I spent some time using Craigslist this weekend. It works spectacularly well for many things, such as local searches for stuff to buy with a specific keyword. My example of the day is Performax sander, and yup, there is one. I can even grab an RSS feed of this search and dump it in to Bloglines as a way of watch-listing newly posted items -- probably the #1 most useful feature on Craigslist for me.
But I can't search for similar sanders in Los Angeles, or even Sacramento, without going to those separate city instances -- and I have to click through the miserable front page (apparently designed as a one-time picker for your home city, and little else) to get to each of those cities. None of the listings have any structure to them -- which means that when there isn't a handy keyword, I have to go through thousands of listings by hand with almost no tools to help me narrow my focus. Aargh! And where are the maps, or at least the easy tools for people to include maps from 3rd party providers? I get about a 50% hit rate on map connections for real estate listings, so something is clearly broken there.
Ironically, I end up doing Craigslist cross-metro searches on Google by default. This Google search for "Supermax sander for sale" returns listings in Boston, Madison, Los Angelss, and San Jose -- all on Craigslist. Is it really that hard for Craigslist to do this? And do they really want this business going to Google by default?
Being free and basic is great. But the world needs something more than basic, and is willing to pay for it. Oodle, Vast, and others are trying to make this work -- with limited success thus far. Craigslist can innovate, and it should.