Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Craig's List shakes its moneymaker for people, not profits

You know how people always say "Well, communism/socialism/wealth-sharing's ok in theory, but it's never worked in actual history because people are too greedy," and then seem to relish the opportunity to prove this claim with their own behavior? We think that's really annoying, too. Well, check this out:

In a culture clash of "near-epic proportions", the perhaps inappropriately named Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of Craigslist, left Wall Street insiders scrambling to understand why maximizing revenue is simply "not part of the goal" of the massively popular (and growing in popularity at 100% per year) agora-type website he runs with founder Craig Neumark. As reported by the New York Times, Buckmaster caused quite a stir at last week's UBS global media conference in New York, plunging at least one UBS analyst into some unintentional mind-expansion, if not soul-searching:

[UBS analyst Ben Schachter asked]: How about running AdSense ads from Google? Craigslist has considered that, Mr. Buckmaster said. They even crunched the numbers, which were “quite staggering.” But users haven’t expressed an interest in seeing ads, so it is not going to happen.

Following the meeting, Schachter wrote a research note, flagged by Tech Trader Daily, which suggests that he still doesn’t quite get the concept of serving customers first, and worrying about revenues later, if at all (and nevermind profits). Craigslist, the analyst wrote, “does not fully monetize its traffic or services.”

[In another fascinating post-UBS conference article, Buckmaster said he would consider running Google ads and funneling all the profits to charity, but only if the users wanted it that way.]

Here at Betty and Bimbo, we have always loved and relied on Craig's List. It has made life easier for us in so many ways, from finding roommates and babysitting jobs to selling musical instruments to giggling at funny "adult services" ads posted by "ruggedly good-looking, John Goodman-esque" naked after-party house-cleaners. Craig's List makes us unafraid of moving to strange places where we don't know anybody or how to find anything. And Craigslist is not just a community catalyst in an informal sense - though Buckmaster and Neumark do relish the locally-based nature of their site - but also runs a nonprofit foundation to help burgeoning community groups all over the country improve their use technology and connect with peers.

Moreover, the unadorned Craig's List site seems genuinely driven to help people connect in the real world, rather than fetishizing electronic encounters, as sites like the self-absorbed buffer that is My Space does. And unlike Google, which is a useful but unabashedly self-promoting, empire-seeking and profiteering brand (and who care what we censor or where?), Craig's List has no interest in taking over the world or making us see its name everywhere. Instead, it has relied on word of mouth from ordinary people in every state in the U.S. and beyond. Craig's List is also a bastion of totally free expression, for better and worse. Above all, it trusts people and promotes democratic values and a stripped-down vision of how technology can improve our lives when it is a means to an end. And it reminds us that that end doesn't have to be money.

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