Guest post by Charles C. Johnson
In the latest issue of Wired, Gary Wolf takes Craigslist to task for failing to iterate upon its 1999 website design. In an age of apps, why doesn't Craigslist make itself more user-friendly? Wired investigates. [Emphasis is mine.]
Each of these sites, of course, is merely one of the
many sections of craigslist, which dominates the market in facilitating
face-to-face transactions, whether people are connecting to buy and sell, give
something away, rent an apartment, or have some sex. With more than 47 million
unique users every month in the
Most baffling about the article was just how lightly Craigslist is staffed, reflecting, no doubt, founder Craig Newmark’s fascination with creating online public goods.
Craigslist gets more traffic than either eBay or Amazon .com. eBay has more than 16,000 employees. Amazon has more than 20,000. Craigslist has 30. Craigslist may have little to teach us about how to make decisions, but that's not the aspect of democracy that concerns Newmark most. He cares about the details, about executing all the little obvious things we'd like government to do. "I'm not interested in politics, I'm interested in governance," he says. "Customer service is public service."
Craigslist, though, might be onto something in its refusal to innovate.
. . . craigslist is old-fashioned in any number of ways. It relies on email and the telephone in an era of SMS and social networks. It sticks to traceless transactions in an industry that makes its living collecting data from every touch. And just as people who run technical companies are reaching an apex of confidence in their ability to invent new forms of community based on sharing everything, craigslist still treats social life as dangerously complex, deserving the most jaded caution. Corporate isolation, user anonymity, refusal of excessive profit, glacial adoption of new features: These all signal Newmark and Buckmaster's wariness about what humans, including themselves, might do if given the chance. There may be a peace sign on every page, but the implicit political philosophy of craigslist has a deeply conservative, even a tragic cast. Every day the choristers of the social web chirp their advice about openness and trust; craigslist follows none of it, and every day it grows.