To Craig Newmark: Put Ads on Craigslist, Change the World.

Craigslist has massive untapped philanthropic potential. It could fund Wikipedia forever, support cancer research, provide books for public libraries in poor neighborhoods and so on. Sky’s the limit.

Allow me to explain.

The Plan

Lately, I’ve come across a couple of interviews with Craig Newmark of Craigslist fame (the first is a podcast on iinovate and the second is part of the excellent book Founders At Work). In these interviews, Craig (a really nice guy) makes it clear that making money is not high on his priority list and that his main motivations are to help people, create community and do good things.

Of course, nobody can force Craig to turn his baby into a money-making machine, but I can certainly try to convince him that he could do a lot more good with relatively little efforts, and the downsides would be, compared to the upsides, almost insignificant.

In the Founders At Work interview, Craig mentions that at the time of the interview (most probably in 2006) was getting about 5 billion pageviews per month (see page 251).

If Craigslist was to put a single text ad on most inside pages of the site (it can be the smallest text ad available, and with the option for users to opt out and not see ads), even with a relatively low CPM of 2.0 – many sites get between 2 and 10 times that much – they would be making $10,000,000 each month, or about 120 million dollars a year. Almost a quarter of a billion if the CPM is 4.0. And I’m being conservative with these numbers since higher CPMs are possible and Craigslist’s pageviews are probably still growing. It could be much more.


Money is just a tool; with that much of it, Craig could do so much good

What could he do? Anything!

How about:

The selection process for causes to support could even be democratic among Craigslist users.

Imagination is the only limit, really.


So with a few hours of work changing HTML templates and negotiating a deal with publisher networks (with that kind of volume, you could get much better rates than regular websites), Craigslist could be making tens of millions of dollars each month to help make the world a better place. There probably wouldn’t even be a need to create a new entity to deal with this since the Craigslist Foundation could handle it. It think this should appeal strongly to Craig, a man with a strong “moral compass”.

One unobtrusive text ad on most of the inside pages should be enough. They could come from Google Adsense, Yahoo! Publisher Network or any other network. It doesn’t really matter. Best would be to rotate between different networks so as not to give too much leverage to a single one of them.

The beauty is that since the money made that way is kind of a “bonus” and Craigslist doesn’t really care about squeezing the maximum out of the ads, they can offer their users the option to opt out. That’s right, you could set their preference to “No thanks, I don’t want to support Craigslist’s philanthropy projects by seeing ads” or something like that. Nothing easier.

The Future

So how about it, Craig? Why not turn Craigslist into a philanthropic giant and do a lot more good?

Craig Newmark

Note: Part of this was inspired by one of Jason Calacanis‘ ideas.

5 Responses to “To Craig Newmark: Put Ads on Craigslist, Change the World.”

  1. Email Conversation with Craig Newmark « Michael Graham Richard Says:

    […] Michael Graham Richard Stay Curious. « To Craig Newmark: Put Ads on Craigslist, Change the World. […]

  2. bsdetector Says:

    Due to conservation of wealth your plan cannot work. Putting ads on web pages does not increase the gross national product. It only spreads it around.

    Robbing from Peter to pay Paul will not fund anything. All you are doing is transferring wealth to craig newmark so he can again redistribute it.

    If you want to support Wikipedia or cancer research, make your donations to those causes directly. There is no need for a middle man; there is no need to run banner ads.

    Your scheme is short sighted and shows your lack of ignorance about things you don’t understand.

  3. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    Hi bsdetector,

    I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to see. You seem to be misunderstanding how advertising works and what my proposal was.

    I would like to repeat your last sentence, but instead direct it at you.

  4. coltoncat Says:

    @Michael: well, also bsdetectors lack of a fundamental grasp of English – that is of course, unless he really wanted to say “your lack of ignorance about things you don’t understand”, in which case you probably don’t want to repeat his last sentence back at him, because that becomes a compliment.

  5. Michael Graham Richard Says:

    Ah, good catch. I think I read too fast and my brain filled in part of it. “Lack of ignorance”.. Had not noticed that.

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