How Craigslist Works

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

Woman in striped shirt using computer and holding a mug

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Searching online for an apartment, a vintage table, or a new gig has never been easier thanks to Craigslist. What started as a humble project in San Francisco, California has grown to encompass the world. But, what is Craigslist exactly? Let's jump right in and learn how to use Craigslist.

What Is Craigslist: A Brief History

Way back in the early 90s, 1995 to be exact, Craig Newmark from San Francisco created an online hub for telling people about cool events around town. Soon, individuals began using Craig's small platform to post jobs, items for sales, and much more, soon requiring the use of a server.

Screenshot of Craigslist home page

During an apartment shortage in San Francisco, individuals began posting apartments and other items in various other locations. In response, Craig wrote software that could automatically add email postings to a website: Finally, in 1999, Craig was able to devote himself full-time to Craigslist.

How Does Craigslist Work?

Craigslist functions as a large online classifieds forum but also allows for community discussions, job postings, and so much more. Visitors can post their own ad, or take advantage of deals or gigs they're interested in. A quick glance at the Craigslist home page shows you a vast array of sections, truly delivering something for everyone. Some of the key sections you'll find include:

  • Community: This section is for all things happening within your community, from classes, lost and found items, a forum for politics, local news, and much more. There's also a unique section titled, "Rants & Raves" where posters can share their thoughts and feelings to the world.
  • Services: Looking for someone to repair your car? Looking for someone to create a website for you? You might find them hanging out under this section.
  • Housing: Are you looking for an apartment? Looking to buy your own piece of real estate? This section includes postings involving housing in your local area, for buy, sell, or trade.
  • Jobs: That new gig might be waiting for you inside this section on Craigslist. There are many options to choose from, including Education, Real Estate, Accounting, Security, and much more.
  • 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 toys.

Looking for something in particular? Use the "wanted" option under the For Sale section to create your own "is search of" ad on Craigslist.

  • Discussion Forums: Craigslist is so much more than buying and selling. A large portion of visitors come to chat about various topics including Apple products, religion, celebrities and more.

How Does Craigslist Make Money?

Interestingly enough, 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 flat fee for posting a job posting in six major U.S. cities. For individuals in San Francisco, that fee is $75.00.
  • Fee for apartment postings: Individuals who post an apartment listing in New York are charged $10.00 per posting.

Using the Craigslist Marketplace

Want to find that item you've been looking for high and low? It's time to learn how to search using the Craigslist Marketplace.

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

  1. Begin by visiting 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. You can use the search bar on the left hand side of your screen to search manually, or you can search through the various sections under the For Sale section.

  3. Select your desired section to see a list of available items to choose from.

    Screenshot of Craigslist
  4. Each listing will vary in what's available depending on what the poster chose for their ad. Each ad will have a map of the location of the item, plus a description.

    Screenshot of Craigslist
  5. Interested in the item? Simply select Reply in the upper left hand corner of the screen. You'll be given options to reply by email directly or 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 account email on file.

Craigslist Near Me

Searching locally for an item, service, or gig has never been easier thanks to voice search. Simply ask Siri or Alexa to find "Craigslist near me" to be directed to the Craigslist located closest to your location.

You can also use voice commands to search for various 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

Do you have a burning question about your new iPhone? Want to join the conversation about classical music? If so, Craigslist forums are for you.

Screenshot of Craigslist Forums

You can choose a forum to view from this list or use the search bar at the top of the page to search for a topic of your choice. After choosing a forum, you'll see a list of everything anyone is saying about the particular topic. 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'll need to sign-up for Craigslist account. Be sure to do so prior to entering the forum to ensure you won't lose your place.

From the Craigslist forum you chose, you can compose a new thread to start a new discussion or talk to others by replying. You can also rate an individual's response or flag it if it's inappropriate. The forums are a great place to learn new information, discuss trending topics, and find new 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 measures 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 safe 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 more to be comfortable with your purchase.
  • 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.