I was somewhat surprised to read that a New York Times columnist, Nick Bilton, is claiming that Craigslist is insufficiently innovative and seemingly stuck in a time warp (see: Innovations Snuffed Out by Craigslist). Here's an excerpt from his piece:
Eye-popping offers to buy [Craigslist] outright came in, all of which Mr. Newmark turned down, saying Craigslist was a “public good.” Craigslist makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year, but it has become stagnant. Today, it feels stuck in the 1990s, where links are electric blue and everything is underlined. As a result, the site is now crammed with listings and is extremely difficult to use. One might think Craigslist is as ready for disruption as sleepy newspaper classified ad sections once were. Why hasn’t a site this vulnerable been displaced?
There may be part of the answer in this tale. Eric DeMenthon, a 27-year-old programmer, was one of the users overwhelmed by the site. In 2008 he was searching for an apartment on Craigslist and he couldn’t navigate the endless listings. So he quickly built an application that placed Craigslist apartment ads on an online map....Last week, Craigslist served Mr. DeMenthon with a lawsuit accusing his site, Padmapper, of infringing on copyright and trademark, and it threw in a long list of other piracy-related claims for good measure.
Below is one of the comments about the NYT article submitted by Casey to the web site. In my opinion, she gets gets it totally right in response to Bilton's article.
Can't believe I have to point this out. CL is FREE. Investors hate free, so there you go.
You must be remembering this column before it was corrected. "Fire-hose of income"? Hardly. They're rare, but some people actually don't care about money. Craig is among them. He really does it because he really does care about doing good.
Craig's karma is still fresh and bright - and his site still works for millions. Anything you build, unless it is better, but still free, will serve hundreds.
First of all, the NYT, and all other newspapers, hate Craigslist. It's one of the major factors behind their financial decline. CL provides a free substitute for the classified ads of print publications that were a major source of revenue for them. Thus far, they have not been able to invent a comparable cash cow.
Sure Craigslist is funky but (1) it has become a brand and therefore largely immune from criticism; (2) it's free and people tend not to complain about "free" if it serves them well; and (3) the site is actually useful. I also agree with Casey that Craig Newmark is not obsessed with making money. He runs his site lean (i.e., few employees) and people love that it's funky. That's part of its appeal. The NYT would jump at the chance to buy Craigslist for billions if it were for sale, perhaps in concert with some venture capitalists. They would then begin to charge for some or most of the services that it currently provides for nothing.
So what's do I think is behind the attack by Bilton? Because Craigslist is iconic, the NYT wants to tarnish its reputation with criticism that might resonate with the digerati. Their claim that Newmark is a greedy capitalist won't hold water, even to the relatively uninformed. They thus also drag out the assertion that he is seeking to protect his intellectual property. Shocking! I am considering placing the following in my masthead: Endorsed by the New York Times. We'll see if this upsets them.