Spam, unrestrained flagging, and ineffective management are transforming Craigslist into a rubbish heap.
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, evidently believes in minimal structure. Most of Craigslist is policed by “the community”. Off-loading the police function has allowed Craigslist to keep its payroll to a minimum: reportedly it employs only 34 people, all based in San Francisco.
Unfortunately, discipline in many areas of Craigslist has broken down. In some areas, such as South Florida’s Computer Services section, flagging of messages makes it impossible to keep an ad published for more than an hour or so.
The flagging idea exists so that “the community” can flag an ad as spam, mis-categorized, or as containing inappropriate content. If enough flags accumulate for one ad, Craigslist deletes it automatically. Who can flag an ad? Anyone, even a visitor with no Craigslist account. How many flags result in ad deletion? Who knows?
Forums and blogs have raised a chorus of complaints. Here are a few:
Craig’s List’s Dirty Little Secret: Who’s Policing the Flagging Police? “. . . I discovered that Craig’s List has been taken over by a handful of self-appointed police who flag ads arbitrarily. Anyone can get an ad deleted on Craig’s List by flagging it a couple of times from different ip addresses (say, work and home). There is no recourse, no higher authority to appeal to. Your ad is gone and, aside from a curt email notification, that’s the end of it. Try re-posting, and you’re likely to get deleted again, except now that you’ve been flagged once, you’re penalized: one flag is enough to immediately delete your ad.”
“I am not sure why my ad was flagged for removal. They do not share that information with you, and there is no accountability for the person doing the flagging. You are just rejected like Forrest Gump looking for a seat on the school bus and left to figure it out for yourself. . . The one thing they cannot do is sit on their laurels and let the community police itself without giving them guidance and implementing restrictions. A world where no one abuses each other and everyone lives in peace and happiness is called Utopia. The road Craigslist is on does not lead to Utopia; it leads to Irrelevant Land.”
Hey, Craigslist, Where Did My Ad Go? “Craigslist will finally have to take steps to control the flagging that is making a joke of its free service.
All Craigslist would have to do is charge a dollar for each ad. I’d pay it, no problem. Then they could afford to hire company moderators of all the flagging that takes place on their site. They know exactly what’s going on. After wiping out so many advertising sellers by now, they need to be responsible. Originally, we all thought Craigslist was a hero, standing up for the little guy. But now the big guys have turned everything around, and Craigslist doesn’t care.”
Craigslist Sucks “. . . And ad flagging? It didn’t take long to find the pattern:
1. Someone posts an ad for an item for sale similar to yours.
2. A few minutes later your ad has been flagged for removal.
3. Repeat step 1.”
“. . . you have an army of people firing the ‘flag’ button for any reason at all and often even for no good reason. It means that not only do you have a forum of people ready to take your ads down but you also have other marketers (your competition) having your ads removed using flagging software. And you even have some people who just have nothing better to do and find it to be fun.”
What’s the answer?
Maybe eBay (who own something like 26% of Craigslist) will impose some sanity and discipline on Craigslist. Backpage looks decent, but it has a similar spam / flag problem. Whenever a need for something has arisen on the Internet, some clever entrepreneur almost always rushes in to fill the void. Maybe that person is cooking up a sane replacement for Craigslist as I type this.
Round 1 awaits the judge’s decision. Round 2 of the eBay v Craigslist courtroom fight will begin in 2010.
After more than a week of courtroom scrapping, the judge who’s presiding over the Delaware lawsuit between eBay and Craigslist has urged the parties to settle out of court. He promised only that he would require time to reach a decision and that neither party would regard it as a clear victory. Chancellor William Chandler II warned: “I have an uncanny ability to make everyone unhappy.”
Case: eBay Domestic Holdings Inc v Newmark, et al, Delaware Chancery Court, No. 3705-CC (Why Delaware? Craigslist is incorporated there.) My comment on week 1 of trial.
This lawsuit even has political implications: Meg Whitman, who was eBay CEO during the Craigslist stock acquisition, is campaigning as a Republican for the office of Governor of California. Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist) is a major contributor to Democrat candidates and their causes. Craigslist testimony painted Whitman as a less than honest businesswoman, which may cost her votes in the gubernatorial election.
The opening bell rings and the contenders come out swinging! eBay’s former CEO Meg Whitman and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster testify in round 1 of their courtroom fight. Other headliners who testified last week: eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, and Skype CEO Josh Silverman.
eBay has made no secret of their desire to acquire Craigslist and they came close to doing so when eBay bought 28% of Craigslist shares in 2004. But the relationship between the two companies ran off the rails and now they’re suing each other. The trial opened in the state of Delaware this past week, and the CEOs of both have already testified. This courtroom drama will be worth watching.
I view this as a conflict of cultures: eBay is driven by profit; Craigslist is driven by, well, it seems to be driven by service. It’s clear that Craigslist’s founder, Craig Newmark, could cash in his shares at any time and walk away a zillionaire, but he seems to be driven to provide a spam-free forum where sellers and buyers can safely meet and buy and sell.
