vol. 25 no. 2, June, 2020

Book Reviews

Lingel, Jessa. An Internet for the people: the politics and promise of craigslist. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020. viii, 197, [1] p. ISBN 978-0-691-18890-4. £25.00.

Coincidentally, craigslist is as old as Information Research; both were founded in 1995. Craig Newmark had ideas about classified ads online at just about the same time as I was having ideas about publishing a journal online. The difference, of course, is that he monetised the site, while the journal continues to be open and free. Having said that, it must be recognized that people can freely post to certain parts of craigslist—not everything must be paid for. Another similarity between craigslist and this journal is the simplicity of the Web page. Craigslist still looks, as Jesse Lingel notes in this book, like a Web 1.0 site, and the journal still has a very simple top page, contents list, and journal page. My position was simply that the printed formats of journals, or something very similar, have served printed journals very well for several centuries, and that there was no reason to change. Many publishers have very messy journal sites, with pop-up features, marquee banners, side panels with ads for other journals, and so on - whether or not that kind of thing provides them with added revenue is probably very questionable, and it certainly does not help the information searcher. On the other hand, craigslist seems to have done very well by staying firmly Web 1.0 in appearance.

Craigslist is not the only classified ads platform out there on the Web and Loot, in the UK, claims to have been 'Serving classified ads. since 1985', but, of course, for a long time it was a print publication, and another site, Gumtree, only got going five years later than craigslist. Certainly, craigslist set the ball rolling in the USA and then spread world-wide, a disruptive technology that had a significant impact on local newspapers that had previously depended to a significant extent on the income from classified ads. I recall meeting the owner of a chain of local newspapers in the Mid-west of the USA at a conference in the late 1980s and I asked him about the impact of the Internet. He replied to the effect that the classified ads. kept his papers going and that he didn't see the Internet having any great effect at all. I sometimes wonder if he is still in business. Craigslist is more than simply a buy and sell classified ads. platform, however. On its more successful sites (and that for Sheffield, for example, does not seem to be particularly successful), its discussion boards support all kinds of local sub-communities, from people interested in the android phone operating system (although what a post from "Bored/divorced" is doing there is anyone's guess), to vegan food and writing.

Some of the discussion lists and the sales boards have caused craigslist legal problems, with claims that the platform has been used for sex-work and human-trafficking. In this respect, craigslist has benefited from section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (which President Trump is currently trying to change). This section, in effect, recognises that sites such as craigslist, Twitter, and Facebook, are platforms, not publishers, and, therefore, cannot be held responsible for what people choose to post on the sites. On the other hand, the Fight Online Sex-trafficking Act, limits the freedoms given by section 230, and, as a result, craigslist began to charge for ads. in its "Adult Services" section and that section seems now to have disappeared from the list. Legal activity also involved attempts by others to use the data from craigslist: specifically, a company called 3taps, in partnership with PadMapper used the data from craigslist to provide a map interface to the housing ads. The case ended up with 3taps paying craigslist a million dollars.

Craigslist performs many functions for the communities it serves: buying and selling secondhand goods (for example, the San Francisco site currently has an offer of a Fujifilm X-H1 body with battery grip for the bargain price of $900); online dating (which can get rather problematic); job-finding; and events. Jesse Lingel, whose work is based to a significant extent on interviews with the Craig Newman, provides an insightful account of the history of the list, its legal and ethical problems, and its uses. For as long as craigslist exists (and most corporations die at some point) this book will be a useful kind to its origins and functions.

Professor T.D. Wilson
May, 2020

How to cite this review

Wilson, T.D. (2020). Review of: Lingel, Jessa An Internet for the people: the politics and promise of graigslist. Princeton University Press, 2020. Information Research, 25(2), review no. R687 [Retrieved from http://www.informationr.net/ir/reviews/revs687.html]

Information Research is published four times a year by the University of Borås, Allégatan 1, 501 90 Borås, Sweden.