A bit of structure for craigslist posting?

I’ve been looking for a new place to rent using craigslist, and while it’s an invaluable source of information, i’ve been frustrated by how much unnecessary work has been required. I’ve wasted huge amounts of time writing emails and making calls to fill in details not included in ads. Even when I do this extra legwork, I forget to ask about something and show up to a place I wouldn’t have even considered if, for example, I’d known it didn’t have a gas stove.

Part of the problem is that every posting on craigslist is formatted uniquely. One person is a realtor and posts an HTML formatted ad, while another is a homeowner listing a rental for the first time. One is verbose and full of irrelevant details, another is three sentences long and only lists generic information such as number of rooms.

It’s clear that most people writing a listing aren’t real estate professionals, and when faced with a big blank text box, they type in whatever they can think of off the top of their heads and post the ad. Sometimes this works out, but much of the time this results in lots of overhead answering questions via email and phone, or showing the house to people who aren’t a good fit for the place.

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Current craigslist housing posting form

Luke Wroblewski wrote a great post about narrative format registration forms -input boxes within sentences-basically madlibs. While the focus of his post was on increased conversion, it shows that this kind of approach can be more inviting and friendly than standard form boxes that can feel like you are doing a lot of work to input information.

What if Craigslist offered a narrative format template just for listing rental properties? Housing listings are a constrained problem with a limited set of vocabulary which lends itself to templates. This template could guide home owners in crafting a post which is easy to read, includes the kinds of information that renters need in order to make decisions and saves everyone time. Of course the old text box could still be an option for those who want to craft their own post.

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Mad-libs style template approach for posting rental listings

The template offers a simple streamlined method of posting, resulting in ads which are more consistent, yet customized in the places which matter most, highlighting the unique differences between rentals. The mad-libs format is faster and easier to compose, and results in prose postings which are easier make sense of and save time and effort of matching renters to homes.

8 Comments

Dorian Taylor
I like it. Even better would be if it saved the data in some RDF vocabulary or other so you could query/filter it on those details, either facilitated through the site or offline. I think for the most part we underestimate the willingness of people to provide data; I suspect it's the blank text box that gets them. If there ever was a definitive source of writers' block…
Skot Nelson
Craigslist's refusal to evolve is frustrating, but has done little to impact its popularity. It seems like a classic example of a business choosing to invest as little as it possibly can.
Chuck Martin
It's an interesting notion (perhaps one that could be used for personals as well), one that I've thought how to solve also because I've been looking lately as well. One issue that such a form may be able to overcome is the deliberate misinformation and misdirection that is prevalent in housing ads, although those with intent to deceive will still find a way. I also don't think any design can make craigslist postings idiot-proof. Maybe I'm being cynical, but on one page you click to get to the form, one of the links clearly says "apts/housing for rent (no shares, roommates, or sublets please!)," yet plenty of roommates/shares get posted there anyway, and the form fields for entered addresses are ridiculously simple, yet so many mess this part up. I'd like this form better if some fields became discrete choices. for example, instead of a plain text field for "the common space includes" (assuming people understand the real estate vernacular "common space") could use the somewhat new multiple-choice drop down that you now have when searching for neighborhoods. I think, too, of the amount of back-end engineering such a change would require, likely making the database rather more complex and likely adding a not-insignificant amount to the server load. I'd love to expand on this idea into the engineering side to see how much more complex it makes the code and how much it would affect the site's speed for users, that being a huge reason why craigslist is still so popular, despite its "plainness."
Vibha Bamba
A squint at the two visuals, tells me that each one is geared to a different user profile. The first visual is lighter in terms of cognitive load or task weight and pushes me into posting an item [encourages task completion]. Clearly geared to making a sellers life easier. The lifeblood of a site like CL is 'first to market'and 'volume of listings'. For deeper engagement CL mandates that users provide contact information. I can see a heavier form being disruptive to both dimensions of this strategy. In terms of a buyer the second form probably works better for top shelf categories that . In this case also it would be interesting to see what kind of information grouping enables easy assimilation.
Stephanie Sawchenko
Craigslist is a dark sea of misinformation and I've learned to simply avoid using it - as any normal person would after wasting enough time filtering all the lies on that site. Should they improve these interfaces? Yes. Will they? Doubtful. There are a lot of advantages (for property owners for example) to keep these form interfaces loose & open. The interesting thing is I've been using ziprealty.com a lot lately and although Zip is much more comprehensive than craigslist, it's still slanted in favor of the seller. Indeed Ziprealty.com and real estate agents must follow certain rules BY LAW when they list a home or rental but that site is still biased in favor of the sellers - allowing sellers to withhold crucial info or simply miscommunicate important facts about a property. Sometimes I think that the US needs a revolution in the way we communicate housing information. It seems like misinformation and NONinformation gets free reign at the cost of all consumers.
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