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Skrenta on the Craigslist Hullabaloo

By - February 06, 2006

Craigslist got a dressing down in a local paper recently. Rich Skrenta disagrees with the premise. Well said!

But the the real problem with these sour-grapes articles is that they don’t shed any real light on why Craigslist has succeeded, where so many other similar efforts have not. Over-analyzing Craig’s personal habits makes for catty reading but isn’t going to help us understand his takeoff curve in new markets.

To understand how and why something works, study the thing itself, not the maker.


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8 thoughts on “Skrenta on the Craigslist Hullabaloo

  1. Kendall Willets says:

    San Francisco is a town where people donate money to the zoo where the local press magnate got his toe bitten off. It’s not a place where the media earn or deserve any respect.

    I have to agree with Tim about the misuse of the .org designation. It’s not clear whether craigslist is a foundation, a charity, or a bordello, but it certainly doesn’t look like a nonprofit.

  2. T Campbell says:

    I’m afraid I disagree with that premise. Rather strongly.

    Your typical general-consumption story about Google or Yahoo or Craigslist or eBay treats the company concept as if it were a platonic ideal that emerged from the very physical laws of the universe, instead of the creation of people, people with insights but also with flaws. It’s spoon-fed from company press releases and hastily prepared by people who don’t know the right questions to ask or the right people to interview. That crap frustrates the hell out of me.

    The kind of man Craig is yields important insights into the kind of service Craigslist is, and will become. Ditto Larry, Sergey and everybody else. Studying the maker allows us to perceive new sides of the thing, sides that the maker would prefer to keep hidden.

    John, after THE SEARCH’s penetrating analysis of the Google founders and the man who gave us Goto/Overture, I’m flabbergasted that you’d deny the validity of the human element in these studies.

    The specific piece may indeed fail. There should be a balance; profiles should encompass the best and worst things about their subjects. But to condemn “studying the maker” seems to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

  3. David says:

    The San Francisco Guardian is a very liberal “local” rag. I read it during my 10 years in San Francisco. To say that there are no community watchdogs is ridiculous – the Craig’s List community are the watchdogs – read the forums. I moved to the United States broke from my native UK and managed to set up a GREAT small home based Internet Marketing business by placing “free ads” on CL – I couldn’t afford newspaper ads and the wait for publication.

    Methinks the reporter is a little miffed with Craig for not worshipping him – ego? Craig is a very quiet, reserved, good person – Good for CL – an American success story.

    Something the Guardian “reporter” will, probably, never be….

    David
    Charlotte, NC

  4. Rich Skrenta says:

    Heh. Actually, I *do* have the same beef with all the coverage about Google. Of course there are fascinating human stories behind business successes, and we all want to read about them. John’s book is fantastic. But how many articles do we need about Craig and his pedometer and how he rides the bus?

    When the product is physical it’s easier to study. The iPod is on its way to being a classic MBA case study. How did Steve Jobs design a player that cost more and had less features and seized 80% market share? That thing will be analyzed to death.

    But when the product is a website, the key differentiating features are often not obvious, and seem to get overlooked.

    PageRank? Sure. But there were easily another 11 differentiators that Google had early on which also contributed to user adoption. Google is a consumer product just like the iPod. The business and the people behind it are intensely covered, but the product itself gets a fraction of the scrutiny.

    It’s easier to write about the physical characteristics of the guy you had lunch with than to do the homework, say go get Jacob Nielsen and ask him what he makes of that strange Craigslist UI, versus, say, Yahoo’s. But not as illuminating.

  5. I think the debate between SFBG and Craig (which only SFBG is currently engaging in :) has some interesting dimensions. SFBG is mainly complaining about the effect of non-community members taking a fee for providing services remotely — he seems to feel that the better model is one in which these productivity-enhancing techniques come out of local talent only, possibly with the instructional help of outsiders. I doubt this is feasible in a large-scale capitalistic system such as ours.

  6. There are several factors contibuting to Craigslist Success:

    1- Ease of Loading
    2- Instant Gratification
    3- Versatility
    4- Free or Low Cost
    5- Practical Value
    6- Navigationally Simple
    7- Optional Anonymity
    8- Bay Area Birth in 1995

    Do a web.archive.org Search for the complete archives of Craigslist – then analyze the changes and growth over the past decade.

    BTW:
    Could you imagine if ONE SUPER BRILLIANT mind had came up with a
    Google-Yahoo-Ebay-Amazon-Craigslist,
    All in one Website idea in 1995.

  7. Craigslist Sued for Housing Discrimination ADs

    Among the housing ads cited as objectionable by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Inc. were ones that read “NO MINORITIES,” “Requirements: Clean Godly Christian Male,” and “Only Muslims apply.”

    news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060210/ap_on_hi_te/internet_discrimination