hey Wired, craigslist is fine the way it is

By Michael Mulvey on August 31, 2009 10:07 AM

Gary Wolf is missing the point over at Wired.com in his piece, Why Craigslist Is Such a Mess.

Some people - be it developers, media outlets or plain consumers - have a big problem if you don't play by certain rules.

We heard outcries from frustrated developers who pleaded (and still plead) with Apple to open up it's iPhone platform. How can Apple not see the benefits of an open platform?! Google's doing it, why can't you?

Or how about the stories that circulated earlier this year with bewilderment that the founders of Twitter didn't want to sell the company just yet, they want to develop and mature their company. You're not going to sell out to Google, are you MAD?!

Now comes another whining rant about craigslist (CL). What is Wolf's beef with CL? He citing numerous supposed 'problems' but the big ones were:

- it scorns advertisers
- doesn't charge to use their service
- they banish third party sites who 'scrape' their site
- they have no API or mobile applications

Wolf on craigslist's inner workings:

Many people who have heard Newmark's public remarks find the ideals admirable but difficult to apply. What would such an approach mean in practice? His cause is not helped by the fact that if the craigslist management style resembles any political system, it is not democracy but rather a low-key popular dictatorship. Its inner workings are obscure, it publishes no account of its income or expenses, it has no obligation to respond to criticism, and all authority rests in the hands of a single man. Ask Newmark about any feature you would like to see on craigslist and you will always get the same response ..."Ask Jim," he says.

In short - they're not like everyone else. Well isn't that the fucking point? As is mentioned in the article, it's projected that CL's revenue could approach $100 million for 2009.

They might be a mess, but for a company of 30 people pulling in tens of millions of dollars a year, I'll take that kind of mess any day.

On Design

Wired's article is accompanied by redesigns of the site by a few prominent designers, such as Khoi Vihn, design director at the NYTimes.com. The redesign project reminds me of their 2004 Googlemania project where they asked also asked 4 designers to redo the Google homepage.

Both these redesign challenges were exercises in futility.

While some of the redesign efforts do a good job at providing more structure, heirarchy and clarity to the ordinary-looking CL (such as Vihn's), some are just cute, showboating one-offs (like Pentagram's).

Wolf on CL's design:

Besides offering nearly all of its features for free, it scorns advertising, refuses investment, ignores design, and does not innovate. [my bolding]

I feel about CL the same way Jason at 37Signals feels about the Drudge Report:

To clarify, my definition of design goes beyond aesthetic qualities and into areas of maintenance, cost, profitability, speed, and purpose. However, I still think that the Drudge Report is an aesthetic masterpiece even though I also consider it ugly. Can good design also be ugly? I think Drudge proves it can.

Here's the thing - craigslist doesn't need a redesign. While I can appreciate redesign efforts like Vhin's, they're a want, not a need. Real design goes far beyond fonts and colors. Design is about how something works and for all it's spam, seemingly loose structure, and scams - craigslist works damn good.

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