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The Ugliest Website in the World

Craigslist is a very ugly website. In 2009, it is estimated that it will have a turnover of US$ 100 million. It has 30 full-time employees.

Craigslist breaks all marketing and branding rules. In fact, it doesn't market or brand or sell itself at all. There are no marketers on staff. "Only programmers, customer service reps and accounting staff work at craigslist," Gary Wolf writes in an excellent Wired article.

Craigslist does things slowly and repetitively. Its strategy for growth involves "a slow, bloblike, seemingly unstoppable accretion of new craigslist cities, each an exact clone of the others, launched with no marketing or publicity," Wolf writes. "Sometimes a new site grows very slowly for a long time."

47 million Americans visit Craigslist every month. More people visit it than eBay or Amazon.

Craigslist is a "centralized network of online communities, featuring free online classified advertisements - with sections devoted to jobs, housing, personals, for sale, services, community, gigs, résumés, and discussion forums" according to Wikipedia.

Craig Newmark founded craigslist in 1995. "Newmark has one trait that mattered a lot in craigslist's success," Wolf writes. "He is willing to perform the same task again and again. During the company's first years, Newmark approved nearly every message on the list, and in the decade since he has spent much of his time eliminating offensive ones. Even by the most conservative accounting, he has passed judgment on tens of thousands of classified ads. Very few people could do this and thrive."

What is the philosophy or vision statement of Craigslist? According to Newark, "People are good and trustworthy and generally just concerned with getting through the day … Customer service is public service."

Craigslist gets a lot of criticism for its ugly design that hasn't changed since 1999. "I hear this all the time," CEO Jim Buckmaster tells Wired. "You guys are so primitive, you are like cavemen. Don't you have any sense of aesthetic? But the people I hear it from are invariably working for firms that want the job of redoing the site. In all the complaints and requests we get from users, this is never one of them. Time spent on the site, the number of people who post-we're the leader. It could be we're doing one or two things right."

So what are they doing right? How about their approach to revenue generation, for a start? "Companies looking to maximize revenue need to throw as many revenue-generating opportunities at users as they will tolerate," Buckmaster tells Wired. "We have absolutely no interest in doing that, which I think has been instrumental to the success of craigslist."

There is method to this apparent commercial madness. "While it may seem paradoxical, Craigslist actually is being much smarter (on purpose or not) in how it "maximizes profits," an article on the Techdirt website states. "It's doing it by not pissing off users and not trying to squeeze them for every possible penny today, knowing correctly that doing so is a horrible long-term strategy."

Craigslist is willing to do the basic, boring stuff again and again and again. It thinks long-term. It puts people first. It trusts them. And millions of people trust it back and use it every day to find love and cars and stuff. Craigslist, the anti-brand, is one of the biggest brands of the 21st Century.

About the Author

Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.

 
 
 
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