April 18, 2014

Craigslist Personals – Classified Ads

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Internet Sites

Craigslist is one of the top ten English language websites in the world [1]. This classified ads website includes as one of its foremost areas an extremely active personals ads page. True to its origins as a sort of community service newsletter, started up in 1995 by programmer Craig Newmark, Craigslist Personals are free of charge, with the exception of a $5 posting fee (and the requirement of a valid phone number) for their “Erotic Services” section.

The fee and phone requirement were in response to a prostitution ring sting carried out in 2006 in Nassau County, centering on Craigslist ads. This step led to an 80% decline in the number of postings in that section of Craigslist [2]. A possibly expected result of this turn of events was a significant increase in the Craigslist “Casual Encounters” section, which grew to about 2% of all Craigslist ads [3]. In fact, Craigslist Personals ad posting volume has reportedly outstripped (no pun intended) such dating sites as Match.com, Yahoo personals and eHarmony [3].

More recently, in 2009, under intense pressure from state attorneys general of several states, Craigslist completely removed their “adult services” section, replacing it with a somewhat enigmatic one-word statement – “Censored” [4]. It is not clear whether Craigslist intended this to be a form of protest at a perceived free speech limitation, or what they may see as a simple statement of fact.

Craigslist Personals is a section that can be found under any of the classified site’s over 700 regional pages. This section has a list of nine sub-sections, “Strictly Platonic”, “Women Seeking Women”, “Women Seeking Men”, “Men Seeking Women”, “Men Seeking Men”, “Misc Romance”, “Casual Encounters” – the new home for those ads left homeless by the changes to the more accurately labeled and now defunct Adult Services or Erotic Services section, “Missed Connections” for those looking to find that beauty or hunk fleetingly seen across a crowded dance floor or subway station, and “Rants and Raves” [5]. These sub-sections each host free Personals ads numbering in the dozens or even hundreds, seeking platonic friendships, sex-only one-night stands with no strings attached, or long-term relationships [6].

Given the sensitive nature, and potential risk of responding to such ads, Craigslist states clearly when a site visitor tries to access the Craigslist Personals area that the visitor is required to be 18 years or older, that the visitor acknowledges that the section may contain adult material, that the visitor agrees to flag any post they find which is illegal or in violation of the Craigslist terms of service, that he or she agrees to report to the authorities any “suspected exploitation of minors”, and most importantly (at least for Craigslist’s attorneys) that the visitor releases Craigslist from any liability for whatever may result from the visitor’s use of the site [7]. Craigslist further warns visitors to this section of the site that scammers may attempt to redirect them to dating sites, may be phishing for their personal information, and may even attempt to lure them to fraudulent websites that will attempt to upload malware to the unwary Craigslist user’s computer [7].

In the Terms of Use, Craigslist disclaims any liability or responsibility for the outcome of their users’ use of the site, and the interactions they have with other Craigslist users. This is true whether you’re the one posting your personal ad to Craigslist Personals, or someone responding to an intriguing ad posted there [8]. If you do intend to use this extremely active part of Craigslist, you should be cautious and prudent. Follow the advice posted by the site about staying safe [9], as well as avoiding scams [10].

The History of Craigslist

The story of Craigslist started with the move of its founder, Craig Newmark, to San Francisco, and an email newsletter he started up as a hobby to keep his friends and colleagues updated about various events of interest in the Bay area [1].

Fast forward four years, and in 1999 Mr. Newmark retired from his IT consultancy work and concentrated his efforts full time on the developing website carrying his first name, Craigslist [11]. Craigslist declines to comment on any reports about their revenues or profits, but a NY Times 2009 report estimated the former to be in the vicinity of $100 million [12]. Another telling point is the 2004 purchase of a minority stake in Craigslist by ecommerce behemoth eBay [13], which presumably pointed to eBay’s belief in the profitability and/or potential profitability of Craigslist.

Subsequent to this purchase, which made eBay the third shareholder in Craigslist, alongside Mr. Newmark and Craigslist’s CEO, Jim Buckmaster, differences arose between the two companies, leading to lawsuits by each against the other. A copy of eBay’s original complaint (redacted) can be found online, claiming illegal dilution of eBay’s stake from about 30% to about 25% [14]. Craigslist countersuit claimed eBay’s launch of kijiji.com, their version of a classified ads site, was based in large measure on the improper use of confidential business information gleaned as a shareholder in Craigslist [15]. Meg Whitman, former eBay CEO and later California gubernatorial candidate testified in court on behalf of her former company [16].

In September 2010, eBay won a significant legal victory, in which a jury decided Craigslist management’s actions to dilute eBay’s minority stake were illegal [13]. eBay’s victory was not complete however, in that the judge upheld Craigslist’s steps preventing eBay from being able to unilaterally appoint a member to Craigslist’s board [13].

