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Simple Things

(September 16, 2003) - Sometimes, we all make things too complicated. Either the detailed examination of the conifer or the forest can keep us from seeing the tree. Going overboard with new electronic gimmicks is as likely to cause poor adaptation as moving too tentatively.

Recently, we've developed a renewed fondness for Craig's List (perhaps, we've found our inner Craig). The simple, funky interface belies a technical marvel: you can pretty much find what you are looking for on Craig's pages. By focusing on simple things, Craig's List provides a singularly useful tool for managing life and its various components, all funded by job advertising.

Craig's team takes a pretty unique approach to developing their site. They focus on what works and then do more of that. The 'business model' is a more organic thing than you usually find in more profoundly financed operations. We think it's a lot like the wise way to do landscape design....you watch where people walk and then put sidewalks there. In other words, the design process at Craig's is really user driven.

The approach works. Just take a look at the job hunting forum. It's a lively and engaging flow of information between members of a community. Although job hunting is interesting, it's critical to understand that Craig's offers a range of community conversation. Work is a component of community life and not necessarily the central element.

Looking for work is another place where the Craig's List approach flowers. Jobs are organized by neighborhood in the local geographic community. There's a clear awareness that the differences between professions are nearly equivalent to commuting distance.

Although other employment discovery systems feature discussion areas, the robust qualities of the Craigslist offering bear specific attention. More than any other employment driven enterprise, CL achieves a real sense of community. You can see in the forums that this is no typical software house trying to deliver job boards. The ".org" feel creates a viable feel in the discussion zones.

Finally, the lack of emphasis on technical wizardry allows CL to innovate where it really matters. They are the first job board to offer what will certainly become a standard in the very short term. RSS feeds are the foundation of blog content syndication. (later this week, we'll talk about the future of RSS.)

Simplicity is just plain hard to achieve. The nature of technical operations is to add feature upon feature while trying to keep the user in the picture. The management of usability and related issues is so tough that Monster has taken the extremely smart step of building a usability laboratory into the very process that designs the job board. CL arrives at simplicity through a different method. Users really are a part of the ongoing evolution of the enterprise.

John Sumser

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