How Craigslist Works (2024)

How Craigslist Works (1), originally a San Francisco community electronic newsletter, is now one of the most visited English language Web sites, with local classifieds for more than 450 cities worldwide. The site's main function is to host classified ads that cover practically every category you can think of, including housing, job postings, items for sale, services and personals. There's also a forums section that allows users to discuss topics on everything from gardening to the Linux operating system.

Craigslist's founder Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster aim to provide users with a helpful, noncommercial way to connect with other people in their communities [source: New York Times]. Posting for most classifieds categories on craigslist is free, and it's also free to browse and respond to ads. The Web site doesn't have any flashy animation or graphics -- its value comes from its utilitarian design and the contributions of its users.


If all you want to do is browse the site, you can just visit and click away. The site has a range of broad categories, and each category has several subcategories, making it easy to navigate to the appropriate section quickly. For example, the "for sale" category features subcategories like computer, books, electronics, sporting, motorcycles and collectibles, among others.

Most ads include the member's e-mail address. Craigslist offers a function that masks e-mail so that members don't have to worry about their address being openly available. All transactions are between the person who posted the ad and the person responding to it. Craigslist's employees don't get involved in any transactions or discussions unless someone reports a problem.

If you want to participate in forum discussions or post your own classifieds, you need to create a craigslist account. The only thing you need to become a member is a valid e-mail address. The signup process is short and painless -- after entering your e-mail and filling in a verification word (which helps prevent programs called bots from creating accounts to post ads automatically), you'll receive an e-mail that includes a link you'll need to click on to verify your account and log in. Once you've done that, you've officially joined the craigslist community.

Craigslist users act like the site's watchdogs by monitoring the content that gets posted. Users flag posts to draw attention to those that are particularly interesting and those that detract from the site. The tags that can be applied to posts are best of craigslist (a funny or effective post), miscategorized (a post placed in the wrong section of the site), spam/overpost (a generic post or one that has been posted multiple times) and prohibited (a post that directly violates the site's terms of use).

In this article, we'll look at craigslist's impact on the Internet, the corporate structure of the company and some of the controversies involving the Web site.

In the next section, we'll learn about craigslist's presence on the Web.

The Community and Gigs Categories

The Community category on craigslist functions like a community center's bulletin board. It includes subsections for local news, politics, announcements, volunteer opportunities, rideshare programs and other local events and activities. The Gigs category is for short-term work assignments rather than permanent jobs.



  1. The Craigslist Network
  2. Craigslist Financials
  3. Craigslist Controversy

The Craigslist Network

How Craigslist Works (2)

Each craigslist site focuses on a specific community. Originally, craigslist only listed classifieds and announcements within San Francisco. As the service grew in popularity, expanding well beyond founder Craig Newmark's original concept, craigslist added other cities to its network. The first city to join the network was Boston in 2000. A couple of months later, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C. followed suit. Today, more than 450 cities have a craigslist community site.

Because community members largely moderate the sites, craigslist employees can focus their attention on coordinating transactions for job and housing posts, helping members troubleshoot problems and responding to reports of abuse or illegal behavior. Without communal moderation, the craigslist staff would be severely overworked.


According to craigslist's fact sheet, every month craigslist has:

  • more than 25 million new classified ads
  • more than 1.5 million job postings
  • more than 75 million user postings in the forums section
  • more than 10 million new photos uploaded (users can include pictures in their advertisem*nts as long as the photos don't violate craigslist's terms of use)
  • more than 30 million user visits, most of which are from the United States
  • more than 8 billion page views, putting craigslist in the top 10 English-language sites

The executive team at craigslist maintains that the reason for the site's success is the user community. The team believes that craigslist gives users a place to communicate and help one another, fostering community spirit. The site's emphasis on community reflects its founder's and CEO's values -- Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster try to avoid commercialism and corporate culture in their company [source:].

