I started with a simple newslist, but turned it into a more serious technology operation.

What kinds of changes have you seen over that time in technology that you think are notable?

CN: Aside from the large leaps in Web basics, we’ve seen cool developments in many areas of technology, particularly wireless connectivity and Web server software. But the fundamentals remain the same. People want a sense of community, they want things to be fair. People are generally trustworthy, and they want to do the right thing for each other. I think that drive is what’s behind sites like ours, the need for socialization and communication that connects everyone to each other. For craigslist, there have been many changes as well. Basically, even in 1995, people began asking for more stuff on the site. Originally, it was just a list that discussed arts and technology. Then people asked if they could list jobs, and stuff for sale, and a place to discuss issues. We’re a community-driven site, so as people ask for more, we respond, as long as it’s true to our original vision.

With other job sites on the Web, some of them very large like Monster.com, what makes your site unique?

CN: We think that the people who visit our site appreciate the culture of trust that we foster. Without naming other job sites specifically, there can be a feeling of being disconnected from the site’s values, and being just one of many people on the site. Here, we put a lot of effort into customer service, and staying true to our community. As a result, we have a continuous stream of feedback from people saying they found jobs on our site, and from employers saying they found great employees because of us. That’s nice.

In 1999, you handed over the reins to Jim Buckmaster, although the site is still craigslist. Why the change?

CN: I began to realize that even though I had a lot of commitment to the site, I wasn’t a good enough manager to grow it. That’s when I went full-time on it, and made a company out of it. I hired Jim to be the CTO, but now he’s the guy who really runs the company. I’ve surrounded myself with good people like him who really know how to bring things together, in a way I couldn’t. Over the last five years, I’ve started to focus on other issues, especially customer service. I feel that it’s now my job to remind everyone that customer service is a really big deal even if it isn’t taken seriously in many companies.

The site doesn’t have any advertising, and you only charge for posting jobs in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. How do you make money?

Jim Buckmaster: The strategy of charging for ads in those three cities, which have the highest number of job postings, is going well. Our business in San Francisco has been increasing steadily since late 2001, which was the low point for us in the recent recession. New York and Los Angeles has added incremental income as well.

What kind of challenges does the site face now, in terms of getting more growth?

JB: We want to eventually go everywhere that people want us to go, which can be challenging. We recently added 12 new U.S. cities, and we have requests from around the world to put in more international cities as well. Because of the multilingual hurdles, we’ve only rolled out in English-speaking countries so far, like Australia and Canada. But with the number of requests we’re getting about Paris, it looks like we’ll be doing that soon.

The Internet has boomed since the site began. Why do you think having a simple community site is still important?

JB: We feel that it’s useful for people across the full spectrum of basic human needs, whether they need housing, a job, a spouse, friends, or just used goods. The site is free, so people don’t have to navigate the gauntlet of money-making opportunities like text ads and banner ads, and we don’t sell names to spammers. Because of this, our community trusts us, and each other. We’re an online resource that connects people together, and there’s an appreciation for that. We think that creating and fostering that basic connection will always be important for the Internet, and for craigslist.

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