Craigslist and the Ethics of Leaving Money on the Table

The last few years Craigslist has grown into one of the larger media properties on the web. Amazingly. they’ve been able to resist the siren song of advertising.

They’re clearly making plenty of money and Craig seems pretty set against running ads.

I’ve known Craig for years. We both work in the tech industry, attend the same parties, and live in the same neighborhood. Without a doubt he’s an ethical, compassionate, and considerate person.

I’ve suggested changes to Craigslist for a few years now. It always takes them two-three years to implement them. The last big suggestion I made was search feeds with RSS. I think I suggested this in early 2000. They were eventually implemented sometime in late 2003.

My next suggestion (and I hope to god they listen) involves Craigslist running simple and clean advertising. Certainly Google Adsense would be a start but maybe even their own ad network. I’m sure they’d have no problem selling their own text ads.

Every year they’re leaving millions of dollars on the table. We have big problems in the world which this money could help solve. We’re going to lose an entire generation of people in Africa due to AIDS. We still haven’t cured cancer or solved poverty in 3rd world nations. Darfur is a tragedy (and arguably a genocide) with nearly 400,000 people dead.

Even Kant would agree that this is a simple ethical dilemma. Running ads on Craigslist would be a lot better than not taking action.

If Craig can’t stomach running ads on Craigslist he can swallow this bitter pill by using it to fund an ethical campaign of his choosing. Heck. Let the community vote on where to direct the funds. Cure AIDs. Prevent cancer. These are noble goals – certainly nobler than not running ads.

Some small fraction of Craigslist would almost certainly be angry but I think the rest would feel amazingly empowered and even become more loyal to the site. Not only are they finding new apartments, looking for their next pet, and dating, but they’re solving the worlds major problems.

  1. I agree completely.

    Steve Pavlina has a similar discussion going on his blog right now:

    He’s talking about those who make it their life’s mission to help others being okay with accepting money in exchange for helping people. He makes no secret that his blog earns him over $1000 a day, but he’s using that money to help more people.

    I have come around to his point of view after talking to his wife, Erin, in person. They are good people. So is Craig. And I completely agree that money should go to good people.

    Craig, if you are reading this, you have my full support! Empower your community to change the world even more than you already have. If you don’t need the money, start a foundation and have all ad proceeds go there, or find a foundation you agree with and donate all proceeds to it. And yes, use your own ad network instead of lining the big G’s pockets. We loyal Craigslisters would all support you in that cause.

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