Craigslist communities appeal to a broad range of users. The simple, organized layout and helpful search engine makes navigation easy. Craigslist members range from teenagers to senior citizens. They post on the forums, shop online, trade tips and make new friends. While the site itself may not be the most visually interesting Internet destination, there's no denying its effectiveness. Users often report that it's easy to find what they are searching for within a few minutes of logging on to the site.

In the next section, we'll examine how the corporate structure at craigslist sets the tone for the entire site.

Could Craigslist Kill Journalism?

Internet and telecommunications author Russell Shaw has theorized that craigslist is contributing to the decline of print journalism. Shaw argues that by charging below-market prices for housing and job postings, craigslist takes revenue away from newspapers, which, in turn, means that papers have to set salaries lower. Papers can't afford to hire good journalists, and the effects trickle down into substandard reporting [source: Russell Shaw].


Craigslist Financials

How Craigslist Works (3)

Craigslist started as a pet project but blossomed into a full-fledged company. In 1999, craigslist incorporated as a for-profit organization. The company also purchased the domain to prevent anyone from buying it and misleading craigslist members. Each year since then, craigslist has expanded to cover more cities and communities, becoming a powerful financial force in the process.

Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster aren't your typical corporate bigwigs. Even though Newmark is the founder and chairman of craigslist, he states his title as customer service representative. Buckmaster is not only the CEO but also a lead developer for the site. He helped design the homepage, Web architecture, forums, community moderation system, personals category and search engine.


Newmark and Buckmaster strive to keep craigslist a service-based company focused on online communities. They have refused offers to sell the company for a huge profit. Many of their decisions fly in the face of traditional business strategies, but Newmark has said that keeping the communal culture of craigslist intact is more important than making enormous profits [source:]. Even the site's offices are unusual for an Internet company -- instead of a flashy office in a building made of glass and steel, craigslist's headquarters are in an old Victorian storefront in San Francisco [source: Associated Press].

The site earns revenue by setting fees for job postings in a few cities and for apartment listings in New York City. The job posting fee in Boston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C. is $25, while the fee in San Francisco is $75. The fee authorizes the user to post a job in one category -- if the user wishes to post the same job in multiple categories, he or she must pay a fee for each one. The apartment listing fee in New York City is $10 per brokered apartment rental ad. Job and housing ads in other cities are free.

The site generates enough revenue to support its entire staff of 25 people. The company doesn't publicly release its financial results, but estimations range in the millions of dollars -- $7 million for 2003 and more than $20 million in 2005 [Business Week, c|net News].

Apart from paid classifieds in the aforementioned cities, craigslist features no advertising at all. It doesn't sell advertising space for banner ads, pop-up ads or any other kind of web advertising. Newmark says he doesn't intend to use any kind of web advertising on craigslist in the future [source:].

Though craigslist's corporate philosophy focuses on making a positive impact in the community, not everyone using the site shares that point of view. Some craigslist members use the site to take advantage of other people.

In the next section, we'll look at some of the controversy surrounding craigslist.

Selling Out is a Joke

On April 1, 2002, craigslist featured a news item announcing that the site would begin running banner ads immediately. The announcement contained a price list for ad space and a form for prospective advertisers. Most craigslist members recognized what the announcement was: An April Fool's joke. But a few took the announcement seriously, believing that Newmark was selling out to big business. By the next day, all was back to normal with no banner ads in sight [source:].


Craigslist Controversy

One of the biggest challenges for the craigslist community is weeding out scam artists. The site has a section describing common scam tactics and what users should do if they come across them. Scams might involve fake money orders or checks, bait-and-switch schemes (in which you think you're getting one thing but end up with another), phishing schemes designed to obtain personal information, identity theft schemes and other unethical and illegal activities.

One scam that has popped up in several craigslist communities involves a buyer overpaying for an item. In this scam, an innocent seller advertises an item on craigslist for a given amount -- say $1,500. An interested buyer contacts the seller and says he'll send a check for the item, but when the check arrives, it's written for a much larger amount. When the seller contacts the buyer to inform him of the difference, the buyer apologizes and explains that he wrote the wrong amount after confusing it with another purchase. He tells the seller to deposit the check and wire him the difference. What the seller doesn't know is that the check is a fake, so he cashes it and wires the difference to the buyer. Once the bank researches the check and discovers it's a fake, the seller is held responsible. The scam artist has his money, and the innocent seller takes the blame.


