Craigslist: the web's fertilizer

2014-04-25 2 min read

    Craigslist has become the fertilizer of the web. This realization came to me last week when I needed to get a replacement phone and decided to search for one on Craigslist.Filtering past the obvious scams I thought I find a legitimate offer and reached out. Within a few minutes I received the following response from “Kyle”:

    Hi a guy bought this from me, but I can tell you where I got it from. I got 3 of these from and I resold them for some extra money. The trick is to watch for bidding to slow down and then put in a bid. That's what I do and I win most of the time.

    And this was from a listing that seemed legitimate! The vast majority of listings were clearly fraudulent that promised either amazing deals or was the same posting duplicated a dozen times with slightly different wording. Even beyond the fraud and scams there are probably tons of startups trying to take advantage of the network that Craigslist offers. Some are listing their products and services to validate their market and others are reaching out to owners of various listings trying to sell them on something.

    At Makers Alley we posted a variety of products to Craigslist to understand the market. How many people would click through to our site? Would people more interested in buying custom furniture from individual makers or from a brand? Would anyone go through the entire checkout process?

    We only received responses to ads that were positioned as independent makers and each of these responses was from another startup trying to get us to sign up for their platform. This feels like a perverse version of “The Gift of the Magi” - startups exchanging services with other startups - without any real consumers benefiting. I’d love to know what percentage of Craigslist is startups interacting with startups without either knowing the identity of the other. I suspect that for some verticals the number is shockingly high. This is also a massive example of how powerful the network effect is - the tiny sliver of value available in Craigslist is still enough to keep it useful.