Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Online Classified Ads: Craigslist Shows The Way

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Though I had been hearing a lot about a US-based free online classified service called Craigslist but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I started to realize the effective power and usefulness of this service also for many people outside the US.

Photo credit: Neža Čerin

Craigslist has been frequently pointed to for decimating classified advertising revenue of local newspapers, though the likely reason why newspapers are losing circulation is that too many traditional journalists have been losing the credibility and trust of their readers.

Online news readers seem to prefer the "independent", "open source" model of journalism where a growing number of individual investigators, news reporters, and bloggers act as genuine news reporters, fact checkers for the mainstream reporting, and early scouts of many unique stories.

The Poynter Institute had been reporting quite often through its excellent news editors about the disruptive power of Craigslist: the Skype of online classifieds.

What Craigslist offers is the opportunity to post online free classifieds through a web-based system that makes it both extremely easy and effective to sell or seek anything from an apartment to an expert in just about any field.

The first time I came in direct contact with Craigslist was a few weeks ago, during my stay over in San Francisco.

My host, a long-time friend from the university days, received during my stay a nice and unexpected present from her next door neighbors: a set of eight tickets to the next day baseball match, in some of the best seats available at the stadium.

She showed me the tickets and proposed me and some good other friends to all go the match the next day. Unfortunately, only a few of us were available and willing to go.

It was at this point that my friend, pronounced the magic words: "I am going to sell them on Craigslist!"

She switched on her laptop right in front of me and placed an ad on the San Francisco section of Craigslist offering her remaining tickets at competitive rates.

I couldn't believe my eyes.

Within minutes my friend received multiple requests for the tickets and by providing to the prospective buyers her Skype number she was in no time talking to some of them.

In fifteen minutes all tickets were sold.

I know that is hard to believe unless you have used the service, but I guarantee you that I am not exaggerating.

Hey, the first guy who wanted to get a pair of them lived two blocks down my friend's house and came up with the cash before an hour had even passed.

Impressed and surprised by the direct experience, I explored more the service and fond out that multiple international sections had been opened recently on Craigslist including one covering Rome, Italy, where I am based.

So, as soon as I have returned here I have decided to give Craigslist a personal try.

The first thing I needed was to find both a web designer for a new web project and a geeky tech guy to complement the work of my webmaster.

The second was to find people qualified to be online news editors for MasterNewMedia and my other web sites. (I have been seeking for a while some talented individuals on this front but with little or no useful results.)

In one day I found Emil Milanov, a geeky web designer based in Belgrade, Serbia, who has already started a project contract with me and with whom I am designing a new web site in multiple languages.

In two days, Craigslist helped me find Arnel Estanislao, a friendly and reliable tech master in Manila, Philippines who has since successfully customized two Media Wikis installations and has already been paid for this.

In five, Craigslist has provided me a list of over 20 individuals who have expressed serious interests in contributing and working as online news editors. Of those, one is already being trained, and I am in the process of interviewing directly five or six of the others which seem to be particularly interesting.


Only yesterday, I have also added an announcement for a nice little apartment my mother rents near the Vatican Museums. It is a short-let-only offer and my mom had just called me from the north of Italy, where she lives, to gently ask some help in finding some possible guests for it.

I said to myself: "This is another great opportunity to put Craigslist to the test!", and so I did.

The apartment rental section of Craigslist allows not only the input of all basic information about the apartment to be rented, but it integrates a simple to use facility to add up to four photos of the place, which I immediately took advantage of.

This morning I have had the first two requests come in, and ready to send their down payment!

I am now thinking of opening an agency that leverages Craigslist matching power with local requests for unique items or services.

Really, this is some service, that even if you do not live in a city covered by it directly, you have got to try.

Yes, and in fact the most curious thing is this: Craigslist brokers for me my requests to the rest of the world, not just to those living in Rome and searching through it.

For example, when it comes to finding work partners for me, I don't need them to travel and come to live here in Rome. They can obviously do their work from their own country while meeting and exchanging with me online.

That by itself shows you how useful Craigslist can be for just about anyone out there.

I am in Rome, have placed announcements in the Rome section, and as a consequence am giving work to a guy in the Philippines and to one in Serbia: pretty amazing, no?

