They question of the day—is less really more?
I don’t know a lot about art (except that I appreciate it when it’s good). But I remember often hearing subtle advice about leaving plenty of “white space”—i.e. don’t clutter up the work, because less is more.
Recently, I heard some manager at work say: “I don’t care what it looks like…just give me content, content, content.” Again, to me the theme was the same—as they say, keep it simple stupid (a.k.a. KISS).
It reminded me of what one of my high school teachers used to say about class assignments: Just give me the “meat and potatoes”.
Then, I read an interesting article in Wired (September 2009) about Craig Newmark and his company, Craigslist, which is the epitome of minimalism, when it comes to design, features, and functions.
“Besides offering nearly all of its features for free, it scorns advertising, refuses investments, ignores design, and does not innovate.”
Craigslist looks like no other website that I’ve ever seen on the Internet. It has no graphics. No pictures (unless it’s associated with a listing). Little real text. It’s basically just layers upon layers of links, until you get to a particular listing. The site seems to disregard all the accepted standards of website design, navigation, and functionality.
“Craigslist is one of the strangest monopolies in history, where customers are locked in by fees set at zero and where the ambiance of neglect is not a way to extract more profit but the expression of a world view.”
And what is Craig Newark’s world view?
Minimalism and simplicity.
And in the crazy world we live in today of hyper consumerism, accumulation of wealth, ever-increasing productivity, acceleration of communications, boosting of processing power, aggregation of data, and doing more with less—the simple and minimalistic approach of Craigslist is an oasis in a desert of often meaningless greed and gluttony.
Newmark says: “People are good and trustworthy and generally just concerned with getting through the day.”
Therefore, “All you have to do to serve them well is build a minimal infrastructure allowing them to get together and work things out for themselves. Any additional features are almost superfluous and could even be damaging.”
So how is Craigslist doing with such a simple approach—is it being overrun by the more aggressive web builders and entrepreneurs of our time?
Au contraire. “Craigslist get more traffic then either eBay or Amazon.com. eBay has more than 16,000 employees. Amazon has more than 20,000. Craigslist has 30.”
Moreover, according to their factsheet, Craigslist has more than 20 billion page views per month. And more than 50 million people use it in the U.S. alone.
Estimates are that Craigslist generates more than a $100 million in revenue and is worth billions.
While I can’t say that I am a big user myself, these are some pretty amazing stats for a site that is bare bones and maybe more than a little awkward.
The philosophy of Newmark is: why add the “bells and whistles” if the user doesn’t want or need it?
In a sense, Craig Newmark is one of the most user-centric enterprise architects of our time. He genuinely seeks to understand his customer needs and to serve them in a way that meets them in an almost primal fashion.
Newmark has architected Craigslist in a uniquely user-centric way, undeterred that it runs counter to almost all conventional website wisdom.
>“Craigslist is a centralized network of online communities, featuring free classified advertisements (with jobs, internships, housing, personals, for sale/barter/wanted, services, community, gigs, resume, and pets categories) and forums on various topics.”
Here’s some basic stats on Craigslist:
- Founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark for the San Francisco Bay Area.
- Incorporated as a private for-profit company in 1999.
- Operates in approximately 450 cities in 50 countries.
- Operates with a staff of 24 people.
- Estimated annual revenue as high as $150 million in 2007.
- Sole source of revenue is paid job ads in  select cities [and apartment listing in NYC].
- Over nine billion page views per month, putting it in 56th place overall among web sites worldwide, ninth place overall among web sites in the United States, to over thirty million unique visitors.
- Over thirty million new classified advertisements each month, Craigslist is the leading classifieds service in any medium. The site receives over two million new job listings each month, making it one of the top job boards in the world. (Adapted from Wikipedia)
Craig has taken basic website technology and revolutionized the business of classified advertising, and for the most part making it free of charge!
Why is Craigslist such a success?
I believe it is because of Craig Newmark’s almost complete adherence to user-centric enterprise architecture principles.
Here are some examples of this:
- User Focus– “In December 2006…Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster told Wall Street analysts that Craigslist has little interest in maximizing profit, instead preferring to help users find cars, apartments, jobs, and dates.” (Wikipedia)
- Customer-driven—“People suggest stuff to us, we do what makes sense, and then we ask for more feedback,” says Craig Newmark.
- Customer-service—Craig Newmark’s official title is founder and customer service representative. When asked where Craig sees Craiglist in five years, he states: We always need to improve customer service. For example, we need better tools to detect and remove spam listings.”
- Rejected annoying banner ads—“At the end of 1997, [we] hit a million page views a month. Then the folks at Microsoft Sidewalk wanted to run banner ads on the side, and at market rates, that would be all the money I needed to live. [But] I figured…I don’t need the money, and many banner ads are pretty dumb.”
- Technology-enabled—“We’re just starting. We have to improve technologies, like multicity search.”
- Culture of service—“We think we have a really good culture of trust and that’s because…we have stood by some core shared values. The fundamental value is that we feel you should treat people like you want to be treated.”
The only non-user-centric EA aspect of Craigslist is the quirky look and feel of the site, which is white, mostly text-based. As Craig acknowledged, “someone said our site has the visual appeal of a pipe wrench.”
(Adapted from ComputerWorld Magazine, 4 February 2008)
If Craigslist would take the leap and make the site more visually appealing, I believe we have a User-centric EA winner!