The End of Craigslist

May 6, 2013

I could very well call this entry “the end of the websites I use”, as it’s hardly limited to Craigslist. But the San Francisco-born online classified ad site is a perfect example of the entropy of the Internet.

Back in the day, shall we say 2005 or 2006, I loved Craigslist. I found cheap housing in Austin, maintained a freelance schedule with a variety of gigs, and even met a friend from the “strictly platonic” section (back when that meant something to everyone). I did notice the deterioration of the personals page as time went on, but I figured that was to be expected, and it’s not like too many people relied on it for friendship or companionship.

It used to be I could reply for a gig within a day of the posting and I’d receive a reply telling me when and where to go, or a response in the negative saying unfortunately, the position had been filled. The jobs section was limited to legitimate jobs, not gigs, and certainly not spam. The free section ensured that if there were something available, the first to reply would be the one to get it.

There’s no accountability anymore, in any aspect of Craigslist, in any given city. Gigs are 99.9% spam for adult services, Trojan links, identity theft, and legitimately scary creepers. On the rare occasion one can find someone offering work, your choices are:

– Respond within the first ten minutes of posting, or the person will be so overwhelmed by replies he or she won’t answer at all
– Many have gotten into the habit of advertising “work for free this time; paid work down the road”. There is no paid work down the road. They are just taking advantage of your desperation and skills. These posters deserve to have their CL access restricted and to be punched in the face repeatedly.
– Some posting creative gigs like digital imaging or proofreading have learned how to get all their work done for free by suggesting “tests” or “auditions” to job seekers, i.e. if you can show me you can edit two pages of this 100-page assignment, the job is yours. Fifty applicants and his work is done. No need to even reply.

Personals have been going downhill for quite some time; I think it would be rather repetitive to mention what’s wrong with meeting someone willing to look for dates on Craigslist (the massage killer, anyone?). Aside from 100% of the men who aren’t spam being akin to the Nice Guys of OKCupid, 100% of the women posting are fake, looking for handouts, or simply other men providing entertainment for themselves wading through replies… seriously, who posts that they are DDF and looking for sex?

The volunteer work section is just a personal pet peeve of mine. Although I believe you can find real, decent opportunities on Craigslist, most of the posts are repeated hundreds of times over, leaving little room for smaller organizations to find people to join. CAPID may not be sinister by nature, but its marketing team needs to leave room for other international organizations. Search for “abroad” in the volunteers section of any city and you’ll see what I mean.

The jobs section may be more indicative of the market than Craigslist’s downfall. Although there’s no shortage of spam here either (NO ONE CAN MAKE OVER $100,000/YEAR WITH NO EXPERIENCE), it hasn’t quite been penetrated like the gigs section. I suppose my big gripe with jobs is the same as that of the job postings of any major site: giving applicants false hope. You need experience. You need education. And even if you have those things, there’s only a slim fraction of a percentage chance an employer will contact you, especially if you’re applying via Craigslist (spam replies, incompetent replies, real replies to sort through).

Housing is probably the worst of all, as it’s the most basic need of people looking on Craigslist. No one seems to understand the distinction between apartments, sublets/temporary, and rooms/shared. Although the spam is lighter, the sleaze is practically dripping off your screen: men offering free housing to women in exchange for “companionship” (some go into some pretty specific details about exactly what is expected), marketing themselves as Philanthropists helping poor college girls. Aside from these, racial, cultural, and gender discrimination is rampant. Too many times I didn’t even bother replying to postings calling for “Chinese speakers only”, “women only” (even in mixed-gender households, mind you), “vegetarians only”, “people who must spend at least 8 hours outside of the apartment every day”… really? Aside from these requests by owners and individuals, realtor companies have already worked their way into CL housing, advertising one specific situation but instructing applicants to call their offices for details (the place they’re advertising never existed, but good news! There are many others they’d like to sell you!).

Now, I know what you’re thinking… this is awfully negative. And despite these issues, I have had more success than some finding work, housing, and friends on Craigslist. True enough. But I think those days are just about over. Although I can use the site to do all these things, the effort involved – marketing myself in the subject line; creating a personal, non-creepy email and picture; replying immediately to ensure my email isn’t buried; waiting; waiting again; being willing to accept everything for which I applied is not what it is in reality; learning to accept that all my work may come down to the mood of the poster at that particular moment – is becoming absurd, and not worth the time. I’m not saying there’s a better alternative at this point, but should one have to waste hours sculpting elaborate emails to simply help someone move a pool table up a flight of stairs? Apparently, on Craigslist, the answer is yes. And maybe soon you’ll have to provide your SSN, copy of your DL, and keep a credit card on file.

As a corollary, we have Craigslist Joe, the man who survived for a month using nothing but Craigslist for food, housing, entertainment, and transportation (seldom work, unless it was work for trade). I loved this movie. Even in major cities, he was able to navigate the site and find decent and weird people willing to offer their charity for his film. And that my friends, is the key word. Everything was on film. That’s why this concept worked and why he was able to be as successful as he was. People were being watched, and they knew it. They knew it in his ads asking for a place to sleep, and a ride to the next town over. I’m not saying some of them wouldn’t have been willing to help had he not had a camera crew following his every move, but would he have had the same luck? Would women have been as willing to host a man they hadn’t met (from CL of all places) for the night? Highly doubtful. There are people on Craigslist every day, every hour asking for charity from strangers:

http://monterey.craigslist.org/stp/3695262805.html
http://portland.craigslist.org/mlt/stp/3782317001.html

Not only that, but it’s starting to reach into Couchsurfing as well, with first timers setting up fake profiles, not including information about themselves, and expecting the money and free housing to start pouring in.

I’m not opposed to charity, but I never imagined Craigslist would start becoming the online version of panhandling. If people aren’t above asking for free goods online, is there any difference between them and someone out by the interstate asking for change? Not really, save the computer access. There’s a sharp difference between an average joe shooting a documentary on the kindness of strangers and the ties that bind us all and someone who has come to constantly rely on the site, feeling entitled to food and lodging by simply posting a message. Craigslist Joe was a brief window. That’s all. If the world worked the way it did in that film, we wouldn’t have homeless people… barring the ones with mental illnesses.

At this point, I believe it’s just about time I give up on Craigslist completely. Although we’ve had a good run together, I’m just getting tired of wading through the filth to find something real. I’d love to be able to travel and post in a new city that “I’m in town for the night; would anyone like to get together for drinks and share stories?”, but the result would be spam, someone crazy, someone desperate enough to use Craigslist to create their social calendar, and, of course, the genuinely nice people whose replies I would receive weeks later. If we could take the Internet out of Craigslist, I’d be all for reconciliation.

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