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.”
“. . . 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.