Interview: Craig Newmark on Online Real Estate


How did Craig become craig of craigslist fame? At Pubcon, Craig Newmark told the audience how he and Craigslist became famous enough to get tips on how to flush out Al Qaeda. In 1994, while still working as a web developer at Charles Schwab, he began using computer network communications systems such as Usenet, a technology developed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. But he didn’t find them very efficient at combating spam. Instead of utilizing Usenet, Newmark opted to start his own mailing list using Pine.

The mailing list was intended to inform people of everyday events in San Francisco. Word of mouth led to more and more people requesting invitations to join the list.

Eventually Pine emerged as a list that not only announced San Francisco happenings but extended to buying, selling, and swapping; free job hunting, personals, and help wanted ads; plus more gimme shelter options: housing, roommates, apartment sales and rentals.

When Pine proved unable to handle the huge number of subscribers, Craig extended the list to a majordomo mailing list. Eventually a Perl script that could process the mailing list into a Web page enabled the full-fledged craigslist Web site to launch.

In 1997, Craigslist hit three milestones: 1 million page views per month; an offer from Microsoft to advertise on the site (Craig declined), and volunteers who offered to turn Craigslist into a social community. In the end, the volunteer operation didn’t become a success but two years later, Craigslist became a company.

Since then, there have been a few tweaks of the code but not much else has changed in the past eight years or so.

SEW real estate guru Avi Wilensky sat down with Craig Newmark at the Real Estate Connect NYC 2008 conference in NYC and learned a bit more about Craigslist, social media, and Newmark’s views on SEO.

The Interview

Avi Wilensky: What’s your favorite social media site and why?

Craig Newmark: I don’t use social media sites. However, I do have a Facebook account. I’ve had close to 1,000 people who have opted to friend me.

Although I don’t actively participate on Facebook at this time, I plan on using Facebook to promote my charities. I’m currently planning on promoting, a veterans’ rights site. While I can do this on Craigslist, I think it causes confusion and is a conflict of interest, so Facebook would be a better venue for this type of marketing.

AW: What are your thoughts on social media beyond Facebook?

CN: My guess is that they’ll evolve into normal and usual ways people connect, but I intuit that no one’s found quite the way to do it.

AW: Do you find that social news sites like Digg (which often promote your Best of Craigslist content) help your traffic or user involvement at all?

CN: We don’t have the stats for referrers, so no real clue, but I’d guess they don’t help significantly.

After the jump, Craig Newmark on his plans for Craigslist Web 2.0, the most popular Craigslist cities in the world, and what happened in Vegas that he wished stayed in Vegas.

AW: Do you intend to make Craigslist a bit more “social” and less “web 1.0” in the future, or do you intend to keep it the same?

CN: We’re more like Web 0.1. We make incremental improvements, but we’ve gotta stay simple, usable, and fast.

AW: What are your most popular US cities?

CN: US cities: SF Bay Area, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland OR.

AW: What about international?

CN: International: London, Manila, Paris, Tokyo, Amsterdam

AW: What were your thoughts on Pubcon Vegas where were you the keynote speaker?

CN: Well, I wish the PA system worked better because the people in the back of the room couldn’t hear me.

Tomorrow: Craig on search engine optimization, SEOs and the SEO community, and who his biggest competitors are in online real estate.

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