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He's Always Being Hit On

Chris Deutch nods. "I just didn't bother to think about it."

Shu-Ping Shen shares this: It was August 2002. He was in New York City, living on the Upper West Side, and he needed someone to take over his lease. So he posted an ad on Craigslist. "Two seconds later," he says, "I got more calls than I've ever gotten in my whole life."

Craig Newmark isn't the boss at the Craigslist office in San Francisco. That title goes to Jim Buckmaster, right, Craigslist president and CEO. (Randi Lynn Beach For The Washington Post)

The three laugh it off.

That instant gratification is a familiar experience for anyone who uses the site -- especially transient twentysomethings (and thirtysomethings and fortysomethings) who socialize as much in bars as on the Internet. The site is refreshingly simple. No registration. No user names. No pop-up ads. Say you're looking to start a group, like the North Virginia Tall Club, a social organization that was posted for tall men (at least 6-foot-2) and women (over 5-foot-10). Then you go to Craigslist.org, click on the "wash, DC" link, click on "post to classifieds," click on "community," click on "groups."

This is all free. Craigslist, a private company that is worth upwards of $10 million, charges only for job listings in its three busiest markets, San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, from $25 to $75. In the Washington area and everywhere else, job listings are free.

That's just the way Craig works. For the record, Craig Alexander Newmark is a native of Morristown, N.J., a 51-year-old portly man with a fondness for babies, dogs, Thai food and the newest gadgets -- like the Treo 650, a cell phone-wireless-Internet-digital-camera gizmo that's due out next month. He's "20 or 30 pounds" overweight and walks around with a pedometer. He is "committed to someone" and says, in jest, that his ideal woman is a cross between the fictional press secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney's character on "The West Wing") and the nonfictional veteran Washington reporter Helen Thomas.

There's irony at work here. How can someone so "socially stupid" -- Craig's words -- start something like this? It was a way for him, he says, to connect with others.

The year was 1995. Craig, a recent transplant to San Francisco, started a list of social events and parties and e-mailed it to a small cadre of friends who, in time, e-mailed it to larger cadre of friends. The site took off. Now, barely 10 years later, Craigslist is one of the Web's top 20 portals, with 5.3 million visitors a month.

The Alexa rating service, the Nielsens of the Internet, says Craigslist is in the top 15 Internet companies in terms of traffic -- with more than 1 billion page views a month, it's right up there, elbowing Amazon.com. Its job listings section draws as much traffic as Monster.com. Its classified ads are more than 2.5 million a month. Recently, eBay.com, in what was a shock to the online industry, bought a 25 percent stake in Craigslist from a former employee.

There have been imitators -- most recently Cityopoly.com. So far, nothing has matched Craigslist's efficiency or grass-roots appeal.

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