Police scan craigslist for ads soliciting illegal goods or services. Newspapers have featured several stories about cops busting prostitution rings after finding them through craigslist. Papers have also published stories about police using craigslist to find sexual predators. In October 2007, craigslist made headlines after a member posted an ad for a babysitter and then killed the young woman who responded to the ad. In craigslist's defense, Buckmaster has said that newspapers are more likely to report negative stories about the site, possibly because some business managers feel craigslist robs papers of revenue [source: The New York Times, Associated Press].

The terms of use on craigslist make it clear that the site has nothing to do with the content users post, that it will work with authorities in cases involving illegal activity and that violating the site's terms can result in stiff fines. Users posting to craigslist must first click on a button that says they understand and accept the terms of use. Even so, when members use the site for illegal or unethical purposes, some people try to hold craigslist responsible.Craigslist's terms of use include a long list of forbidden topics and language, including: Abusive, unlawful, discriminatory, harmful, harassing, defamatory or libelous language Posts that reveal someone else's private information Job posts that violate Equal Employment Opportunity laws Housing posts that violate the Fair Housing Act Posts that impersonate someone else, unless the post is a nondeceptive parody of a public figure Scam ads Ads that advertise illegal services Posts that include computer viruses or other harmful computer code

To learn more about craigslist and other topics, follow the links on the next page.

Revenge Through Classifieds

In Tacoma, Wash. police charged a female craigslist member for second-degree burglary, malicious mischief and criminal impersonation for a stunt she pulled on craigslist. The woman posted an ad on craigslist that simply said "Come and take anything you want" and gave a home address. People who saw the ad looted the house, causing more than $1,500 in damages [source: The News]. The house actually belonged to the woman's aunt, whom the woman felt deserved punishment for insulting her mother.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • How Blogs Work
  • How Digg Works
  • How Internet Infrastructure Works
  • How Internet Search Engines Work
  • How PayPal Works
  • How Web Pages Work
  • How Web Servers Work
  • How eBay Works

More Great Links

  • "Craigslist, Scourge of Newspaper Classifieds, Now Turns to Journalism." Associated Press. May 6, 2005.
  • "Minn. Craigslist Nanny Ad Results in Murder." October 29, 2007.
  • "Police: Online ad led to prostitution charges." Chicago Tribune. October 26, 2007.,0,3914046.story?coll=chi-entertainment-front
  • "Woman Bounces Alleged Check Scam." Fox 12 News. October 29, 2007.
  • Del Conte, Natali T. "Craigslist, Online Shopping Attracts Seniors." PC October 20, 2007.,2704,2203868,00.asp
  • Dubner, Stephen J. "Here Are the Answers to Your Craigslist Questions. "The New York Times. October 10, 2007.
  • Forliti, Amy. "Teen Charged in Craigslist Killing." Associated Press. October 30, 2007.
  • Hanley, Matt. "Caught on Craigslist." The Beacon News. October 26, 2007.,2_1_AU26_PROSTITUTE_S1.article
  • Hempel, Jessi. "A Talk with craigslist's Keeper." Business Week. September 8, 2004.
  • Lynn, Adam. "Charges filed in Craigslist house pillaging." The News Tribune. May 17, 2007.
  • Reeve, Laura. "Revenge is a dish best served on Craigslist." Daily Trojan. October 17, 2007.
How Craigslist Works (2024)


Why doesn't my reply email work on Craigslist? ›

Make sure the post you are responding to is still active by refreshing the page. If the recipient has opted out of the conversation, you will no longer be able to email that address. Try sending your message again with less content, fewer or no attachments, and reduced file sizes.

How does Craigslist make money if its free? ›

Craigslist's business model is based on providing a free classified advertisem*nt platform to users. They generate revenue by charging users a fee to post some types of ads in select cities and by running paid banner ads.

