Craigslist experiences: the good, the bad, and the awkward

By Catherine Reagan

I found a job at the GAP and a dirt-cheap, off-white 1991 Geo Prizm. A friend from home got a free queen-size bed in immaculate condition (complete with sheets!!!).My other friend sold his iPod, digital camera, and laptop. When you’re hard up for cash, you can visit the ‘barter’ page and find what you need in exchange for whatever you’re willing to give up.

Here, listing upon listing of classifieds for all sorts of needs and desires can be found and met. It’s a web site that now services many countries and cities around the world, but one that also focuses on local and community interaction. What is the thing that can do all of these things and more? Why, my friend, it’s Craigslist.

According to Craigslist.org, the goal of Craigslist is to “provide a trustworthy, efficient, relatively non-commercial place for folks to find all the basics in their local area.” The web site is incredibly simple and easy to navigate.

Searching is broken down into states, then cities, then categories that include almost everything you could ever wish to find.

Some of the largest categories include classifieds, jobs, vehicles, personals, housing, and services. The subcategories for the larger categories are neatly arranged in columns for easy browsing.

In addition, Craigslist, in congruence with its belief that human interaction should be first and foremost on a local level, includes an events calendar and a community category.

Here, people can find a plethora of locally-based information such as where to find volunteer opportunities, carpools, activities, childcare, local news, classes, and even a lost-and-found.

The discussion forums, another unique feature of Craigslist, include over 100 topics with 50 million user postings.

Need a place to vent? Look under personals, where there is a ‘rants and raves’ subcategory. Needless to say, this category and those like it provide amusement for some students at Macalester.

“There’s a section for casual [sexual] encounters and missed connections, which are just fun to browse through to see what people will put out there,” William Chow ’10 said. “It’s free entertainment. I’d say I use Craigslist more for that than utilitarian purposes.”

Chow used the web site earlier in the year to purchase a 25″ television for $25 from an “eccentric” resident of downtown Minneapolis.

Since he didn’t know the neighborhood well, he took his roommate with him to the site of the transaction and they were both subsequently invited in to test the TV. “It was pretty awkward,” Chow said.

Craig Newmark created Craigslist in 1995 as an online bulletin board for the San Francisco Bay Area where posts for jobs, selling household items, and vehicles were free. Stressing a non-commercial environment, there were no banner ads.

While it started as a nonprofit, it became for-profit in 1999. The profit comes from a relatively small category of posts. Postings for help wanted cost businesses below-market rates in San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles.

Craigslist.org operates out of a house in San Francisco with 24 employees under CEO Jim Buckmaster, who has been in charge for the past 7 years.

In October 2006, Craigslist.org was the 7th most popular English-language site, with traffic of five billion page views per month.

It currently serves all 50 states and over 50 countries. Craigslist for Minneapolis/St. Paul began in October of 2002.

Considering the billions of human interactions that Craigslist.org facilitates every month, the incidence of violent crime is low. Nevertheless there is always risk involved in using online sites such as Craigslist where you post personal information and arrange to meet strangers.

Holden Bigler-Johnson ’11 classifies himself as a veteran of the site. Since first using it to buy an Xbox 360 in Austin, Texas a couple Christmases ago, he’s used it roughly 15 to 20 times.

Over the summer, he sold over $350 worth of his belongings, including a collection of 20 antique jerseys for $250. He has even bartered: his brand new BlackJack for a new Blackberry Pearl, no cash involved.

Bigler-Johnson has honed a careful procedure to keep himself safe. First, he exchanges cell phone numbers with the person and decides on a public place, like Starbucks, to meet them.

He gives them a description of his car, and then upon arrival, calls them from inside his car. In general, he’s found that other people act similarly.

“Most people will be uneasy. They want to make sure they’re being careful. You never know what to expect, but it’s kind of cool after you get used to it,” said Bigler-Johnson. “You interact and meet with a lot of people.”

He has no regrets with any of his Craigslist experiences, which have thus far been limited to selling or trading miscellaneous items.

“It’s better than eBay because it’s a quicker process and cheaper because of the lack of shipping and handling fees,” said Bigler-Johnson. “It’s definitely a weird experience but I’d have no problem doing it again.