10 Craigslist Tips for Power Users

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 the United States. 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

Using Google Advanced Search for Craigslist
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

CraigSearch
CraigSearch
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.

Craigsphone
Craigsphone
For those willing to drop some dough, there's CraigsMobileList ($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 Apps

CraigsList 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 Apps

CraigsPal 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.

CraigsPal

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.

6. Get the Lay of the Land When Apartment Hunting

PadMapper

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

Search All Craig's

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 specify search terms as categorically as you can with Google Advanced Search; but if your inquiry is general enough, or if you're comfortable using quotation marks to narrow down your desires, it won't matter. Search All Craig's is great for anyone with a devil-may-care attitude as to what city and state in which their results appear--it's especially useful for job hunters unafraid of relocating.

8. Avoid Bulky and Impractical Search Tools

Stay away from sketchy and redundant Craigslist search software. While you have lots of useful methods of navigating Craigslist outside of the actual site, there are also far too many programs that complicate the process rather than help it.

Search Tempest

Search Tempest (formerly Craig's Helper) allows you to set a starting point, no matter how many miles away from your actual location, and search from there. This aspect of the free, Web-based Search Tempest is useful, but it's nothing you can't do with a higher-profile tool like CraigsPal. I felt like my computer was being slaughtered by spyware just looking at the site, and it's downright ugly. But you don't need it anyway: Search Tempest is mostly a rehash of other available resources.

Crazedlist.org also presents multicity searches, but it requires dismantling referrers in your browser. I tried to execute the procedure in Firefox, and the browser screamed that I was wandering into treacherous territory that may be harmful to its stability, security, and performance. Definitely not an app you'd want to tinker with if you value your online safety.

The home page of Anthony Damata's Global Craigslist Search Engine announces that it has undergone several crashes and unexplained blocks due to Craigslist interference. Again, I'm far too paranoid a Web surfer to want to play around with something that might harm my computer. Anyway, this search engine acts merely as a direct portal to Craigslist itself, so you might as well just go straight to Craigslist.

On the Net you can find many similar programs that all promise advanced Craigslist navigation, but you must weigh the negatives against the positives and craft an educated assessment of your situation. Personally, I found these programs more dangerous than helpful.

9. Sidestep Scams and Useless Add-Ons

A lot of people out there are seeking to take advantage of insecure and unknowledgeable Craigslist users. Make sure you're not one of them by watching out for methods commonly employed to grab your money, waste your time, and make you look foolish.

It sounds like common sense, but one of the first things you need to do is make certain that you're at the right site. A lot of sites try to make themselves look like Craigslist, so double-check, and ensure that ".org" is at the end of the URL.

Keep an eye out for messages that are longer than necessary. If someone responds to your Craigslist post with too much information, it could be a scam. For example, if you're selling your iPhone and someone in Kentucky wants you to send it to his niece but he's paying for it, sell it to the guy down the street instead.

Approach e-mail from Nigeria and other parts of Africa skeptically, as many scams originate from those places. Con artists typically offer more money than your advertised price, claiming that they want to cover the shipping or something along those lines. Remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Payment options also present dilemmas. Money orders pose a particular threat to unwary people. Although scammers may use a trusted source such as Western Union, they have also devised ways to create fake money orders that will slap you with fees. As always, whether you're dealing with checks or money orders, make sure the payment clears before you send any goods. Try to conduct all sales in cash.

The best way to avoid being ripped off is to deal exclusively with local buyers and sellers, approach all offers with caution, avoid people who want you to ship items to addresses that aren't their own (or who ask you to deal with "business partners"), and use common sense.

You might also encounter paid services that "train" you how to sell items on Craigslist. Avoid these. Not only will they inundate you with boring information readily found elsewhere, but you may find yourself digging further into debt rather than scuffling your way out. In my travels around the Web, I also found another paid service that promises to help create eye-catching advertisements. Craigslist functions on basic HTML, folks. With a few good photographs and detailed product descriptions, you won't need neon signs to become a successful seller.

Craigslist provides a run-through of the most common rip-offs and how to report them, and Fraud Guides has another detailed list.

10. Get There First

The best way to get the job, MP3 player, or apartment you have your eye on is to be the first in line. Using the tips above, you can easily organize your Craigslist hunt, scope it out while you're on the go, and sell like a pro. In a world where information whizzes past in the blink of an eye, it's critical to maintain the focus that will get you what you want.

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