Craigslist: Creepy or Cool

When I say Craigslist, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? I’m sure I’m not the only one that thinks, “creepy”, “a little sketchy”, and of course, the infamous “Craigslist killer”. My roommates and I are beginning the process of searching for an apartment in Boston this fall; and when one of them told us we should be looking on Craigslist, all of those thoughts above came to my mind. However, she insisted that it’s a legitimate place to look for an apartment.

After only a few minutes of searching, it was clear that my doubts were unfounded. The site is full of thousands of listings; and not just for apartments but for pretty much anything you could imagine.

My fascination with Craigslist has now become centered on how the site has been able to support itself both from a financial and user base standpoint. I also wonder if the longevity of Craigslist has been helped or hurt by the interface and user experience of the site being extremely basic and low-tech.

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So to find out how Craigslist has been able to sustain itself, let’s go back to how the site began and how it did (or did not) evolve from then until now.

Craigslist began in 1995 as a “simple arts and technology mailing list” for Bay Area residents. Craig Newmark (surprise, the founder’s name is Craig), started sending an email distribution list to his friends and soliciting feedback on what more they wanted to receive. This eventually resulted in a website-based classifieds section in 1996, listing everything from job postings and apartments to furniture and as we all know, personals. In 2000, the website began expanding to cities other than San Francisco and has since had a marked effect on the classifieds section of newspapers.

A study by the Newspaper Association of America found [classified] revenues between 2000 and 2010 dropped from $19.6 billion to $6 billion. That represents a 70 percent decrease, and the trend does not appear to be slowing.

One of the main reasons for this is thought to be financial—while a post in the classifieds section costs money, posting on Craigslist costs nothing. Just to further investigate the cost differential here, I looked into the price of placing an advertisement for an apartment in the classifieds section of the Boston Globe. The cheapest option is the “Online only” package, where my ad would appear for one week online for $29. If I wanted it to be printed in the actual newspaper, pricing starts at $99. I can see why classifieds sections are suffering.

This brings me to my first question regarding the sustainability of Craigslist. At first glance, it appears that the site has no conventional sources of revenue—there are no advertisements from people other than the users posting on the site. However, contrary to popular belief, Craigslist does charge for a few select classifieds sections: $25 fee to post a job listing in six major U.S. cities; $75 for a job listing in the San Francisco area; a $10 fee to list an apartment rental in New York; and as of 2014, a $5 fee on car and truck ads.

Despite the fact that they do charge fees, Craigslist president Jim Buckmaster says “generating a profit is not the company’s goal”. As of 2014, the site generated $335 million in revenue.

Another way that Craigslist disrupted the classifieds industry, other than financially, was that it created a virtual space for communities to connect and interact with each other about anything they felt was fit to post on the site. This community has fostered an abundance of users and has resulted in Craigslist logging over 20 billion page views per month. This puts Craigslist 37th among websites globally and 10th among US-based sites. So contrary to my belief prior to this blog post, Craigslist is very much alive and dare I say, cool?

Finally, unlike Facebook, Snapchat and other social sites that seem to change just when you’re getting used to the latest update—Craigslist has not changed. Not once. The user experience and interface is almost refreshingly simple. No pop-ups to click away, no confusing drop-downs to navigate, just a white background, black text and pictures. In a digital world that is constantly bombarding us with the newest feature, product or update, it’s nice to have some consistency.

In the virtual classifieds/e-commerce space, Craigslist has long reigned. However, there are competitors that have entered the space and will continue to threaten the viability of the Craigslist community. But with so many apps attempting to individually do what Craigslist is able to aggregate into one place, will users continue to utilize Craigslist simply for the convenience?

Craigslist

In the face of competition from countless apps like Airbnb, Etsy, indeed and StubHub that continue to innovate and expand their reach, it will be interesting to see if and how the site responds. However, something tells me that in traditional Craigslist fashion, they will stay true to their low-tech, simplistically elegant roots.

