January 21st, 2008
A good friend read my post It’s Better than Cheap… It’s Free! and mentioned Craigslist as another very useful resource for the sale and exchange of items, along the lines of the Freecycle Network. I had never made use of Craigslist and wasn’t very familiar with how it works, so in this post let’s look at what it actually has to offer those of us trying to live well on limited budgets.
Craigslist is a lot broader in scope than the Freecycle Network, which maintains local sites devoted exclusively to the exchange of ‘stuff’ for free – you advertise what you have to give away or want someone to give to you, and responses are routed through the administrators (sans personal information) to facilitate the exchange. In contrast, Craigslist advertises community news, businesses and services, housing, personals, for sale items and job openings (or wanteds), just like your local newspaper’s want ads – but much, much moreso!
There are local lists serving most cities and a lot of countries, just like for Freecycle Network. If your needs are fairly general, Craigslist might be more useful for some things than simple freecycling, given that it also has a section that basically IS freecycling. The list also offers a section for bartering, where you can exchange something you have or can do for something you want or need. Bartering is part of the notorious “underground economy” the IRS is constantly frustrated in trying to tax, but let’s face it – the government would be better advised to try and get its money from people who actually have money, rather than from people who have little to none.
Craigslist was founded in 1995 by Craig Newmark in the San Francisco Bay area. He incorporated in 1999, and now operates with a staff of 24 people. It does charge fees to place ads unless the exchange involves no money. In 2004 eBay purchased a 25% stake in the company, but so far that hasn’t changed its nature. The company projects an annual revenue for 2007 in the $150 million range – this is not a non-profit enterprise.
It hasn’t been without its controversies, either. in 2006 Craigs List was sued by the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law for allegedly allowing users to post discriminatory housing ads in Chicago that violate the Fair Housing Act. That suit was dismissed as more stringent rules were applied. The list also got in a bit of trouble in 2006 for publishing email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses, photos, etc. in its ‘personals’ sections, something the Freecycle Network guards studiously against with its admin firewall on direct communications. In September of 2007 a woman pled guilty to running an underage prostitution ring through the list, and in October a young woman was found murdered after replying to a list ad for a babysitting job. These are the very type of things responsible social site managers should take real precautions against, no matter how much money they’re making.
Craigslist has been criticized for being a lot like Wal-Mart in local communities, where it challenges local small businesses like the retail giant does. Yet for those of us who honestly cannot afford to spend money we don’t have on some overpriced item from Mom&Pop – or who just refuse to do it – who’s complaining?
But as long as you’re careful – and that advice is good no matter what resources you’re using to help stretch your budget – Craigslist does look to be a useful resource for exchange, barter, selling used items (when you don’t want to give them away), finding ‘gigs’, part or full time jobs, and the community forums might put you in touch with people who share your interests. It can be a good way to advertise a home business or art/craft items you make and wish to sell, and it does offer free ads for free items/services and local volunteer efforts of all varieties.
If you’re interested in checking out Craigslist generally or locally, the links below will get you started. Any reports from readers about their experiences with the list will be helpful too, so don’t hesitate to comment!