How Did Craigslist Gain Its Initial Traction?

Answers by Craig Newmark and Bram Cohen

2012-02-16-craignewmark.jpg Craig Newmark, Customer Service Rep & Founder

The thing got traction during its first few years, when it was just my hobby, got substantial traction, as I measure it, in its first few years. A few details:

  • from beginning, did something simple and useful
  • from beginning, began cycle: asked for community feedback, did something about it, repeat forever
  • got lucky with simple site design, realizing I have no design skills (didn't waste time doing fancy stuff no one wanted)
  • end of 1997: million page views per month (real traction, at that time)
  • asked to run banner ads by Microsoft Sidewalk (turned down: I don't like banner ads, didn't need the money, not an altruistic decision)
  • Turned it into a business early 1999, after having decent traction.

Jim Buckmaster, CEO, maintains principles cited:

  • permanent listening/action cycle
  • simplicity
  • usefulness
  • community driven

2012-02-16-bramchohen.jpg Bram Cohen, Author of BitTorrrent:

I was on Craig's List back when it was literally a single mailing list, and I read every message posted to it. Back then, it was used for more or less the same things it is now (I joined because I wanted to find a job) but on a vastly reduced scale.

Back in '97 it was easy to start something cool on the internet - being someone who was online was a reasonable filter for being worth hearing from, and there were so few forums available people were happy to chat on whatever was made. Remember this is prior to there even being free automated services for mailing lists. The problem was that inevitably so many people would join that it would get completely overwhelmed that coherent discussion would become impossible. Craigslist combated this by first adding tags to subject lines so people could skim them quicker - like [jobs] or [for sale], then it made it possible to only be subscribed to some of those tags, then added more, and more, and managed to keep the capacity of the site appropriate for the amount of usage while other forums collapsed under their own weight.