Three Minutes With Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark (photo by Gene X. Hwang).
Photograph: Gene X. Hwang
Craig Newmark, 51, is founder and caretaker of Craigslist, a Web site where nearly 6 million unique visitors in 57 cities (in the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom) each month post and read free classified ads for everything from selling used toasters to dating. Online auction powerhouse EBay recently purchased a 25 percent stake in Craigslist from a minority shareholder.

Before founding Craigslist nine years ago, Newmark worked as a software developer and architect for such companies as Bank of America, Charles Schwab, and IBM. These days, Newmark, who hasn't taken a vacation in four years, spends most of his time protecting his site from spammers, scam artists, and troublemakers.

PC World: With EBay now a part owner of Craigslist, are you guys going corporate?

Craig Newmark: When people say "corporate" like that, they mean the kind of corporate that gets dysfunctional and forgets to listen to customers. Now, I spent 20 years in large corporate environments, so I know what I'm talking about. We've built into the Craigslist DNA the notion that Craigslist is completely focused on our customers. On literally a daily basis, we continue to question our own business processes. We read our feedback forums daily and give our customers what they want.

We are hearing a healthy degree of skepticism about this recent development with EBay from some of our folks. We think those folks are going to be very pleasantly surprised in the coming months and years to see that the changes are going to be positive and upbeat. Craigslist will never go "corporate" in the dysfunctional sense of the word.

PCW: You've said that EBay showed you it was interested in Craigslist for all the right reasons. Can you elaborate? What were those reasons?

Newmark: Pretty much it agreed with our mission statement about being primarily a community service and not--let's say--a profit center. We have a similar moral compass in that we both try to do the right thing for people.

PCW: What will EBay bring to Craigslist? Any changes in store?

Newmark: We hope to get help from EBay when it comes to chasing the bad guys. There are a certain number of people, such as in our discussion boards, who like to post obnoxious stuff to get attention--that's a minor problem. The bigger problems are scammers, operating out of Nigeria and Romania in particular, asking for advance payment on ridiculously low-priced items sold through Craigslist. Of course, people are getting stolen from. EBay will help us weed these bad guys out.

But the big news is, nothing is changing. I mean, EBay is going to help us keep the trolls and ne'er-do-wells from becoming a nuisance. But that's about it.

PCW: You don't follow the common dot-com company practice of dumping truckloads of new features on a site to impress investors and wow users.

Newmark: That's not what Craigslist is about. All our features are in response to what people ask for. There are a few exceptions [to the practice of not adding new features]. Recently we put up a child-care section on Craigslist to help single moms find babysitters.

PCW: What are the most popular sections of Craigslist?

Newmark: Jobs, housing, for sale, and personals.

PCW: Your site is free. There are no banner or pop-up ads. How do you do it?

Newmark: First off, we operate very efficiently with a staff of 14 employees. Secondly, we aren't entirely free. Employers have to pay between $25 and $70 to post job listings in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles.

PCW: What has Craigslist taught you about the Net?

Newmark: In our culture today people don't have a lot of good ways to connect with other people. Craigslist helps. My second observation is that overall, people are pretty trustworthy. If you give people an environment where they can trust each other and be fair, for the most part, then people almost always return that trust. That's what Craigslist is really all about.

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