Craigslist: Steadfast or Complacent and How Much Longer Can It Last?

You don’t hear much about Craiglist these days. It seems to be on a kind of autopilot, an internet 1.0 company that keeps chugging — or coasting — along.

Craigslist

If I’m not mistaken the UX hasn’t changed meaningfully in a decade — the UI is the brand — and there’s no official mobile app. One gets the sense the site is on autopilot. In a way why not? The company continues to have significant traffic (63 million monthly uniques) and modest overhead.

Craigslist used to symbolize a kind of integrity in the face of widespread commercialization of the internet. Now it may instead represent a kind of indifference and complacency in the face of changing markets and user behavior.

There was a time when Craigslist could have sold for more than $1 billion pretty easily to someone like eBay. Not selling was a political statement of sorts. I once heard Craig say “My endgame is death,” a morbidly humorous retort to someone who asked the question at a Google event.

Though it still has massive usage, it’s not clear what the endgame is or if there is one. Will the site just continue to operate and make money until it simply doesn’t anymore?

Top 50 Craigslist

Craigslist is currently number 34 on the comScore top 50 list. That’s certainly impressive; however it has fallen from its peak. Back in 2010 for example, Craigslist was the 19th most visited site on the internet.

While there are many verticals and competitors that have eroded its traffic and position — we switched our classified activity to Nextdoor and others — it has enough critical mass to keep going for some time. Nonetheless it’s hard to imagine, without changes and attention to the UX (especially in mobile), this can continue for many more years.

A more extreme case of something similar is Citysearch. I was discussing this example with someone today. At one point Citysearch was a dominant local internet brand with many millions of users. Then Yelp arrived and slowly but surely surpassed it, much in the same way that Facebook eventually overtook and killed MySpace.

For years Citysearch (and related properties such as InsiderPages) have been largely neglected by corporate parent IAC, which invested in ad network Citygrid but let Citysearch languish. Citygrid has largely been superseded by programmatic, while Citysearch has a fraction of its former traffic and little brand value accordingly.

To survive over time internet companies must keep reinvesting, unless they don’t care. That’s my sense of what’s going on at Craiglist: they’ve stopped caring.

What do you think will happen? How many more years can Craigslist survive in status-quo mode?

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9 Responses to “Craigslist: Steadfast or Complacent and How Much Longer Can It Last?”

  1. David Mihm says at

    This is exactly the kind of site that will die if app fragmentation continues at its current pace.  If Google wins, though, and the mobile browser still survives in some form, it’ll continue to maintain its positioning and awareness.

  2. Scott Barnett says at

    Greg, I’m interested in your comment about using Nextdoor for classifieds – isn’t your Nextdoor “network” a bit small compared to the reach of a Craigslist ad?

    In terms of Craigslist ability to survive, they’ve never shown an interest in following conventional wisdom with respect to design, mobile and other core areas – but they’re still pretty darn popular. It’s likely they don’t need to be nearly this popular to be sustainable, which is my prediction – they will become niche and still generate enough revenue for Craig to be happy.

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    Yes. In many cases Nextdoor isn’t going to deliver enough demand. But for the several items we have sold or gotten rid of in the recent past it has worked well.

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    There are lots of third party apps that purport to offer Craiglist content today. But I agree that mobile will be the determining variable. On the real estate listings front they’ve got to have seen much of their traffic erode in favor of the real estate 2.0 sites like Zillow. The mobile browser will survive but CL seems utterly unconcerned about these fairly radical changes in consumer behavior and the market.

  5. Sol says at

    It’s interesting – here in Toronto, kijij (ebay) dominates the market while CL gets left behind.

    I guess as long as CL has NYC/SF real estate market, they feel pretty confident.

  6. Greg Sterling says at

    That raises the interesting side question of eBay’s fate/future now that it’s de-coupled from PayPal

  7. Dave says at

    Craigslist doesn’t monetize to a level or charge or beef up staff, or any of those things that various competitors do.   Its a really different animal.   To this day it is dramatically less expensive than other sources and it does get a lot of traffic.

    It plays by a different set of rules.  Always has, still does.  That is a fascinating response to the “endgame” question.  It is a totally different animal.

  8. Greg Sterling says at

    Agree. I wonder if in a few years the company will sell itself when Buckmaster and Craig near retirement age . . . or whether they’ll turn it over to employees.

  9. Nicholas McDonough says at

    I think your right about CL. Simplicity and ease of use filled a void back in the day. As far as their UI, very little has changed since 2008.  They have been involved in numerous lawsuits including one with eBay; an investor at one point. My sense is the eBay wanted to gain control but lost that fight. 

    I think he’s accomplished what he wanted. 

    The mobile browser will certainly survive but evolve. 

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