Designing Media - Craig Newmark

This is the second interview in Chapter 2 in my new book, Designing Media

Craig Newmark, December 2008

Who hasn’t heard of Craigslist, the Web site that has dramatically altered the classified advertising universe with its largely free want ads and for-sale postings? At the end of 2008, the site operated in 55 countries and 570 cities, with approximately 13 billion pages per month and around 50 million unique visitors. Craig Newmark, the founder, believes that the community that he has created has a lot in common with Wikipedia and admires the achievements of Jimmy Wales. He sees similarities in philosophy, community spirit, technologies, and internal architecture.

Next to the Eucalyptus Grove

Craig invited me to interview him at his house in San Francisco, idyllically located at the edge of a magnificent eucalyptus grove. He works at his computer in front of a large window so that he can glance up at the trees rustling gently in the breeze and filling the air with scent. Unfortunately, on the day of the interview his girlfriend had her purse stolen, so there was a tense atmosphere in the house as they tried to deal with police reports while answering my questions. Perhaps the tension made Craig even more stoic than normal, but he talked in an even and succinct manner, emanating rationality in the face of the misadventure.

Craigslist Homepage

Craig would never admit to having designed anything. He says, “Fortunately, I knew from the beginning that I have no design skills but knew how to keep things simple. And we’ve maintained the simplicity over the years.” Craig, I beg to differ! In my opinion, keeping it simple is in itself a powerful design skill. He has also developed a simple set of design principles or guidelines: 1. Listen to customers. 2. Design solutions to address problems. 3. Try out the resulting designs with customers. 4. Listen again (and repeat the cycle of these four steps). 5. Always move in small increments to maintain sustainable growth. 6. Delegate roles, including leadership. 7. Avoid complexity. 8. Be consistent and persistent. The culture of trust at Craigslist is based on values, such as treating people the way you want to be treated. The strongest similarity to Wikipedia is that people rather than algorithms make the crucial customer-service judgments. Craigslist thrives due to excellent customer service. As with Wikipedia, some measures of policing and control are needed for quality and truth.