A user on Quora asked, “What was the true genesis of Craigslist?” Wikipedia can answer that: before Craigslist became became a goldmine of (mostly real) apartment listings and garage sale items in 50 countries, it was a simple email distribution list for friends who met up at events in the San Fransisco Bay area. But it turns out that many friends of the site, including founder Craig Newmark, had a Quora account and some time on their hands for an online reunion.
“Seeing Craigslist today, you can tell that it’s a massive marketplace but it’s not optimized for profit and revenues,” the question continued. “So what was it that Craig wanted to build? How did he go about laying the foundation?”
Craig Newmark’s response was terse, but candid:
Okay, here’s very brief info, all on the record already…
1994 at Charles Schwab, was evangelizing the Net, saw a lot of people helping each other out.
early 1995, I decided to give back a little via a cc list, focusing on arts and tech events in San Francisco.
started listening to people and acting on feedback, a cycle which continues to this day.
in 1999, made craigslist into a real company for it to survive effectively. decided I didn’t personally need to make lots of money. NOT altruistic, just knowing when enough is enough.
updated software in latish 1999, ceased coding, committed to customer service work, but only as long as I live.
made Jim Buckmaster CEO in 2000, since as a manager, I suck.
Now doing customer service work, but personal major focus on public service and philanthropy at craigconnects.org
There were five more answers, all of them supportive the of the site and its founder. Shara Karasic was working at Mountain Lake Software when she was introduced to Craig through mutual friends from the SF Web Professionals group. “Craig would send us these emails telling us about parties at the Anon Salon,” she wrote. “The Anon Salon parties were mindblowing. The people and art connected the psychedelic era to the interactive era.”
Mark Richer was also at Mountain Lake Software when he gave Craig advice on a Java applet for an event calendar shortly before the listings really took off. “I remember being on the phone with Craig one day, maybe to call him about the calendar app, and he said he really needed to do something because the list traffic was becoming more expensive to support than he could do as a hobby. I might forget some details of the conversation(s), but my memory is that he needed to decide whether to do it full-time and figure out a way to generate enough revenue to do that.”
Participants in the thread confirmed the founder’s assertions that he was never in it for the money. “I believe Craig’s motivations were always pure,” Richer noted. “…It’s truly rare that a software engineer can build something like Craigslist, maintain control of it for the most part, and have his or her original vision and intent continue without being corrupted to maximize profit or increase the size of one’s own ego.”
Warren Woodford, a technology and patents consultant in San Fransisco, recalled learning about the web-based service from Craig while standing on a street corner just after it launched. “It was the right thing, by the right guy, at the right time,” Woodford wrote. “Wow.”
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