This is a framework for inventing a better Craigslist.
It is highly unlikely that newspapers will reclaim the monopoly they had on classified advertising pre-internet. They controlled the platform before the internet, and were able to dictate what information used their print pages to gain readers and audience. Some newspapers have lost control of the platform completely and the ones that haven’t will follow suit. Newspapers won’t be able to reclaim the classified advertising space by using the old mental framework for thinking about classifieds, by pretending they might be able to own the platform and charge access to it. Instead, it’s imperative to take the approach of hacking the platform and adding functionality, value, and convenience.
Remember Friendster? I don’t. I never had an account. It was upstaged by MySpace, where I had an account for a few months before it became uncool to do so. MySpace was then upstaged by Facebook. Yes, I’ll concede that MySpace has a large userbase, but its value in the mindspace of the users is rapidly diminishing and there’s a big need for creativity. Fortunately for everyone involved, there’s a low barrier to disruption on the internet.
The real way local news organizations can upset Craigslist and build a better classifieds is simple: create a micro-currency. In addition to providing a more user-friendly interface and the ability to add better meta data, news organizations with a specific geographic community should establish a currency to “monetize” the local marketplace. As Douglas Rushkoff says, the web, and web 2.0 especially, is breaking existing institutions because it allows people to create value on the periphery again. Local news organizations are in a unique, and therefore advantageous, position to provide the platform with which to capture the value of local transactions.