San Francisco Chronicle: Will the Internet succeed in eliminating the middle man?

Carol Lloyd writes about Craig Newmark’s Craigslist.

Started in 1995 as his personal hobbyhorse to list cool things and offer free resources to the Bay Area community, craigslist has grown into a micro empire, with 14 employees, a nonprofit foundation and community Web sites in 16 American cities as well as Vancouver.

Over the years, it’s become a standard-bearer for the virtues of online community: allowing people to buy and sell goods, advertise their businesses, discuss hot topics of the day and find a job or even true love — all for free. (The only fee craigslist charges is for job listings on the San Francisco site.)

If craigslist helps people buy and sell used cars or find a baby-sitter, so what? This has always been a decentralized market. But real estate is different. Historically an insider’s game, real estate has generally operated behind closed doors, according to unspoken or bureaucratically incomprehensible rules that confound the ordinary buyer or seller. It’s also the only realm in which ordinary people sell their used possessions for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And if people shop and sometimes buy homes after reading free Web sites, then such Web sites are encroaching on once-hallowed territory.

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