Wired: ‘The Tragedy of Craigslist’


The glory of Craigslist is “its size and its price,” notes writer Gary Wolf in a provocative dissection of the site in the September edition of Wired. But “Craigslist is one of the strangest monopolies in history, where customers are locked in by fees set at zero and where the ambiance of neglect is not a way to extract more profit but the expression of a worldview.”

Wolf, unable to get much out of CEO Buckmaster and founder Craig Newmark in terms of their business vision, a typical experience, is especially frustrated by the site’s primitive technology. “It is the most important community site going and yet the most underdeveloped,” he writes. “ Think of any Web feature that has become popular in the past 10 years. Chances are Craigslist has considered it and rejected it.”

Sometimes, however, Craigslist’s primitiveness just works. The simplistic site, for instance, makes for a natural, fast loading mobile app. Whether or not you like the “people power” politics of the site’s leaders, which excludes all marketers from the table, Wolf concludes that the site just doesn’t have to be so bad.

He talks to several top designers, who all are quick to acknowledge that the site does its job, and then some. But it could be easily improved. Remodelling ideas would highlight search, line up columns, and recognize visited links. Open up the gates, Mr. Buckmaster!

11 thoughts on “Wired: ‘The Tragedy of Craigslist’

  1. Yesterday, Craigslist added 140 cities. Here is the news From The NY Times:

    On Thursday, the San Francisco company quietly added new sites for 140 cities, a 25 percent increase, bringing its global directory to 690 cities over all. The additions include 87 cities in the United States, eight in Canada and 45 outside North America. Among the targeted areas in the United States are dozens of small to midsize cities like Susanville, Calif. (population 18,000), Oneonta, N.Y. (13,000), and the counties of Okaloosa and Walton, Fla., (a combined 229,000.)

    If that expansion sounds minor, consider that Craigslist also added new sites for international cities like Lucknow, India (population 2.5 million), Shenzen, China (14 million), and New Castle, Australia, (280,000). Most of the sites are in English only.

  2. I’ve read the article. I think you miss the elegant simplicity of CL. Maybe the idea that good should be allowed an avenue to prevail – is beyond you.

    Some of use understand that its practice, not perfection.

  3. The real tragedy of CL is the tragedy of the commons. Anyone that has used it for anything in the past few years knows that the spammers, scammers and outright weirdos have taken over.

    I bought a camera last year, good deal, and as I walked to the house w/ $350 in my pocket in a sometimes sketchy part of the city I realized just how vulnerable I had just made myself. Never again. Goodbye CL.

  4. This article was the biggest piece of Fail I’ve read in a long while. I’m quoting this from memory, but my favorite quote was something along the lines of: “What kind of business isn’t interested in maximizing profits?”.

    I think you guys missed the point. Entirely.

  5. Ever seen a flyer for some local discount retailer? You know, like Ocean State Job Lot, Harbor Freight, etc? Their ads are UGLY! Our advertizing/copywriting teacher used their flyers as examples of how much better ugly sells products than slick. Ugly makes people think they’re getting a bargin. It’s nothing new. In fact the more garish, crammed full, disorganized the content, the better it sells.

  6. I applaud Gary Wolf and Wired for the well-researched article on the anomalous characters and odd decisions going on behind the scenes at Craigslist. For a business with this much traffic and this much income, the problems its users encounter day after day, post after post, are really beyond comprehension. They make enough money to fix this stuff, folks – and they refuse to do it!

    And that’s not all they refuse to fix. Over the last few years, newspapers and television news stories across the country have been reporting stories about victims – from theft to rape to murder – whose only mistake was responding to a Craigslist ad. Note to Craig: telling us that “most people are good,” is not a sufficient answer! For years, law enforcement agencies have been fighting with Craigslist to clean up the obvious illegal activities on the site – and Craigslist has repeatedly balked or stalled.

    The word is spreading that Craigslist is a dangerous place to buy, sell, or look for a date. This is sad state of affairs in an era when technologies exist to ferret out much of the illegal activity, and good old fashioned monitoring can clean up much of the rest – and yet Craigslist resorts to a flag system that, as your article points out, benefits troublemakers as readily as legitimate users. Yes, the criminals are in the minority; I’ll give Craig and Buckmaster that. But the problem is this: more than on any other site I’ve ever seen (and I work in this industry), criminals flock to Craigslist.

    Buckmaster’s analogy to GM seems an effort to confuse the issue. Autos come with safety ratings, and manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure their cars’ safety ratings – because people’s lives are at stake. And that’s just the point. Craigslist users have every right to expect that their safety come before some abstract concept of “democracy.”

    This is probably the most important difference between Craigslist and the community classifieds site I operate. At Geebo.com, we monitor our community classifieds to make every experience as safe and enjoyable as possible.

    We pay attention to our users, and we are constantly improving our technologies and systems. Given how hard we work at this, it’s hard to watch the arrogance and nonsense that go on at Craigslist. When users run into problems there, they get a haiku? Give me a break! Why would anyone intentionally create a system where users’ concerns are mocked rather than addressed?

    People aren’t fools: as long as Craigslist refuses to evolve, the site will increasingly be defined by bugs, scams and illegal activities – risks and frustrations that fewer and fewer users will be willing to put up with. Please let your readers know that there are alternatives to Craigslist – including ours. I welcome every Craigslist user to surf on over to Geebo where we work hard to make yours a safe, easy, enjoyable and successful community classifieds experience.

  7. I would echo the sentiments of a previous post in my own words. The Idea that Craigslist should be “Fixed” is ludicrous! What are you people, a bunch of whiney “New Dealers”…are true “frontiersmen” of the Internet age.
    Chances are that 98% of the people reading this are far more Computer literate than I, but I am amazed at the lack of “worldliness” and historical perspective of some of the whinier poster here.
    Craigslist grants you the PRESUMPTION of intelligence and ADULT self-awareness that has become wholly lacking in the “dumbed down” world we live in, where safety abounds at an expense that often precludes the entry into the market for many people.
    I use Craigslist extensively to sell items that it has become too expensive to sell on “Fee-Bay” and I have marketed my small business extensively with great success.
    I repost my ads every couple of weeks, meet or speak to a couple of interested respondents and generally get a 50% success for my efforts. Following that, I usually have a another 50% to 75% repeat and referral rate for my services. Far better than any print marketing ventures I have been involved with for the price…$0.
    People who use an open network like Craigslist had better have some common-sense in their world-view or they’re asking for problems….duh!!! Sounds like reality to me…and NO amount of “safety-net” is worth the destruction of the last American “Free-Market”. Get real people, this IS Capitalism the way Adam Smith envisioned it, not the way “Panty-waist” Politicians and Corporations have perverted it.

  8. Mr. Collier,
    I just checked your site for Detroit “Merchandise” for sale. There are 2 posts, the last of which is dated in late June. Yep, YOU have a “safe” winner of a network there.
    Your site is difficult to understand, navigation-wise, and not at all clear in its execution…I say, time to head back to the drawing board with this idea, old man.

  9. I really couldn’t disagree with this article more. probably the dumbest thing i’ve ever read. ever. I dare the author of this to come up with a concept that’s as amazing and has as much impact as craigslist. it’s too easy to criticize. opinions are the cheapest commodity on earth.

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