The subject line said: Ticket to forest daddy
In the email, Kathleen had some follow up questions about my Craigslist post selling a ticket to the upcoming Sacramento Hozier show. This transaction would be a little different than any other Craigslist sale I’ve been a party to. Sure, the stakes were a lower (I was only asking for $35) but it was all digital. There would be no face-to-face meeting to complete the transaction. I would email or text the ticket and someone would Venmo me the funds. Alas, Kathleen missed her window. Joseph responded first — I sent him the ticket and my Venmo link. This is a riskier move in the land of Craigslist, but we had exchanged Instagram handles and this was, after all, a Hozier show. Our online identities helped assuage scammer concerns and I’m sure Hozier would not approve of any impropriety. While I’m bummed that I couldn’t get to Sac for the show (a Monday night show out of town was overly ambitious) I’m happy to report that the transaction went just fine.
Four days earlier, I made the decision to sell a large shelving unit in my office and replace it with a hulking buffet I had in storage. In less than 24 hours, I had collected my $220, handed Kyle the baggy of hardware, watched him drive off with my shelf miraculously piled in his already-full truck bed, then bounded back up the stairs to my office.
Craigslist has been around for so long and been such a consistent pillar of the interwebz that it only dawned on me recently (and seemingly out of nowhere) that it wasn’t always there. It’s the place to go for affordable dining room chairs and Spanish Colonial apartments and Honda Ridgelines. I don’t clearly recall the first time I used it but I think it was my Crown Heights apartment in college in 2004. I know my motley crew of roommates found our feral kittens, Chloe Kate Moss & Oscar Madonna, on there a few months later.
Craigslist seeped into our browsers in the early aughts and became a go-to for apartments and cars and relatively good-condition furniture from local human beings.
It’s a mainstay in a digital world that evolves so quickly, there are epochs that already feel like the dark ages. Craigslist hasn’t changed much since it launched. It’s a comforting lo-fi interface that’s as functional as it is familiar. It’s like your favorite pizza parlor in your hometown run by the same family with divine eggplant parm and a pinball machine (looking at you, Pizza Town).
My point is I’ve been taking it for granted, like I bet you have, and it’s time we put some proper respect on it. Craigslist is the shit.
Craigslist was founded by Craig Newmark in 1995 as a way to connect to people in his new home of San Francisco. It started as an events site with the ethos of ‘people helping one another in friendly, social, and trusting communal ways’ and grew by popular demand to include job postings and beyond. Jim Buckmaster joined in 2000 as lead programmer and CTO and eventually CEO, and Craigslist came to NY and other cities and continued to spread it’s simple, effective gospel around the growing internet. Nineteen years later, a crew of about 40 people, headed by Buckmaster, operate the still-booming site, the leading classified service of any medium, anywhere in the world.
It generates hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue annually, is worth upward of 3 billion dollars, and, if my recent successful transactions are any indication, shows no sign of stopping.
The size and scope of current Craigslist was not the goal of anti-establishment founder Craig. It’s been an astronomical success that has created one of the best and most ubiquitous examples of tech-for-good that I can think of. A lot of horror stories go around about scams and psychopaths, but as they point out on the site, a staggeringly low number of violent crimes are committed compared with the 80 million monthly visitors. I have met a few douche bags in my long history on there (generally dudes with aliases like Shmee Gollum who complain that I’m asking exorbitant prices) but overall, people are good.
The man with Texas plates who picked up the shelving unit said, “Might there be a time I can come by that wouldn’t excessively disturb you?” The couple I bought my gorgeous giant cabinet from helped haul it downstairs to my friend’s waiting truck. The guy who ended up buying the standing desk was a school administrator who paid for the desk out of his own pocket. I hung out all afternoon with the guy who bought my film SLR camera in 2008. What would we have done with these things without Craigslist? How would we find good homes for the treasures we no longer want, need, or have room for? Would we rely only on Wayfair and Amazon for the cheap convenience and send everything else to the dump? Salvation Army can only handle so much, Craigslist is probably keeping tons of our stuff out of landfills.
It appeals to the environmentalist in me that Craigslist is an enduring vehicle of sustainability as our stuff finds new, enthusiastic custodians.
It appeals to the treasure hunter in me that we can find strange and unique things, like this Kingdom mirror that is a siren call to the primordial-mirror-troll in all of us.
It appeals to the human in me to see how people part with their things, how they live, where they come from and where they’re going.
Something about the classic interface and the philosophy of the founders brings out the human in people online. Seeing what people devolve into with the anonymity of many comments sections, I recognize this is something sort of precious and rare.
Craigslist isn’t interested in further monetizing its traffic. From what I’ve read, it doesn’t seem as if it will ever change. They are able to provide grants to a lot of great non-profits, help people in 70 countries find homes and jobs and shelves. It plays a role in aspects in our lives momentous and mundane. It’s pretty wonderful.
As I look out at the waning moon from my beloved home (found on Craigslist) and return a book to my favorite cabinet (another Craigslist find), I can’t help but feel awash in gratitude for the phenomenon of this site and the people who keep it simple, functional, and thoughtful. It’s heartening that they’ve been so successful, and it makes me think there are a great many more opportunities for tech that connects us and provides us opportunities to show up for each other in ‘friendly, social, and trusting communal ways’.
We can be human on the internet. Will we?