Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What is Eating Craig?

There are troubles at Craigslist that we think VanStand customers should be aware of. A perfect storm of well meaning, but misguided rules aimed at fighting spammers, third party hacking, and a lack of meaningful communication with users has made Craigslist a diminished resource for both small independent movers, and moving customers looking for a good deal.

The series of rules and policies that Craigslist has implemented to stop spamming, have had the unintended consequence of making it difficult for honest movers to advertise effectively on Craigslist. The problem lies in the way Craigslist distinguishes between a legitimate poster, or a spammer. All posters are required to have a phone verified account. Therefore, a moving concern like Vanstand has to sign up for an account that is associated with a phone number. With this account a moving concern can only post once every 48 hours. On the surface the phone verified account policy seems reasonable. Every user has access to a single number, and therefore in theory should only be able to post once in a given 48 hour time period. Anyone who has posted on Craigslist in a densely populated and competitive city like New York knows that a single post in 48 hours is quickly buried, and thus not a very useful tool for generating business. This encourages honest movers to use posting strategies that the Craigslist antispam system interprets as spamming.

The first thing a Craigslist mover is likely to try in an attempt to generate work is to post more than once in 48 hours. This will get their post ghosted. What is ghosting? Ghosting is where Craigslist tells a poster that their post is listed, but does not actually list the post. Dr. Phil would most assuredly call this practice passive aggressive. The mover is not being a spammer, but simply trying to do what he or she needs to do to get customers.

Another strategy a labor services poster will utilize in an attempt to get noticed, is to ask family and friends for the use of their cell phone numbers, to create multiple accounts. The rationale is that multiple accounts allows a user to circumvent the one post every 48 hour limit. Again, the Craigslist antispam software will notice that the postings coming from the different accounts have similar attributes, such as text phrases, and ip addresses. The system will in turn interpret these posts as a spamming campaign. The posts will be ghosted, and their accounts will most likely be suspended.

Ironically, the antispam system makes work difficult for the small independent mover, and easy for the spammers and hackers. For instance, it is the spammers who have the knowledege base to create multiple Craigslist accounts that can be sold for a handsome profit . Also, it is the spammer and hacking community that knows how to set up complex proxy servers necessary to keep Craigslist unsuspecting of large posting campaigns sponsored by larger businesses. Unfortunately, Craigslist has not remedied the spamming problem, but has made the situation worse.

This past September, 99% of moving and labor services posts on Craigslist were flagged and removed. It became obvious that this was an organized, possibly automated effort. Because so many small and honest movers do not have diversified marketing efforts like we do here at VanStand, many of these movers had their businesses decimated. It is difficult to believe that this was the act of a malicious lone hacker, One does not have to be Columbo to deduce who has the resources and stands to benefit most from this flagging. VanStand, and several other moving friends and associates wrote to Craigslist to make them aware of the problem. Nobody responded back and nothing was done to remedy the flagging situation until the end of the month, which was way too late.

We do not believe there is anything nefarious underlying Craigslist actions, or policies. The policies are merely experiments created by a benevolent and understaffed company in a fog of war. Unfortunately, their experiments have caused even bigger problems for their allies. These unforeseen consequences could be mitigated if they actually listened to the feedback that their posting base was and is giving them. According to the Craigslist fact sheet,there are only 30 employees working at Craigslist. Furthermore, the same fact sheet states that Craigslist gets 20 billion page views a day, and 50 million posts a month. It is ridiculous to think that 30 employees are going to outsmart, outwit and regulate such a large user base. A more robust system in which the assistance and insights of its legitimate user base can be employed is a must. The legitimate poster and consumer are in the proverbial trenches, and therefore are in a position to offer valuable feedback and advice that automated software and engineers cannot provide.

We care about the Craigslist situation, because there would be no VanStand without the early days on Craigslist. VanStand continues to responsibly post on Craigslist to attract new customers. We also know many of our competitors provide a great service at a great price. We appreciate their competition and support their right to make an honest living. You should care because independent movers and small man with a van operations like VanStand provide cost effective moving options . The ability to reach customers at little or no cost is one of the reasons savings can be passed on to the consumer. In short, easy access to no cost marketing equals great deals for you, the moving customer. Instead of paying $500 for a move, a customer is more likely to pay $250 to $300.

Hopefully Craigslist will institute changes to remedy this situations. In the meantime, there are other listing services that are just as good as Craigslist, try them out every once in a while. We think Craigslist needs the competition. One competitor we like is Backpage, which has a similar look and feel, without the problematic antispam/hacking systems and policies. Many movers post on both sites. There are many listing services on the internet. Supporting the competition insures an open forum for good deals to reach the moving public. As always, we would love to hear what you think.