Phillip Smith

I'm a Craigslist addict

Phillip Smith's Craigslist dashboard

I admit it. I'm a Craigslist addict. Like thousands of other people, I turn to Craigslist almost daily instead of heading to the local shopping mall. It's kind of like Grocery Gateway without the guilt of home delivery; or like shopping on Amazon but knowing that you're part of a community of people committed to not buying something new if you can find it second hand.

Craigslist in their own words is "Local classifieds and forums for 450 cities worldwide - community moderated, and largely free." Basically, you can buy and sell almost anything, locally, for free. Craiglist is a "non-corporate" corporation that earns revenue by "charging below-market fees for job ads in 7 cities and for broker apartment listings in NYC." The founder -- Craig Newmark -- is a committed philanthropist and set up the Craigslist Foundation in 2001, which helps to develop the skills of emerging non-profit leaders.

Last year I wrote a bit about the implication of "The Syndicated Web" for non-profits and mentioned the use of services like Craigslist as a simple way to push useful information out to a community, e.g., job ads, free stuff, volunteer opportunities, etc. This year I was lucky enough to be able to help a few organizations implement some of these ideas ... but, alas, that's another post. Right now, we're talking about my personal Craigslist addiction! ;-)

Reducing my footprint

This year started with a renewed commitment to not buying new "stuff" where possible. Short of dumpster diving, I'm game for putting in some extra effort (and delaying the instant gratification of an impulse purchase) to find something previously owned before heading to the mall, or online shop. Unfortunately, this takes a lot more time than just giving in to the urge to buy something new. For starters, there's less selection, and often the selection is limited not only to the "last season's" styles ... but, more often than not, it's limited to the last generation's styles. Also, as someone that's chronically over-committed, the idea of bouncing around every weekend to the local second-hand shops -- basically the regiment required to find good stuff -- is not that exciting to me.

I admit that at a certain point I just give up in the scenario of a never-ending search for something you actually need. As an example, after six months of searching for a suitable previously-owned dining room table, Melanie and I just gave up and purchased one new. Hopefully we'll have it for 20 years and then pass it on to some other owners and that's still a-ok in my books. But, it did leave me thinking: I need a better way to search for previously-owned stuff! A way that would hopefully let me search for more of the things we need, but require less time and travel.

Enter the "Craigslist dashboard."

Phillip Smith's Craigslist dashboard

Craigslist dashboard: step-by-step

So, being dedicated to re-use yourself, I'm sure you're asking: How can I get a Craigslist dashboard of my own? Well, here's what worked for me:

  • First, I sat down with my partner Melanie and created a list of things that we were hoping to find for our apartment, e.g., a full-length mirror, bookshelves, etc.
  • Then I visited my local Craigslist and searched for each of those items; (Here's a search for "bookcase" on the Toronto Craigslist.)
  • After reviewing the results of my search, I usually refined the search a bit further to better target what we were looking for;
  • At that point, I'd scroll down to the bottom of the results screen and find the newsfeed (RSS) link.
Phillip Smith's Craigslist dashboard -- an RSS link

Now, at this point, you'll need to think about what you want to build your Craigslist dashboard on. Many folks already have a favourite newsfeed reader -- like Bloglines, or NetNewsWire, etc. -- and I suspect anything would work just fine. Personally, because I just wanted headlines, and I wanted to see them frequently, I used my Google Personalized Homepage. The next steps were:

  • I created a new tab on my Google Personalized Homepage for "Tracking;"
  • Then I added all of the newsfeed / rss links from those Craigslist searches to my tracking page
  • Finally, I adjusted the number of items per feed based on how frequently they update, e.g., "bicycles" has a lot of posts every day so I wanted to see more headlines... whereas "turntable" gets relatively few results so it makes sense to see less at a time.

And, Voila! There you have it: a Craigslist dashboard.

Phillip Smith's Craigslist dashboard

I implemented the dashboard in January and since then I've managed to help several nice people find a new home for their "stuff." I've also spent less time out there looking for things we need for our home. And, last but not least, I can feel good about supporting a local re-use economy and keeping my money working hard right here in Toronto. I've never felt so good about consuming in my life -- Go ahead, become addicted!


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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