Onward! (And Backward!) The Weird Economics Of Craigslist

Craig Newmark.

hide captionCraig Newmark, the picture of contentment.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Defenders of the free market, in my mind, have always had a little explaining to do when it comes to things like computer software. Where is my minimalist option?? I want the version without all the stupid features that slow everything down. (Long liveXyWrite!)

Maybe times are changing. David Pogue writes in the New York Times today that Apple's new operating system, called Snow Leopard, is admirably streamlined.

It's the radical concept of a software update that's smaller, faster and better — instead of bigger, slower and more bloated. May the rest of the industry take the hint.

Meanwhile, Wired this month goes after a related idea, "Why Craigslist Is Such A Mess." Craigslist's bare-bones approach has some obvious problems. It's so stripped of bells and whistles that you can scarcely find your way through it. So why hasn't a competitor stepped in and stolen all the business? Gary Wolf writes:

The Internet's great promise is to make the world's information universally accessible and useful. So how come when you arrive at the most popular dating site in the US you find a stream of anonymous come-ons intermixed with insults, ads for prostitutes, naked pictures, and obvious scams? In a design straight from the earliest days of the Web, miscellaneous posts compete for attention on page after page of blue links, undifferentiated by tags or ratings or even usernames. Millions of people apparently believe that love awaits here, but it is well hidden. Is this really the best we can do?

Why doesn't Craigslist feel the need to improve? Wolf says the answer starts with its founder, Craig Newmark:

Though the company is privately held and does not respond to questions about its finances, it is evident that craigslist earns stupendous amounts of cash. One recent report, from a consulting firm that counted the paid ads, estimates that revenue could top $100 million in 2009. Should craigslist ever be sold, the price likely would run into the billions. Newmark, by these lights, is a very rich man. When anybody reminds him of this, the craigslist founder says there is nothing he would care to do with that much money, should it ever come into his hands. He already has a parking space, a hummingbird feeder, a small home with a view, and a shower with strong water pressure. What else is he supposed to want?

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