I’ve had a great time looking at the junk that’s been offered for free on Craigslist, all in one handy place: http://itemnotasdescribed.com Take your pick of collapsed sheds, fallen trees, or wheelchairs that don’t wheel. The items are bizarre, and the comments offered by the website owner are a hoot. Among my favorite comments is the one that accompanies the home-made trebuchet (pictured): http://itemnotasdescribed.com/page/12/
"I have a trebuchet that i build for a physics project. It is stained and has gold paint on it. Its been in my backyard and i need to get rid of it. Its about 4.5 feet tall and very sturdy, holds 350 pounds from what i know. PICK UP ONLY!"
Comment by itemnotasdescribed’s owner:
On the off chance you don’t know, a trebuchet is essentially a catapult/giant slingshot. They’ve been out of style for 600 years or so, so you’re forgiven for that little gap in your knowledge. There are costs to owning a 350 pound trebuchet, there’s no getting around it. For one, it will render a huge swath of your yard unusable. The trebuchet becomes the focal point of your yard, obscuring all else. The kids can’t play ball. The dog can’t run around in high-speed figure eights.
But there are benefits. Well, one, really: you can lay seige to neighbors for blocks around. The Bostwicks over on Deacon Street? The ones who never trim the tree overhanging the sidewalk in front of their house? Load up a light bowling ball. Let them know they need to be a bit more responsible. The Singh kids down the block? The ones who bring the speakers outside on sunny weekend afternoons, blasting that weird foreign-language hip hop? Load some old Top 40 vinyl on this thing and whip it at them. A lesson in both music history and neighborliness. And Jim Edwards, with the two rusting Cadillacs out front that haven’t moved as long as you’ve lived on the street? Well, even he may get tired of looking at the cars once you’ve rained down ten pounds of landscaping rocks on them.
Be prepared for a little bit of disappointment, though. Given the arc of this thing’s swing, you’re always going to overshoot the next door neighbor. You may have to knock on her door and just ask her to mow the damned lawn.
Do you recognize these people? Why are they smiling?
The man on the left is Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, and he’s smiling because he’s the founder of Craigslist. The man on the right is Arthur Sulzberger Jr (nicknamed “Pinch”), publisher and chairman of the board of directors of The New York Times. Craigslist has all but killed print newspapers’ cash cow, the classified advertising section. For many decades the Sulzberger dynasty at The New York Times prospered thanks in part to classified ads in The New York Times. Now that income stream is dried up, thanks to Craig. I can’t imagine why Pinch is smiling, unless Craig is telling him about Craigslist’s plan to launch a book review publication . . .
I found this photo on flickr. The photographer is Esther Dyson, an early flickr investor. I guess that Esther took the photo at a conference in Aspen, Colorado. She captioned it, “The cool thing is how cheap we are . . .” I think it’s great that she allows schlubs like me to use some of her photos. Thanks, Esther!
Craigslist has replaced newspapers’ classified ads. However, from within a given city’s Craigslist, you can’t search other cities’ Craigslist ads. Craig wants it that way. So bear in mind that the ideas that follow don’t conform to Craig’s wishes. And now . . . here are a few ways to simultaneously search Craigslist in multiple cities:
Caveat: This relies upon Google’s web crawler, whose index will be hours to days out of date, so some items may have already been deleted by the advertiser.
2. Use www.CraigsPal.com, which is available in paid and free versions. You can search multiple cities and organize and sort results by date, price, and location in one results screen. View the videos on the site to see if it does what you want.
3. Use www.Crazedlist.org. It works within a Mozilla Firefox web browser. When you first connect to www.crazedlist.org, you’ll see a pop-up window with instructions. Open another tab within Mozilla Firefox, and follow the crazedlist instructions. Crazedlist is simple, doesn’t organize the results for you, and doesn’t require that you install any software on your computer. I like it.
Craigslist and its founder, Craig Newmark, are undergoing what the Chinese call interesting times.
Background: Craig has chosen to keep Craigslist modest but comfortably profitable. (Craig says that in a race between the hare and the tortoise, Craigslist is the tortoise.) The paid staff, all in San Francisco, number about 34. (They use volunteers to assist running the site in other cities.) Ads are free with a few exceptions: housing and job ads in San Francisco and housing ads in New York City require payment. (Craig points out that the real estate advertisers in NYC requested that they be required to pay, to keep spurious ads out.)
If you’ve used Craigslist, you’ll agree that it’s free-form and in general works pretty well, despite the efforts of spammers and scammers.
eBay vs Craigslist: strange bedfellows Into this idyll strides eBay: they bought 28% of Craigslist’s shares in 2004, placed their guy on Craigslist’s board of directors and are trying, to use a Web 2.0 term, to monetize Craigslist. It’s a classic culture clash. eBay is suing Craig and Craigslist’s CEO (while telling Craig that they’ll gladly buy his shares should he choose to sell), and Craig is suing eBay. Each accuses the other of fiduciary irresponsibility and acting in bad faith.
My new page also contains info about and links to alternative sites where you can buy and sell items at no cost: Bidville, eCrater, and Blujay.