Craigslist is a centralized network of online communities, featuring free classified advertisements (with jobs, internships, housing, personals, erotic services, for sale/barter/wanted, services, community, gigs, resume, and pets categories) and forums on various topics.
The service was founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark for the San Francisco Bay Area. After incorporation as a private for-profit company in 1999, Craigslist expanded into nine more U.S. cities in 2000, four each in 2001 and 2002, and 14 in 2003. As of September 2007, Craigslist had established itself in approximately 450 cities in 50 countries.
As of 2007, Craigslist operates with a staff of 24 people. Its sole source of revenue is paid job ads in select cities ($75 per ad for the San Francisco Bay Area; $25 per ad for New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Boston, Seattle, Washington D.C., Chicago and recently Portland, Oregon) and paid broker apartment listings in New York City ($10 per ad).
The site serves over nine billion page views per month, putting it in 56th place overall among web sites world wide, ninth place overall among web sites in the United States (per Alexa.com on January 10, 2008), to over thirty million unique visitors. With over thirty million new classified advertisements each month, Craigslist is the leading classifieds service in any medium. The site receives over two million new job listings each month, making it one of the top job boards in the world. The classified advertisements range from traditional buy/sell ads and community announcements, to personal ads and even erotic services.
In December 2006, at the UBS Global Media Conference in New York, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster told Wall Street analysts that Craigslist has little interest in maximizing profit, instead preferring to help users find cars, apartments, jobs, and dates.
The company does not formally disclose financial or ownership information. Analysts and commentators have reported varying figures for its annual revenue, ranging from $10 million in 2004, $20 million in 2005, and $25 million in 2006 to possibly $150 million in 2007. It is believed to be owned principally by Newmark, Buckmaster, and eBay (the three board members). eBay owns approximately 25%, and Newmark is believed to own the largest stake.
Having observed people helping one another in a friendly, social and trusting community way on the Internet, the WELL, and Usenet, and feeling isolated as a relative newcomer to San Francisco, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark decided to create something similar for local events.
The first postings debuted in early 1995. The initial technology encountered some limits, so by June of 1995 majordomo had been installed and the mailing list “craigslist” resumed operations. Most of the early postings were submitted by Newmark and were notices of social events of interest to software and Internet developers living and working in San Francisco.
Soon, word of mouth led to rapid growth. Both subscribers and the number of postings grew rapidly. There was no moderation, so Newmark was surprised when people started using the mailing list for non-event postings. People trying to fill technical positions found that the list was a good way to reach people with the skills they were looking for. This led to the addition of a category for “jobs”. User demand for more categories caused the list of categories to grow. About this time, community members started asking for a web interface. Newmark enlisted the help of volunteers and contractors to create a website user interface for the different mailing list categories. Needing a domain name for this, Craig registered “craigslist.org” (and later, “craigslist.com”, to prevent the name “craigslist” from being used for other purposes). About this time, Newmark realized that the site was growing so fast that he could stop working as a software engineer and work full time running craigslist. By April 2000, there were nine employees working out of Newmark’s apartment on Cole Street in San Francisco.
Newmark says that Craigslist works because it gives people a voice, a sense of community trust and even intimacy. Other factors he cites are consistency of down-to-earth values, customer service and simplicity. After first being approached about running banner ads, Newmark decided to keep Craigslist non-commercial. In 2002, Craigslist staff posted mock-banner ads throughout the site as an April Fools joke.
Significant events for Craigslist
- In January 2000, current CEO Jim Buckmaster joined the company as lead programmer and CTO. Buckmaster contributed the site’s multi-city architecture, search engine, discussion forums, flagging system, self-posting process, homepage design, personals categories, and best-of-Craigslist feature. He was promoted to CEO in November 2000.
- In 2002, a disclaimer was put on the “men seeking men”, “casual encounters”, “erotic services”, and “rants and raves” boards to ensure that those who clicked on these sections were over the age of 18. No disclaimer was on the “men seeking women,” “women seeking men” or “women seeking women” boards. Responding to charges of discrimination and negative stereotyping, Buckmaster explained that the company’s policy is a response to user feedback requesting the warning on the more sexually explicit sections, including “men seeking men”. Today, all of the above listed boards (as well as some others) lead to a disclaimer.
- On August 1, 2004, Craigslist began charging $25 to post job openings on the New York and Los Angeles pages. On the same day, a new section was added called “Gigs”, where low-cost and unpaid jobs and internships can be posted for free.
- On August 13, 2004, Newmark announced on his blog that auction giant eBay had purchased a 25% stake in the company from a former principal. Some fans of Craigslist have expressed concern that this development will affect the site’s longtime non-commercial nature, but it remains to be seen what ramifications the change will actually have. As of June 2007, there have been no substantive changes to the usefulness or non-advertising nature of the site (still no banner ads, still only charging for a few services to businesses).
- In July 2005, Craigslist won the right to beam over 2 million classified ads into deep space (one light year away) in the near future after Buckmaster won an eBay auction for broadcasting time from the company Deep Space Communications Network. Newmark said, “We believe there could be an infinite market opportunity” in space.
- In April 2008, EBay announced it was suing Craigslist to “safeguard its four-year financial investment”. eBay claimed that in January 2008, Craigslist executives took actions that “unfairly diluted eBay’s economic interest by more than 10%”.  In response, Craigslist filed a complaint against eBay in May 2008 “to remedy the substantial and ongoing harm to fair competition” that Craigslist claims is constituted by eBay’s actions as Craigslist shareholders. 
- In November of 2007, Ryan J. Davis directed Jeffrey Self’s solo show ‘My Life On The Craigslist’ at Off-Broadway’s New World Stages. The show focuses on a young gay man’s sexual experiences on Craigslist and was so successful that it returned to New York by popular demand in February of 2008.
Controversies and illegal activities by users
- On February 3, 2006, Craigslist was sued by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law for allegedly allowing users to post discriminatory housing ads in Chicago that violate the Fair Housing Act. The case was subsequently dismissed because of immunity granted by the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
- On September 8, 2006, several sites reported that Craigslist’s “Casual Encounters” forums in several cities had been compromised by individuals posting fraudulent ads in order to obtain personal information about people. This information, including email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses, photos, etc. was publicly posted online.
- On September 12, 2007, a woman pled guilty in federal court to running an underage prostitution ring through Craigslist.
- On February 8, 2008, a Michigan woman was charged with using classified advertising Web site Craigslist to hire a contract killer to murder a romantic rival.
- In April 2008, a couple were charged with placing an ad on Craigslist inviting the public to take anything from a man’s home in Oregon, leading to the loss of his possessions. The couple had placed this ad to cover up their own burglary of his house.
- May 27, 2008: Vancouver police report that a Vancouver couple attempted to sell their week-old baby on the site.
- In July 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle criticized Craigslist for allowing ads from dog breeders, and thereby allegedly encouraging the over breeding and irresponsible selling of pit bulls in the Bay Area.
- In January 2006, the San Francisco Bay Guardian published an editorial criticizing Craigslist for moving into local communities and “threatening to eviscerate” local alternative newspapers. Craigslist has been compared to Wal-Mart, a multinational corporation that some feel crushes small local businesses when they move into towns and offer a huge assortment of goods at cheaper prices.
- In August 2007, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin wrote a letter to Craigslist asking the company to take steps to avoid unwittingly enabling child prostitution through its classified ads.