8 comments

  1. Nice post, Amanda! Similar to your feelings in your intro, for me, Craigslist has always had a sort of creepy connotation to it. However, just this week I spoke with a friend who is using it to look for apartments! Clearly the company is still succeeding, despite sentiments of unease that are sometimes associated with the company. I know that some police stations have become “Safe Lots” for Craigslist exchanges, so maybe this has helped improve the brand image. I think it is really interesting that they have not changed the interface. For people who have been users for a long time, I can see why this would be beneficial. However, I wonder if this will turn new, younger users away who are used to the most advanced technology and interfaces. This might be something they should consider as millennials start having more of a need for these services.

  2. This was such an interesting post because I went on Craiglists for the first time 3 days ago, weird coincidence. The site loaded and I “Xed” out the tab and went back to Google thinking “That couldn’t be the site” and I clicked on the next link. The same thing came up and I asked my friend sitting next to me. “Is this what Craiglist is supposed to look like?” I immediately went back to Amazon which is my favorite place for online shopping. The user interface of Craigslist was way to simple for me to even understand where to begin if that even makes sense. I would have also never guessed that Craigslist has apartment listings. I think if they change the stigma they will get more users to join.

  3. ajsalcetti · ·

    So I actually got my first apartment in Boston years ago on Craigslist and found two very nice people who I lived with over a year; I have also bought and sold products, had a job interview for a legit large firm, and nearly adopted a dog off the site – personal testimonials that it isn’t all creepy and sketch despite the Craigslist Killer. I actually find a lot of solace in that it has never changed its look. I would probably use it less if I had to click through multiple pop up ads to get on, then peruse through paid-for, promoted, and advertised links to find what is “real”. The fact they have kept the simplicity of just a catalogue of options by keyword search shows they mean what they say that they want to make finding and connecting people to products and services easier and it isn’t about the money/revenue. I do agree that there is fierce competition out there, but the one leg up Craigslist has is they are the aggregator while all those competitors are niche to AirBNB housing, Indeed jobs, Stubhub tickets, etc. Craigslist provides a platform that offers everything you would ever need for resale, sale, rent, purchase – from products to animals to jobs to dating (I’ll attest that whole Women seeking Men and the other variations are creepy!) and even aggregators like Amazon or eBay are a slightly different target market. So I think Craigslist is cool!

  4. Nice post Amanda. I would say my first thought about Craigslist is “creepy” so with that being said I have never used the site. It would probably be the last place I went to shop online due to this brand image. However I know some of my buddies have used the site to get free stuff and then resell it so Its not all bad I guess.

  5. Really interesting post! I’m by no means a regular visitor of Craigslist, but I go there occasionally and what strikes me is something you mentioned in this post. The interface is incredibly basic and honestly pretty disorganized. I guess if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but I really think that the site could do with some improvements, especially since it is so popular. Very interesting too about the revenue streams. It will be interesting to see if trends go in the direction of aggregated services on one site, or specific sites for each individual service.

  6. I do think they “used” to make money on the so-called adult section, before they banned it. Interesting, research by a colleague of mine showed that the introduction of Craigslist in a new city actually led to an increase in HIV diagnoses as a result. What’s interesting about CL is they actually make a TON of money for what it actually is and the amount of effort it requires. It says it only has about 40 employees, which works out to about $10M/ employee/ year. Pretty dang good for a simple business model.

  7. Professor made some great comments; I agree that the model seems proven and very efficient. I appreciate that you shed some light on Craigslist, and it made me rethink my opinion about it. Not so much my impressions about its reliability (you have to be careful still, but I’ve used it safely before), but just about the website structure and look overall. “When will they update this crap?”, I thought, it looks so outdated. But now it all makes sense: simplicity is key. 10th most trafficked US site? Wow. Also, I really appreciate your economy in writing. Your posts always pack a lot of info. Cheers!

  8. willybbolton · ·

    Cool post!! I personally have had great experiences with Craigslist. It has helped me to find two apartments, and music equipment. The idea is pretty cool just because it’s so focused on local stuff. You come to Craigslist to find things that are in your area. I think the site could definitely be way more organized.

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