Craigslist Community and Culture

While Craigslist is a for-profit company since its incorporation in 1999 [1], it maintains its original culture of non-commercialism. Even the judge in the above-mentioned lawsuit commented on the vast difference in corporate cultures between Craigslist, which seemed little motivated by profits, and eBay, which behaves in much more typical corporate ways [13].

This non-commercial culture is well-symbolized by Craigslist retaining in their web address the “.org” suffix [1]. The classifieds giant has not monetized its massive traffic by hosting such third-party ads as Google AdSense ads or banner ads. Most ads posted on Craigslist are free of charge, with few exceptions (e.g. brokered apartment ads in NYC and help-wanted ads in about 20 of the largest markets [1]). It is perhaps unsurprising that Craigslist’s attentiveness to serving their user community has resulted in the growth of that community to about 50 million users in the United States alone, with many more oversees users [1]. Craigslist serves an estimated 20 billion pages monthly to their users [1]. The site also hosts over a hundred topical forums, ranging from “Adoption” to “Yoga” [17], with over 120 million posts all told [1].

Craigslist Competitors

As a result of the wide breadth of ad types posted on Craigslist, the site finds itself in competition with a large number of online entities. Depending on the specific type of ads, Craigslist competes with different sets of competitors. For example, Craigslist Personals competes with the likes of eHarmony.com, Yahoo personals, Match.com, Chemistry.com, Realmatch.com, MeetUp.com, Facebook, and others.

The Craigslist For Sale sections compete with eBay, MyStore.com, SellItForFree.com, StuffBuff.com, Advertag.com, CitySearch.com, etc. The Craigslist housing section competes with e.g. HotPads.com, Corkin.com, etc. Some of Craigslist’s competitors offer a similar breadth of classified ads, such as ClassifiedsByZip.com, Geebo.com, OLX.com, etc. leading to a much wider front over which competition ranges. Considering the level of traffic on Craigslist, it seems safe to venture the site has been successful in maintaining an edge over most of these competitors.

Craigslist Fast Facts

  1. Launch: 1995 [18].
  2. Founder: Craig Newmark [18].
  3. Headquarters: 1381 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122-2308 [19].
  4. Phone numbers: 415-566-6394, Fax: 415-504-6394 [19].
  5. Funding Source: mostly from “for rent” ads in NYC, “for hire” ads in about 20 major markets [19].
  6. Number of users: 50 million in the US alone, though the site operates overseas pages in many languages [1].
  7. Number of pages served: about 20 billion monthly [1].
  8. CEO and programmer: Jim Buckmaster [20].
  9. Number of employees: 12 according to Hoovers [20], but 30 according to company information [1].

References

[1] http://www.craigslist.org/about/factsheet [2] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/19/fashion/19craigslist.html [3] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-richmond/a-new-twist-in-the-story_b_530408.html [4] http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100904/ap_on_hi_te/us_craigslist_adult_services [5] e.g. http://washingtondc.craigslist.org [6] e.g. http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/w4m [7] http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/cgi-bin/personals.cgi?category=w4m [8] http://www.craigslist.org/about/terms.of.use [9] http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/about/safety [10] http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/about/scams [11] http://www.craigslist.org/about/craig_newmark [12] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/10/technology/internet/10craig.html [13] http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ebay-wins-legal-ruling-against-craigslist-2010-09-09-184200 [14] http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/ebay/226550478x0x192471/5a92c5ee-98c3-4a85-a507-0ecd8c81e41b/eBay_LetterwithPublicRedactedVerifiedComplaint.pdf [15] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/07/ebay-craigslist-battle-fo_n_382344.html [16] http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/12/meg-whitman-testifies-as-ebay-and-craigslist-square-off-in-court/ [17] http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/forums/ [18] http://www.crunchbase.com/company/craigslist [19] http://biz.yahoo.com/ic/129/129617.html [20] http://www.hoovers.com/company/craigslist_inc/rtsjrki-1.html

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  1. [...] ads, Craigslist provides over a hundred topical forums [1]. Craigslist classifieds include personals ads, housing rental ads, houses for sale, help wanted ads, textbooks for sale, etc. You can even find [...]

  2. [...] categories, Craigslist ads include cars for sale, housing for rent, houses for sale, help wanted, dating, free stuff for the taking, etc. You can sell almost anything (legal) on Craigslist, including used [...]

  3. [...] [5]. Craigslist offers many other types of ads besides Cars For Sale, including most notably Craigslist Personals, Craigslist Help Wanted ads, and Craigslist Housing ads, each of which is described in greater [...]

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