Well, it’s been a year and three months since San Antonio’s slightly used computer monitors, pilots on layover looking for some NSA (no strings attached) fun, and telemarketing-job offers congealed into one pleasantly white, gray, and blue concoction known as Sanantonio.craigslist.org, our local hub of the retail-ad behemoth. After 15 months it’s time for a checkup.
But before the prognosis, a quick medical history. In 1995, Craig Newmark created an on-line forum to collect in one easily accessible place information about happenings in the San Francisco area. As the site grew in popularity, Newmark added listings for jobs, real estate, and sale-by-owner merchandise among other offerings. The Boston franchise launched in 2000, followed shortly by Chicago, L.A., and several more major metropolitan areas. By the time San Antonio joined the 57 metropolitan areas with individual forums, Craigslist had become a city in a bottle, reproducing the marketplaces, political and social climates, and cultural beats of a locale in miniature, placing them on display for whoever wanders onto sanantonio.craigslist.com.
So, what’s the prognosis?
Someone had better contact the next of kin, because our little digital metropolis is flat-lining. But why does a vibrant burg like San Antonio seem so blasé when you distill it into words? It all seems to hinge on the people.
Not the quality, mind you, but the quantity. Word-of-mouth promotions must not have reached the general public here as it did in the Bay Area, Boston, and even Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth, because visiting the SA list is like being plopped down in the middle of El Mercado a la Earl Holliman in The Twilight Zone. I want to run up and down the virtual streets screaming “WHERE IS EVERYBODY?”
The “Rants and Raves” forum is the catch-all bitching venue; it accrues around 20 posts every day, a substantial portion of which are produced by the same four or five denizens, who have established personae (the cranky curmudgeon, or the ... um ... less-cranky curmudgeon). A typical rave praises a restaurant or musician, i.e., “Went to see Esteban Jordan, Friday night. He was awesome, as he usually is, but it was extra good in that it had been a whilefor me.”
| Imagine a telephone pole in the center of town with
enough room for everyone to staple a flyer to without
fear of ruination by rain or willful destruction.
Unfortunately, the cheers are overshadowed by the staggering number of rants, which cover a healthy swath of prejudices and seethe with anger. Take, for instance, this gem from January 4 in reference to North Star Mall security guards: “Are there any more worthless pieces of shit in San Antonio? I’ll park anywhere I want. All they could do is give me dirty looks when I refused to stop for the flashing yellow lights. Bwahahahahaha!” It’s almost funny if you can block out the alarming notion that this anonymous poster could be your co-worker, neighbor, or spouse.
You might find someone to spend your life (or at least a lunch break fling) with in the personals if you can wade through the unbelievably lurid web-cam sex ads, poorly disguised as personals. Job listings are sparse, with categories such as internet engineering and biotech science lying fallow for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. Those vocations may not be high-turnover career options, but even the often unstable service industries are unable to muster a dozen links a day. The most heavily trafficked section of our Craigslist is, not surprisingly, the marketplace, proving that even when there’s nothing to do, and no one to talk to, there will always be plenty of other people’s used merchandise to buy.
Is it unfair to criticize the lack of participation in the San Antonio Craigslist when it’s only been running for slightly over a year, especially considering the lack of any organized promotions? The numbers suggest that time is no factor in the Craigslist equation. November 2004 heralded the debut not only of San Antonio’s list, but lists for 10 other U.S. cities and areas: Spokane, Albany, Tucson, Omaha, Monterrey Bay, Reno, Tulsa, Eugene, Orange County, and Inland Empire. Of the cities, San Antonio leads in population and area by a wide margin, ranking eighth in the U.S. top 50. Since its inception, Sanantonio.craigslist.org has collected 9,814 posts, which puts it behind Albany, with 11,580; Reno with 11,352; and Eugene with 10,724.
As it’s already proven in San Francisco and elsewhere, Craigslist can offer more than a $2,500 transmission from a 1968 Roadrunner. Imagine a telephone pole in the center of town with enough room for everyone to staple a flyer to without fear of ruination by rain or willful destruction but that only about 20 people pay attention to, and you’ll understand how our Craigslist is wasting away. •
By Aaron Block