Craigslist, the online classifieds site that has all but destroyed its print brethren, has blasted past MySpace to become the number one Web search term in North America. That means more and more people have gotten hip to the site’s expansive resources.
Almost entirely text-based, Craigslist is one of the simplest sites on the Net: Anyone can find what they’re looking for with a few clicks of the mouse. But with the help of a few advanced tricks and tools, you can cut through the clutter and discover precisely what’s available, all the while avoiding scams and wasteful search software. Follow our advice, and you can use Craigslist with greater efficiency–and with style.
Here are 10 tips that will make your Craigslist experience a more rewarding one.
1. Use Google as the Middleman One of the best ways to get the most out of Craigslist is to start outside of the site itself. Using Google Advanced Search can narrow down your browsing options in an effective, clean manner. Say you’re looking for a couch in Boston, but you don’t want to drive 25 miles to pick it up. Using Google Advanced Search, you can put your desired neighborhood in the ‘this exact wording or phrase’ field and keep “couch” in the generalized search. You can also add other words you’d like to see in the posting, such as “good condition.” Specify your city’s Craigslist site (boston.craigslist.org, in this example) in the ‘Search within a site or domain’ field, and tell Google to do its work. You’ll see your results, organized how you want them, in Google’s easy-to-read format.
2. Search on the Move, With iPhone Apps Need to scour listings while you’re on the go? A variety of iPhone/iPod Touch apps exist for that express purpose. Craigsphone and CraigSearch are both free and available in the iTunes App Store. Functionally and aesthetically, not much differentiates the two. I found CraigSearch to be superior, however, since it loaded results faster and it lets you e-mail posters directly from the app. Craigsphone, on the other hand, appeared on the edge of crashing at all times, and it failed to show me the results I wanted.
For those willing to drop some dough, there’s CraigsMobileList (US$1.99) and Craigster ($0.99). CraigsMobileList uses an interface similar to CraigSearch’s but provides more-clear-cut results. Unfortunately, it has some formatting problems: You can’t shrink listings with large pictures or massive text using multitouch; instead you must whisk the page back and forth. Craigster, in contrast, has the simplest interface–to a fault. Unlike with the other apps, when I looked for an apartment in Craigster I was unable to make any specifications (such as dogs allowed or maximum rent) to narrow my search. In the end, with free apps available, there isn’t much point in paying for one. One thing worth mentioning: CraigSearch does not display erotic or personal ads. But that’s not what you’re using it for anyway, right?
3. Dig Into Listings With Free Desktop AppsCraigsList Reader is a free download that provides a deep search of Craigslist and has a friendly (to some) Microsoft Outlook style. The app is intensely thorough: You can search any listing anywhere, set up notifications, change and save parameter options, and more.
The program functions best for people who embark on epic searches of Craigslist’s database rather than those who hope to pick out only a few tidbits. It lets you categorize results, and helps you establish a variety of updates and notifications. In my experience, though, the software complicated tasks that should be simple; for example, it incorporated many features that I found unnecessary for the basic search I conducted. Another drawback is that the app requires Microsoft’s .Net framework, which takes forever to download. But heavy Craigslist users–and those who are obsessive about categorizing their searches–may find CraigsList Reader helpful.
4. Monitor Posts Through Paid Desktop AppsCraigsPal is like CraigsList Reader, but pared down and easier to use. The $30 version, which features an Outlook-like appearance, comes chock-full of features. You can set up e-mail or SMS notifications or e-mail digests, create a favorites list, flag posts, and add posts to the ‘Best of craigslist’ section.
A free version is available, but it’s a vicious tease of these great features–you can see, but you can’t touch. If you have money to spare and you really want to dig your fingers into Craigslist, go with the $30 program, since the free one functions about as well as the original Web site does. Paying $30 can be hard to justify; but if you’re intimidated by CraigsList Reader, spending money could be worth it.
5. Have Listings Sent to You via RSS Feeds Why continuously check a site for updates when an RSS reader can do that for you? Make Google Reader do the heavy lifting. Simply set up the search you want to run constantly–personal-assistant gigs in Los Angeles, for example–and click the orange RSS button located on the far-right side of the URL bar. Google Reader will do the rest of the work, and all you need to do is check your Reader page, which you can do in any browser and on most mobile devices. If you’re really motivated, you can also have RSS results texted to you. http://lifehacker.com/339506/get-select-rss-updates-by-text-message
6. Get the Lay of the Land When Apartment Hunting People who are picky about where they live will love PadMapper, a great tool for apartment hunting. It uses the familiar Google Maps interface to show precise apartment locations. PadMapper works outside of Craigslist but is integrated with the site via Google Maps word balloons that open the respective Craigslist page–using it is like seamlessly flicking between two sites that have the same goal in mind. You can filter your search results, too, so you don’t waste your time gaping at $3000 one-bedroom apartments. The one flaw of PadMapper is that it ignores Craigslist apartment postings that do not list an address, which can be a sizable number.
7. Search It All Not satisfied with Google Advanced Search? Try a dedicated Craigslist search engine such as Search All Craig’s, which scours hundreds of thousands of listings and displays them in a Google-style format. You can’t s