“Craigslist is the bomb,” J.K. Costello ’03 extols in an e-mail. “After narrowly missing out on a queen size bed for $25, I found an Ikea queen-size bed a day later for $120. All the prices were so cheap, and I met a super-sweet girl in a punk band as a result,” he writes. Other students have used the site to find summer housing or simply to buy and sell items ranging from coffee tables to laptops.
“We’re around for everyday needs,” says Craig Newmark, the list’s founder. Newmark’s original, San Francisco-based craigslist.org, which he started in 1995, gained such a strong following in the Bay Area that the need for spin-off sites in other cities became apparent. Boston was chosen as Craigslist’s first expansion city in 2000 because of its high concentration of Internet users. “Boston is a city with a lot of people on the web, and there’s probably a high correlation with it being a university-oriented town,” Newmark explains. He adds that Boston’s vibrant technology sector also made it an attractive candidate. After Boston, Craigslists popped up in Seattle, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and twelve other cities. Newmark lists Cleveland and London as possible contenders for new expansion.
Though Craigslist’s user base is broad, college students nationwide may find the sites especially useful. “The needs and interests of college students seem to reflect those of our general community,” Newmark says. The many postings for part-time and short-term jobs can aid the busy but cash-strapped college student, while the expansive apartment and sublet listings suit the needs of those seeking summer or temporary housing.
A handful of Harvard students have also made use of the site’s personals section, including the racy “Casual Encounters” forum. One student, writing a post entitled “Attention Harvard girls! — m4w,” wanted to arrange a hookup before his 4 p.m. class, while another professed that he was “pulling an all-nighter and would like to have a break sometime for some fun times.”
My e-mail inquiries to these students regarding the success of their electronic quest for play went unanswered, so I decided to post my own solicitation to the site as an experiment. “Hi there,” I wrote. “I am a cute Harvard undergrad looking for some weekend fun. Tell me about yourself and what you’re into, and maybe we can set something up.” Within an hour I received a handful of responses, and within a week I had accumulated over 50 replies from men ranging from ages 21 to 42. From law students to artists to sugar-daddy businessmen, it seemed everyone was using Craigslist to find that perfect one-night stand. Or, at least, that’s what I thought until I posted a similar entry, this time pretending to be a male Harvard student looking for a woman. I did not receive a single reply for that post.
Still, this online meat market clearly has potential to work for some users. “We’re about helping people with their everyday, down-to-earth needs,” an amused Newmark reiterates. “If those needs are sexual, that’s cool with me.”