How Email is like Craigslist


There is this good recent post where Chris Dixon suggests horizontal, popular apps often spawn promising vertical ones. He frames it as “some problems are so hard they need to be solved piece by piece“.

Though his point is more, as in Andrew Parker’s graphic above and post, that there are some big sprawling businesses that seem really dominant and also really vulnerable to folks who design the perfect product and marketing for the present time (e.g., more visual, more mobile, better organized, faster checkout). Times change, markets mature and the thing that opened up the market may now be vulnerable.

This got me thinking that email is a ┬álot like Craigslist: a massive, popular warhorse that is both immortal (constant: inbox anxiety, email overload, email bankruptcy) and always dead (e.g., “Email is dead. Facebook rules.”)

Some things people use email for:

– tasks

– sending business files

– sending pictures

– storing information to remember later (notes)

– managing inbound requests for action (basically tasks)

– commerce (mainly remembering progress checks and archive)

– collaboration on stuff/discussion (“What are your thoughts on this idea…”)

– social conversation (“Hey what’s new?”)

– scheduling/calendaring

– Q&A

– publishing (mass mails)

– selling/marketing (mass mails also)


Email is so flexible, accessible, interoperable, widely-deployed, and simple to use that you really need to be a lot better than it to carve off a vertical. But it does have massive problems too (spam, overload). Some businesses seem to just take email and profit from extending it (Gmail, Blackberry, my own company Peek, even iPhone) and some seem to be about carving off replacements to it.


There is a chart like the above for all of these above with startup/products that try to replace email

– Reminders apps like Clear

– Dropbox

– Flickr

– Evernote

– Groupware like Outlook?

– Mint

– Facebook, Twitter

– Outlook

– Quora, StackExchange

– Blogger, WordPress

– Ecommerce


The funny thing is that Craigslist started itself as an email. An email list that Craig used to send around.



Even more interesting is when you look at something like Evernote, they know how horizontal they are, and they are madly creating all the little vertical versions. Microsoft did this with Office. Maybe it will work.


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