A recent Associated Press article on Craigslist reports several interesting facts about Craigslist:

  • " gets more than four million classified ads per month and over one million forums postings.
  • Craigslist gets eight millions unique users and roughly two billions page views per month.
  • The yearly increase in number of users has been so far exceeding a 100% rate.
  • Craigslist is now active in 23 countries and in 105 cities."

Click the image to enlarge it

So, you may wonder, what are the "traits" that make Craigslist such a uniquely efficient tool for matching classified requests?

And this, in fact, is the most valuable part of the lessons learned from Craigslist. When it comes to be successful entrepreneurs or publishers on the web, Craigslist teaches us a few valuable things we should not easily forget:

1) Free - whatever you want to market online today it must have a free component to it. Unless can people try and feel the effectiveness of your product within seconds of logging on your site, you are not going to be given a second choice.

Money can be built on a large number of parallel, complementary channels and by adding paid sections or optional features to highly in-demand advanced extras.

2) Looks, are not the key. Usability is. Wasting money on fancy looks, when you provide a service that is al about "using it" to achieve something, is useless. When you "global" what looks nice to you, will look bad to me and vice versa. There is no beauty we should be searching for when designing these services. Our only goals should be: ease of access, legibility, consistency, credibility.

3) Easy. Craigslist may not look great, but I can guarantee that it takes next to no time to learn how to use, or to guess where the next click should be. Do I care that it doesn't have the slick look of some other fancier list with a lot less reach and potential contacts? I don't. I care that finding things inside Craigslist is easy, that editing and changing my ads is equally easy, and that placing my ads there doesn't expose me to tons of spam, junk email or malicious software.

4) Searchable. Once I am logged on the city of Craigslist and within the product/service section that I am interested in I can easily search for individual items by specifying keywords, and in the case of apartments I can specify minimum and maximum prices as well as number of bedrooms I am looking for. What a breeze!

5) RSS-enabled. Craigslist is up-with-the-times and allows me to subscribe via RSS to any individual section. RSS subscription means that you start "receiving", when you want, updates from the sites you have selected. Therefore by providing individual RSS subscription feeds for every classified category, Craigslist allow anyone to easily monitor multiple categories with a simple RSS reader (FireFox integrates one, is a good web-based RSS reader/aggregator, and other free ones are listed here:

The founder of Craigslist, Craig Newmark is also a genuine supporter of community journalism. He says:

"People are looking for attitude and guts in reporting - not full-on gonzo journalism" who describes himself strong on defense, fiscally conservative but socially liberal."

AP reports also that "All the revenue of Craigslist, which remains private and profitable, comes from the $25 to $75 it charges per help-wanted ad in its three top markets, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.

Virtually all other advertisements and postings are free."

So, what's your take on Craigslist?

Robin Good -
Readers' Comments    
2005-05-25 00:48:13


nice website, i like very much the links, thankyou
do you think weblogs are polluting the internet with senseless recycling of news and ideas? what extra niche do they bring to the media-landscape?

2005-05-19 10:12:21

jill e vaile

As a resident of the Bay area, (aka Silicon Valley) Craigs List is one of the few survivors in the post dot com era. It has been a source of infinite info- jobs- in every possible area, rentals, sales, -- well, just look at all the categories it offers. The SF Craigs List was the first- and I tend to think, best Craigslist. Craig is also a standup guy. His intent was never to usurp the business of overpriced newspaper classifieds- it was only a by-product of his service. And it has certainly proven to be a wakeup call to those price gouging ad rate setters!

I monitor a number of different Craigslist locations, for various reasons, and I doubt the list is as well-used anywhere else as it is here in the Bay (or surrounding areas). The multitude of "new" locations are more a result of Craig's sale than his desire to be global.

Like anything else, if one is using the list for anything that is not backed up by a name brand business, obviously caution is the word to use in any transactions. I have heard of some scary incidents, but on the whole, it is "all good". Yet, one must exercise good judgement when dealing with anything free. Such is the state of the world.

Craigs list has been and continues to be- a breath of fresh air here in the Bay!

2005-05-18 14:59:04


My child's mother and I have had excellent results finding caregivers for our child for the past several years. It's very easy to use, and its security features and anonymous remailing system mean you don't get spammed at all.

On the down side, I've heard that the personal ads section is an open-air insane asylum.

posted by Robin Good on Wednesday, May 18 2005, updated on Wednesday, March 23 2011

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