Craig Newmark on the Craigslist Phenomenon

Question: How did Craigslist start?

Newmark:    In ‘94 in San Francisco, I was working at Charles Schwab.  I was going around the company showing people the internet then, the earliest web server, the earliest browser, and the newsgroups and so on, and I was telling people around the company this is the way we’re going to do business someday.  I also saw a lot of people helping each other out on Usenet Newsgroups and on the [well].  So I figured early ‘95 I would give back to the community a little bit and the way I chose to do that was a simple CC list involving arts and technology events.  It spread via word of mouth.  People made suggestions.  I listened and did something about it and then repeated that, listened and did something about suggestions, and we just kept repeating it over the years.  In early ‘99 I made Craigslist into a real company and did okay, but I’m not a real good manager.  Let’s say my managing skills are limited, and, fortunately, in 2000, I’d hired Jim Buckmaster as a senior tech guy.  He quickly showed he was a far better manager than I am and he runs the company today, but Jim maintains a philosophy of engaging these people, listening, doing something about it and then listening some more.

Question: How did Craigslist become one of the most trafficked sites on the web?

Newmark:    The first few years, Craigslist was just me and in that period around the end of ‘97, you know, at that point, Craigslist was up to about a million page views per month.  You know, then tried running it for a year, 98 volunteers, slow growth.  But in ‘99 making it into a real company was one of our most explosive growths began, and figured that my focus should be on making things happen rather than looking at metrics since we don’t have to worry about that except for, you know, performance and systems issues.  But I observed that in August of 2004 was when we hit around a billion page views per month.  Now, we’re hitting about 13 billion page views per month, perhaps as many as 50 million unique visitors per month and I’m guessing about probably around 50 million postings per month.

Question: How did you decide to go global?

Newmark:    In 2000, Jim led the introduction of new sites.  Prior to that, we’re just be in San Francisco Bay Area.  We added five new sites including New York and LA.  And then over the years, we add new cities, new countries fairly carefully.  We wait till we hear that we’re welcome in some new city and country.  And then, after hearing those requests, Jim looks at the demographics including, oh, internet usage, broadband usage, and then he adds a batch of new cities at a time.  I think we’re up to around 567 cities now and around 55 countries.

The Craigslist founder unpacks the web’s most comprehensive listings.

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