Friday, November 27, 2009

#36 - Craigslist

It was the decade when...

One guy's list got so popular he made Santa jealous.

Website design has come a long way in the Aughts. From bland text based interfaces as aesthetically pleasing as the Wall Street Journal Stock Index to multimedia, flash enabled, graphically rich immersive "experiences," a well designed webpage is less a site one reads than a destination one visits. And yet, for all of Web 2.0's (as this era of the Internet is being coined) surplus of impressively designed webpages, there was one site that saw little need to adapt to the changing climate. One site that, despite being as visually bland as a box of generic cheerios, has established itself as one of the Internet's most popular destinations and a feature of social reality, that, like so much of the web, we could no longer imagine living without. It's a webpage that, if not single than helping handedly, destroyed the newspaper industry, gutting a financial model that could no longer sustain itself in a world where information exchange became both instantaneous and free. It's Craigslist! Your one stop find a job, buy a car, sell your toaster, audition a drummer, get laid, find a date, rent a prostitute shop for all your lifestyle needs. (Often in that order.) Craigslist is unpleasant, confusing, maddening, dull, mysterious, spam-filled and totally, absolutely necessary.

Craigslist didn't just find it's niche, it found everyones niche - on the site you could shop for just about anything that can be bought or sold (or given away for free) - from collapsible bicycles, to human labor, from a back alley blowjob, to a dinner companion for the opera - Craiglist was anything but limited. And unlike classified ads in print the call and response of posting and answering on Craigslist was near instantaneous. Craigslist was bland to be sure and almost wholly charmless but Goddamn if the site wasn't efficient at delivering the goods (both figuratively and literally).

Craigslist works because everyone agrees that it must. More local than eBay, less corporate than, and far blunter than EHarmony, Craigslist is the de facto location where everyone goes to engage in the marketplace. It's a cyber-bazaar; a wild, unruly yard sale-cum-newspaper classifieds section where any and everyone hawks their wares, prices always negotiable. Competition serves no one in this commercial model, the site only succeeds if there is one and only one place for everyone to meet and trade. Gradual migration to another similar site is a near impossibility. To the victor goes the spoils. Craigslist, being the first site of it's kind, capitalized on its initial dominance in online classifieds to become a nearly unstoppable force; by the time competitors tried to get a foothold Craigslist had staked its territory, dug out a moat, and erected battlements. King Craig rules.

Craigslist has inspired everything from off-Broadway shows, to Weird Al Yankovic parody songs, to psycho killers. Its stamp on American society is profound and unlikely to diminish any time soon. Pressure is always on for the site to sell-out, add ads, redesign its antiquated graphical interface. Something. But Craigslist plods on, conquering the the world a city at a time. All with only a staff of thirty and a founder who interacts with his sites users through the format of Haiku. Though he could sell his site for billions Craig is content with just millions; holding fast to his ideology of "direct democracy." As for myself? I just keep waiting to see if someone asks about me on Missed Connections.

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