Ernie Miller, a 38-year-old software developer in Silver Spring, offers a telling clue as to how www.craigslist.org became the Internet's go-to place to solve life's vexing problems.
He posted a note on the Web site's bulletin boards a few weeks ago, seeking people willing to let him test his stand-up comic routine at their events free. Half a dozen folks replied via e-mail, including an offer to perform at a Christmas party.
"I would say I have had a better response from Craigslist than from any other attempt at promotion," said Miller, who described himself as "fairly new to stand-up" and his act as "absolutely clean.''
Miller is among the growing number of people who are using Craigslist, a freewheeling Internet marketplace, to fulfill their varied needs. In 1995, computer specialist Craig Newmark founded the site, which evolved from a simple e-mail list he created to communicate with friends in the San Francisco area. Craigslist now has sites to serve 45 urban areas, with Washington as one of its fastest growing.
In addition to seeking jobs and housing, Washington area residents have used Craigslist in recent weeks to get rid of a dental chair cluttering a Potomac garage, hunt for long-lost childhood pals in Alexandria, find a Korean tutor in Gaithersburg, and locate a bilingual justice of the peace to perform a wedding in French and English.
Part of the site's appeal is that it still feels like the early days of the Web, with a text-only design and simple publishing tools that predate the flashy graphics, big ads and other commercial flourishes prevalent on leading Internet sites today.
But users fear that could change after last week's announcement that eBay, one of the giants of Internet commerce, has bought a 25 percent stake in the tiny company for an undisclosed sum. Users have been grousing in Craigslist's open forums that eBay may push to inject advertising and make other changes that would spoil the site's relaxed, back-porch atmosphere.
Newmark insists that such worries are unfounded. "If anything, all this questioning is just reinforcing our sense of our current mission," he said this week.
As for what that mission might be, Newmark said it's about creating a culture of trust and community, which may explain why nine-year-old Craigslist survived the dot-com bust, while others offering similar services did not.
"We view ourselves as giving people a break, encouraging other people to give each other a break, and doing so in a real honest way," he said.