How do I reply to a Craigslist ad with no contact information? ›

When you reply directly from Craigslist, your email address will be visible to the recipient. To reply anonymously, you need to create a free Web-based email address, which does not contain identifiable information.

How do I reply to a Craigslist buyer? ›

How to reply to craigslist postings
  1. Click "Reply."
  2. A window with response options will appear. ...
  3. Make sure the response address is highlighted and copy it to your clipboard. ...
  4. Now open your email program and start a new message.
  5. Paste the response address into the "To" field.

Should I use my real email on Craigslist? ›

Always use a proxy email address or phone number

Craigslist provides proxy email addresses to sellers, and it's a good idea to use them so browsers can't spam your actual email address.

Does Craigslist hide your email when you reply? ›

Craigslist uses email obfuscation to protect your actual email address from exposure. When you click on the response button in the Craigslist ad, the site generates for you a Craigslist email address. When the other user responds to your message using this address, you receive the message into your real email address.

How does Craigslist email relay work? ›

CL Mail Relay

craigslist creates a randomized custom email address for each posting. Use your email program as you normally would. Please note: The “real name” field (e.g. Jane Doe) in your email program is visible to the recipient.

How do I respond to a Craigslist job post? ›

How to Respond to a Job Listing on Craigslist
  1. Find the right job market.
  2. Find a field that interests you.
  3. Read the job listing carefully.
  4. Find the email address that you will need to respond to.
  5. Put the job title in the email subject line.
  6. Use the body of the email as your cover letter.
  7. Attach your resume.

Does Craigslist show my name? ›

Whatever name appears on your emails to other people will be what shows in your response to a Craigslist ad. Your email address will not.

How do I know if a Craigslist response is real? ›

Craigslist Scam Alert: 5 Signs a Con Artist Is Replying to Your...
  1. They Won't Come See the Item in Person. ...
  2. The Email Reply Doesn't Refer to the Specific Item You're Selling. ...
  3. The Buyer 'Accidentally' Overpays. ...
  4. They Ask for Personal or Financial Information. ...
  5. The Buyer Refuses to Meet at a Public Place.
Mar 21, 2019

What is the best way to accept payment on Craigslist? ›

Use cash — safely

If you're dealing with a local, the most secure way to pay or collect funds for a Craigslist transaction is with cash. To keep it even more secure, you can make the exchange in a safe place like your local police station or even at Acclaim FCU.

How do I respond to a Craigslist rental? ›

Have an account? Log in . You can reply to any post on Craigslist — just click the "reply" button at the top left of a post, and complete the Captcha puzzle if you're asked to. Some Craigslist listings will offer a phone contact to call or text, though most listings will only offer an email contact.

Why am I not getting Craigslist emails? ›

If you are using a free email account (like Hotmail and Yahoo), make sure you have not exceeded your mailbox storage limit, and check your bulk/junk/spam mail folder(s).

How do not reply emails work? ›

A no-reply email address is an address in your domain that's not set up to receive incoming mail. On the surface, this might seem like a great way to avoid clogging up your inbox from bounced emails and out-of-office notifications, but no-reply email addresses are bad for digital marketing.

Why is Craigslist not letting me post? ›

Reason #1 – Posting Too Much

Craigslist states that “you may post to one category and in one city, no more than once every 48 hours.” So, if you attempt to post too many ads in a day or post the same ad multiple times, it's going to trigger Craigslist to remove them and block your IP address.


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Kieth Sipes

Last Updated:

Views: 6010

Rating: 4.7 / 5 (47 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kieth Sipes

Birthday: 2001-04-14

Address: Suite 492 62479 Champlin Loop, South Catrice, MS 57271

Phone: +9663362133320

Job: District Sales Analyst

Hobby: Digital arts, Dance, Ghost hunting, Worldbuilding, Kayaking, Table tennis, 3D printing

Introduction: My name is Kieth Sipes, I am a zany, rich, courageous, powerful, faithful, jolly, excited person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.