The Men Behind the Myth: Craiglist’s Craig Newmark & Jim Buckmaster

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While Newmark, a 52-year-old New Jersey native and former IBM engineer of 18 years, is the name behind the operation, he insists that it’s Buckmaster who really runs things. A self-avowed tech geek who started as a pre-bust web developer for now-defunct startups like Creditland, 42-year-old Buckmaster is the one who took Newmark’s “philanthropic” idea for the site and ran with it.

In a BusinessWeek interview last year, Buckmaster described what such philanthropy entails: it simply means no “cookies, co-marketing agreements or selling user information to third parties—all of those nuisances users encounter on a majority of sites.” In the five years he’s been with the company, Buckmaster has created search systems, discussion boards, flagging options and most important, branched Craigslist out of its Bay area turf and into other cities (now totaling in the hundreds worldwide).

Ironically enough, Buckmaster’s climb up the ladder of the Craigslist organization is testament to the power of the platform itself. “I put my resume on Craigslist in late 1999. Craig saw it, and contacted me. I was originally hired as a programmer and a web developer. I became CEO about a year later.”

In Buckmaster, Newmark found a like-minded “computer nerd” who shared his vision of creating a public service. It’s this altruistic approach that has come to define what Craigslist is, and what separates it from traditional media channels. “The difference is that we’re a community service,” Newmark says. “Newspapers used to be that way. But the focus of all the newspaper people I talk to today is on high profit margins…because of the consolidation of newspapers into huge conglomerates, creating chains of newspapers and chains of network TV, etc. It is hard to maintain a personal touch when you become a multi-billion dollar conglomerate.”

For an organization that has practically become a household name, Craigslist has taken a bold stance on accruing profit. The site generates revenue only by charging businesses a nominal fee to post jobs, while maintaining a minimal, ad-free aesthetic. According to both Newmark and Buckmaster, the inclusion of advertising is a proposition that is put to them on a recurring basis, but it’s just not in the cards anytime soon.

“We get approached maybe once a month with people wanting us to run ads on the site,” Buckmaster says. But “our users aren’t asking us to put those on, and that’s basically what it will take.” Even if users started requesting ads, he says “it would have to be a chorus. As it is, I don’t know if we’ve ever received a request to run ads on the site from users.”

Still, they don’t rule out advertising forever. “If our current business model were somehow rendered obsolete,” Buckmaster admits, “we might look at something like text ads.” As for Newmark’s views on this ad question, he sums it up bluntly: “Banner ads are often pretty dumb and slow down a site. So that’s pretty bad [for us].”

With advertising out of the picture for the time being, Buckmaster believes that technological changes occurring incrementally in online classifieds could prove useful to Craigslist. “People will start incorporating video, for instance, so users can contact one another within the context of the classified ad. I see more ways to refine the response you get so that it’s more in keeping with what you were looking for and less random noise in terms of getting responses that aren’t helpful.”

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