I remember the '90s like they were yesterday. Websites such as Amazon and eBay were well on their way to transforming commerce as we know it, and even flash-in-the-pan startups were making their founders into overnight millionaires. But while the money piled up for other people, I quietly nurtured a vision of my own: Craigslist, a revolutionary online classifieds site that allows people who wish to buy or sell goods and services online to be raped or murdered by total strangers.
Nobody, absolutely nobody, thought my idea for changing the way unsuspecting victims were entrapped into life-threatening encounters with sociopaths had a chance. Nobody except me, that is.
Those initial meetings with venture capitalists were some of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I'll never forget the way they just fidgeted as I explained my plan for a virtual bulletin board where a person looking for a summer sublet could be beaten to death with a crowbar or someone in search of a running partner could, with just a click of the mouse, find another person planning to kill and eat them. Everywhere I turned, there was someone else telling me how crazy I was. Even my parents, who had always been supportive, told me I was absolutely out of my mind.
And at first it seemed they were right. When the site went live in 1995, the traffic was robust, and word of mouth was driving up the visits every week. Sure, people found writing groups and good homes for their pets—but where was the deceit and resulting brutality? Every day I checked the papers for a story about someone who had been lured into a soundproof torture chamber with the promise of a $100 like-new mountain bike. Every day, I was disappointed.
Maybe I needed to tweak the design? Maybe I needed to promote myself better? What was I missing?
I started to panic. I even considered hiring someone to take out an ad and then forcibly sodomize the first person who responded to it, just to prime the pump. I held back, however, because that kind of unethical behavior always comes back to haunt you. And, fortunately, my restraint was rewarded.
Ever so slowly, people started using the site the way I had always intended. Right before my eyes, the depraved and violent were going online and finding Craigslist. Half the ads placed in the Volunteering section were put there by sex offenders, while at least a third of the people who arrived for jobs they found in the Gigs section promptly had their legs broken. Maybe most gratifying was the uptick in mayhem in the Casual Encounters section, which had been surprisingly sluggish. Suddenly, it seemed like every other person showed up for his no-strings blow job with a switchblade. I knew I'd reached a tipping point. Only one thing was missing now—one thing I really needed to push Craigslist over the top.
Finally, almost two years after I launched the site, a man who had strangled his tennis instructor and dumped chunks of her dismembered body in a creek near his home told police that he had met his victim through Craigslist—through my site! Through my little site! I almost cried. It took awhile, but my dream had become a reality. Before long, anyone who wanted to bathe in the guts of an innocent knew all he needed was a fake ad for an Ultimate Frisbee team and my URL.
And look at Craigslist now. Here in 2011, it's hard to imagine slaughtering someone without it. Letters pour in by the sackful from people thanking me for helping them find just the right travel buddy to decapitate or math tutor to give to their imbecile cousin to rape. I'm not the type to gloat, but maybe I'll let myself say this just once:
I told you so.