a brief history of craigslist missed connections.

01 31 20 — History

How the OG online dating platform came to be—and why it continues to live on in 2020.  

While its been posited that reading, say, Infinite Jest on the subway, warrants unsolicited commentary from strangers (“those footnotes, man!”), this is not the case. In fact, most of us, while hurtling towards our places of business, are not terribly interested in engaging with strangers — even on the occasion that we find them obscenely attractive. 

Fortunately, for such instances, we have the charmingly antiquated forum known as Craigslist Missed Connections. While Craigslist itself — a sprawling website marked by painful, archaic UX that has gone un-updated since its creation in 1992 — is associated largely with odd job postings, lo-fi apartment listings, and second-hand furniture sales, its true legacy skews romantic: Missed Connections. 

This particular subsection of the site arose when Jim Buckmaster, Craigslist’s CEO, noted an influx of what he called, "you-smiled-at-me-on-the-subway-platform" postings in the Craigslist personal ad forum. In major cities across the U.S., folks were submitting missives to potential lovers, detailing the sorts of brief, romantic encounters that often go unacknowledged outside of rom-coms: banter at the produce section, eye contact on the subway, a quick back-and-forth while securing lids on coffee cups. The posters’ intentions were simple: to follow through where they’d faltered in real life. To secure the phone number or the dinner date they’d failed to ask for. 

Still, in the year Two Thousand and Twenty (where connection is found, most prominently, by way of an algorithm), this outdated iteration of so-called “online dating” provides something we’ve lost: serendipity — the idea that two people might meet purely because they exist in the same place at the same time, by happenstance. Missed Connections allow mere humans (the non-Katherine Hiegels of the world) to relive their prosaic flirtations with filmic grandeur. They provide the possibility that each of our passing, everyday encounters might serve as a preamble to Eternal Love. 

All the same, the very premise of a Missed Connection relies on the idea that these vignettes do, in fact, occur in the first place — the eye contact, the exchange of words, the accidental shoulder bump. So, as we move through the world, we simply have to look up.