Craig Newmark began the service in 1995 as an email distribution list to friends, featuring local events in the San Francisco Bay Area. It became a web-based service in 1996 and expanded into other classified categories. It started expanding to other U.S. cities in 2000, and now covers 70 countries.
In March 2008, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese became the first non-English languages Craigslist supported. As of August 9, 2012, over 700 cities and areas in 70 countries have Craigslist sites. Some Craigslist sites cover large regions instead of individual metropolitan areas—for example, the U.S. states of Delaware and Wyoming, the Colorado Western Slope, the California Gold Country, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are among the locations with their own Craigslist sites.
Having observed people helping one another in friendly, social, and trusting communal ways on the Internet via the WELL, MindVox and Usenet, and feeling isolated as a relative newcomer to San Francisco, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark decided to create something similar for local events. In early 1995, he began an email distribution list to friends. Most of the early postings were submitted by Newmark and were notices of social events of interest to software and Internet developers living and working in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Soon, word of mouth led to rapid growth. The number of subscribers and postings grew rapidly. There was no moderation and Newmark was surprised when people started using the mailing list for non-event postings. People trying to get technical positions filled found that the list was a good way to reach people with the skills they were looking for. This led to the addition of a jobs category. User demand for more categories caused the list of categories to grow. The initial technology encountered some limits, so by June 1995 Majordomo had been installed and the mailing list “Craigslist” resumed operations. Community members started asking for a web interface. Newmark registered “craigslist.org”, and the website went live in 1996. In the fall of 1998, the name “List Foundation” was introduced and Craigslist started transitioning to the use of this name. In April 1999, when Newmark learned of other organizations called “List Foundation”, the use of this name was dropped. Craigslist incorporated as a private for-profit company in 1999. Around the time of these events, Newmark realized the site was growing so fast that he could stop working as a software engineer and work full-time running Craigslist. By April 2000, there were nine employees working out of Newmark’s San Francisco apartment.
In January 2000, current CEO Jim Buckmaster joined the company as lead programmer and CTO. Buckmaster contributed the site’s multi-city architecture, search engine, discussion forums, flagging system, self-posting process, homepage design, personals categories, and best-of-Craigslist feature. He was promoted to CEO in November 2000.
The website expanded into nine more U.S. cities in 2000, four in 2001 and 2002 each, and 14 in 2003. On August 1, 2004, Craigslist began charging $25 to post job openings on the New York and Los Angeles pages. On the same day, a new section called “Gigs” was added, where low-cost and unpaid jobs and internships can be posted free.
The site serves more than 20 billion page views per month, putting it in 72nd place overall among websites worldwide and 11th place overall among websites in the United States (per Alexa.com on June 28, 2016), with more than 49.4 million unique monthly visitors in the United States alone (per Compete.com on January 8, 2010). With more than 80 million new classified advertisements each month, Craigslist is the leading classifieds service in any medium. The site receives more than 2 million new job listings each month, making it one of the top job boards in the world. The 23 largest U.S. cities listed on the Craigslist home page collectively receive more than 300,000 postings per day just in the “for sale” and “housing” sections as of October 2011. The classified advertisements range from traditional buy/sell ads and community announcements to personal ads. In 2009, Craigslist operated with a staff of 28 people.
Financials and ownership
In December 2006, at the UBS Global Media Conference in New York, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster told Wall Street analysts that Craigslist had little interest in maximizing profit, and instead preferred to help users find cars, apartments, jobs and dates.
Craigslist’s main source of revenue is paid job ads in select American cities. The company does not formally disclose financial or ownership information. Analysts and commentators have reported varying figures for its annual revenue, ranging from $10 million in 2004, $20 million in 2005, and $25 million in 2006 to possibly $150 million in 2007.
On August 13, 2004, Newmark announced on his blog that auction giant eBay had purchased a 25% stake in the company from a former employee. Some fans of Craigslist expressed concern that this development would affect the site’s longtime non-commercial nature. As of April 2012, there have been no substantive changes to the usefulness or non-advertising nature of the site—no banner ads, charges for a few services provided to businesses.
The company was believed to be owned principally by Newmark, Buckmaster and eBay (the three board members). eBay owned approximately 25%, and Newmark is believed to own the largest stake.
In April 2008, eBay announced it was suing Craigslist to “safeguard its four-year financial investment”. eBay claimed that in January 2008, Craigslist executives took actions that “unfairly diluted eBay’s economic interest by more than 10%”. Craigslist filed a counter-suit in May 2008 to “remedy the substantial and ongoing harm to fair competition” that Craigslist claimed was constituted by eBay’s actions as Craigslist shareholders; the company claimed that it had used its minority stake to gain access to confidential information, which it then used as part of its competing service Kijiji.
On June 19, 2015, eBay Inc. announced that it would divest its stake back to Craigslist for an undisclosed amount, and settle its litigation with the company. The move came shortly before eBay’s planned spin-off of PayPal, and an effort to divest other units to focus on its core business.