April 11, 2011
A terrific post on Quora by Josh Hannah on how eBay’s (Nasdaq: EBAY) Kijiji and other startups are disrupting the disruptor Craiglist – which almost singlehandedly did in U.S. newspapers’ formerly lucrative classifieds business:
Why hasn’t another product disrupted and replaced Craigslist?
Craiglist has been disrupted, it’s just not obvious yet. And the world will be a better place for it.
Craigslist has fewer unique visitors today than it did at this time in 2009.
Bad sites with network effects show much slower decay in use than they should based on their absolute quality (think eBay). Bad sites who price most of their product at free show incredibly slow decay in use (think Craigslist). But make no mistake, it is happening.
The evidence of their poor quality is so obvious it’s hardly worth stating. Suffice it to say, if I’m looking to rent an apartment, it would be nice not to see the same listing reposted every day, and having to re-read it and figure out if I’ve called them before. It might be even nicer to view them on a map, or god forbid have new and relevant listing emailed to me.
Sites like Oodle have tried to take it head on with a superior interface but have been unable to displace them. Sites like Kijiji have been launched by eBay, or OLX, which is distributed on other people’s platforms with large traffic, have tried to leverage other sources of traffic to combat the critical mass.
Generally speaking, Craigslist has been “good enough” to not be disrupted head-on. Nevertheless, the world moves on, and the gaps in their product (due to a stubborn obstinate refusal to invest in technology) grow wider and wider. As tablets, smartphones, etc disrupt, and craigslist doesn’t invest in those platforms, the feature gap grows wider.
The disruption that has happened has occurred on a category-by-category bases, as this graphic by Andrew Parker (http://thegongshow.tumblr.com) shows:
Stubhub, Airbnb, Etsy have built big businesses in some of these categories, and floods of new startups try to pry off pieces (Taskrabbit, many others).
I have derived a lot of utility out of Craigslist over the years, and it has all come free, so I am grateful for that. But the site reportedly pulls in more than $100M in revenue a year (What is Craigslist’s revenue?) , has only a few dozen employees, continually under-invests in technology and does not innovate. I don’t think Craig’s a bad guy, but he’s harvesting $50M a year into his pockets and not improving the site. In ten years I think Craigslist will be an afterthought, whereas if he reinvested half of those profits into technology and product, it would have a real shot to be a category leader.
Note/disclosure: Josh Hannah is an investor in Covestor Ltd.