One thing has always puzzled me — is Craigslist successful because of its simplicity? Or is it because it was first?
I’ve heard the “you can’t be successful unless you’re first” line bandied about a few times, but have never truly believed it. It was a reason given why not to create a social networking component on Trovix, which I argued against with the example of Facebook versus Myspace, or Google versus Yahoo. Based on examples with sites that big (and examples of smaller companies continuing to thrive in a niche, such as Vimeo versus YouTube) I’ve always believed that a superior product and/or a compelling value proposition are key ingredients to a product’s success, and while some inertia can be gained from being first (particularly with network effects), it is not insurmountable with appropriate marketing (which is why Trovix now has a social networking component).
Red line is kijiji and blue line is Craigslist.
In Canada, Craigslist was slow to take off. As such eBay put serious effort into marketing to gain that all important network effect, and now Craigslist is slowly becoming irrelevant. The most amazing part is seeing the actual moment the network effect takes hold in late 2007. If Craigslist was like other companies, they would do what eBay in Australia did. Back in the late 90s, eBay was king in the US. However in Australia, some local imitators jumped in, including sold.com.au (which now redirects to ebay). All of these were handily beating eBay, until a well-coordinated marketing campaign put eBay back in front. They weren’t as effective in New Zealand though:
Blue line is trademe.co.nz, red line is eBay.co.nz (insufficient traffic to appear on the graph).
The final thing worth noting is that kijiji does in fact have a foothold in the US. If growth continues (currently a healthy 10% per month compared to 4% for Craigslist) and Craigslist remains stagnant, it’s hard to imagine, but they could eventually win out:
Red line is craigslist and blue line is kijiji.
There’s a very good example of this sort of slow growth playing out right now with Gmail and the other webmail providers. It’s slow, but it’s seemingly inevitable that Gmail will be the number one email provider:
Gmail is the orange line, bright blue is AOL and dark blue is Hotmail.
So – back to the original question. Is it better to have a feature rich site or a more usable but limited site? There’s unfortunately no easy answer — it all comes down to whether users who want to use your site can get done what they want to get done. Craigslist has been “good enough” for a long time, and inertia continues to carry them. However given enough incentive (a site with better features and just enough of an audience to make it worth your while) users can and will swap. It’ll be interesting to see how kijiji continues to fare in coming years.