Is Craigslist really a mess?
An excoriation of Craigslist and its principles by Wired suggests the site is some weird cultish embarrassment. However, what does the fact that it is so successful say about us?
It's ugly. It's not proactive. It turns a deaf ear, a blind eye, and a snubby nose to investors. And it looks upon advertising as if it were as appropriate as an anchor tattoo on the Pope's forehead.
In sum, suggests Gary Wolf in the latest issue of Wired, Craigslist is a mess. A horrible mess. An embarrassing mess. A willful mess in which its principals rake in money while its principles seem to revolve around some weirdly benign view of human goodness.
Of course, you can see what he means.
We live in the forging, gorging West. We need things to be large and shiny. We need the surface of everything to be attractive, clean and bright, so that the mirage can somehow compensate for a reality that might not be quite so perfect.
At least, that's what so many of those who manage brands seem to believe.
And yet there's Google, whose sense of design might most politely be described as workmanlike. Although I have heard phrases such as "naive" or even "dull."
Somehow, Google has never really made too much of an effort to sex up the look of its search and it has done really quite well. Microsoft's Bing sees this as one of Google's potential weaknesses and has made at least some attempts to look just a little cooler than its monolithic competitor.
So Craigslist is surely not alone in cradling its utilitarianism, while steering clear of glamour. Wolf makes much of Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster being slightly odd types who fancy themselves as libertarian, but rather wealthy, Robin Hoods.
However, shouldn't we really be thinking about ourselves as the odd types?
The fact that Craigslist gets more traffic than either eBay or Amazon suggests that the site's mess is one we humans not only recognize, but even appreciate.
Its utter lack of pretension, its acknowledgment of life as difficult, wayward, and, yes, messy, somehow serves to help people accept it as the place to go for real, everyday, sometimes very cumbersome needs.
Stripped of the glitter associated with conventional advertising and conventional business, Craigslist looks at you openly and benignly and says: "What annoying little burden can we take away for you, today?"
It's commercial psychotherapy of a very different sort than, say, Gucci.com.
The fact that the site and its way of doing business also happen to rhyme rather well with Newmark's and Buckmaster's view of the world might not be cause for criticism, but rather envy.
How many people are fortunate to live and work without having to compromise their principles, even their very personalities?
If Craigslist is such an embarrassing mess, why has no handsome eligible competitor come along and swiped it from the Web, like a nerdy, pimpled boy being removed from the pretty people's party?
Could it be that for all the ugliness, for all the bizarre bazaar-like quality of the site, people feel a certain recognition within its pages? Even a certain trust?
Yes, Craigslist is messy, annoying, contrarian, contradictory, arbitrary and just occasionally totally maddening. Somehow, people like that. Could it be because Craigslist is a little like us?