How Craigslist Works

Find what you need on the cheap — and in your area

Woman in striped shirt using computer and holding a mug

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Craigslist allows users to buy and sell goods or post classified ads for anyone in a community to read or exchange. The service launched in the mid-1990s and has since grown to cover every continent. But what exactly is Craigslist, and how does it work?

What Is Craigslist: A Brief History

In 1995, San Francisco resident Craig Newmark created an online hub meant to inform visitors of local events. Soon, individuals began using Craig's small platform to post jobs, services, items for sale, and more, eventually requiring the use of a server.

Screenshot of Craigslist home page

During a housing shortage in San Francisco, individuals began posting ads for apartment rentals in and around the city. In response, Craig wrote software that could automatically add email postings to a website: craigslist.org. Finally, in 1999, Craig was able to devote himself full-time to Craigslist.

How Does Craigslist Work?

Craigslist functions as an online classifieds forum, but it also allows for community discussions, job postings, service advertisements, and more. Visitors can post their own ads, apply for gigs, or take advantage of deals they're interested in. A quick glance at the Craigslist home page shows an array of sections. Some of the key sections you'll find include:

  • Community: This section is for events and trends happening in your community, including classes, lost and found items, political forums, and local news. There's also a unique section called "Rants & Raves," where posters can share whatever thoughts and feelings they have.
  • Services: Here's where you find people and organizations offering services, such as car repair, website design, or dog walking.
  • Housing: Use this section to find or advertisement an apartment for rent. You can also find real estate listings in your area, whether you're looking to buy, sell, rent, or trade.
  • Jobs: Job postings are very common on Craigslist. You can find listings for pretty much any field, including Education, Real Estate, Accounting, Security, and Media.
  • For Sale: If you're looking for an item on the cheap, this is where you'll find it. One of the most used areas of Craigslist, these ads are placed by individuals selling anything from furniture to collectible figurines.
  • Discussion Forums: Craigslist has forums for discussing pretty much everything under the sun, such as tech products, religion, celebrities, and politics.

You can use the Wanted category under the For Sale section to solicit specific items you may want, or browse listings of other people's requests.

How Does Craigslist Make Money?

Craig Newmark was once asked to include sponsored ads on his website but turned down the offer. Instead, Craigslist focuses on only a couple of revenue streams, including:

  • Fees for job postings: There's a fee for posting a job posting in major U.S. cities, and it ranges from $7 to $75, depending on the location.
  • Fee for apartment postings: Individuals who post an apartment listing in Boston, Chicago, and New York are charged $5 per posting.
  • Other posting fees: Craigslist also charges fees for other postings, mostly depending on the region. You can find a complete list on the Craigslist posting fees page.

How to Use the Craigslist Marketplace

Follow these instructions to set up and begin using the Craigslist Marketplace.

You can follow these exact same steps to find other postings such as gigs, housing, and more.

  1. Go to the Craigslist home page. If you have your location services on, Craigslist will pull up the largest community home page closest to your area.

  2. Use the search bar on the left to manually search for listings, or browse subcategories under the For Sale section.

    Screenshot of Craigslist
  3. Every listing is different, with varying levels of detail. Each ad will have a map of the general location for an item, plus a description.

    Screenshot of Craigslist
  4. You can inquire about an item by selecting Reply in the upper-left corner of the page. You'll be given options to reply by email directly or to use the email provider of your choice.

Craigslist allows posters to mask their email address to keep their personal information private. The email you see and use will be directed to the poster's email account on file.

Craigslist Near Me

You can use voice search to find an item, service, or gig on Craigslist. Through Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant, say "Craigslist near me" to be directed to your regional Craigslist page.

You can also use voice commands to search for items or services. For example, you can ask to see "puppies on Craigslist" to see a list of cities and their puppy listings.

All About the Craigslist Discussion Forums

You can use Craigslist forums to participate in or start conversations about pretty much anything, from classical music to the latest iPhone.

Screenshot of Craigslist Forums

Under this section, you can choose a forum to view using the search bar at the top of the page. After selecting a forum, you will see a list of all the threads and discussions related to a particular topic or search term. If you see something that interests you, select the blue hyperlinked areas to view the response in more detail.

Screenshot of Craigslist Forum

To reply to a post in the forum, you will need to sign-up for a Craigslist account.

You can compose a new thread to start a new discussion or comment on others by replying. You can also rate an individual's response or flag it if it is inappropriate. The forums are a great place to learn, discuss topics, and find friends.

How to Stay Safe on Craigslist

Just like any other online activity, it's important to stay safe. If you're selling a product, service, or posting a gig on Craigslist, here are a few security tips to keep in mind:

  • Don't add all of your contact information: Keep your contact information to the bare minimum, just enough for buyers or those interested in your post to reach out.
  • Only accept cash for monetary transactions: Do not accept checks or money transfers for your product or service. Many scams have occurred for buyers using these methods.
  • Always invite buyers to a safe place: If you don't have a place of business and you're an individual selling an item, meet the buyer in a public place. Never invite buyers to your home.

For buyers on Craigslist, it's best to always:

  • Ask questions: If you're unsure about an item or service you're interested in, be sure to ask questions. You can also request more photos, past transactional information, and other details.
  • Don't send money first: Don't ever send money to a seller prior to seeing the item or knowing exactly what you're purchasing. This is a good way to get scammed.