Once a small classifieds list for the San Francisco Bay area, Craigslist has evolved into a global marketplace and one of the Internet’s most visited sites. Craigslist has gained a loyal following thanks to the broad range of uses, from buying and selling goods and services, to finding a casual romantic partner who shares your unusual interests.
Unfortunately, as the site has grown and become available in thousands of new cities, the bare-bones layout has remained stuck in the 90′s. The simple format of plain text and links makes load times quick and navigation a bit less cumbersome than eBay, but you can’t help wishing there was a bit more functionality in the site. CraigShopper steps in to help those of us who want a few extra features to tweak the browsing process.
CraigShopper is a Mac application that connects to Craigslist, aiming to help you navigate the site better. The focus of its design is in making the browsing process more organized. Your actual interaction with content on the site will remain unchanged, as you simply view it in a built-in browser. It is the column on the left makes CraigShopper something special.
The last few weeks, I’ve been looking for a nice used bike for light commuting, and most of my search has been focused on Craigslist. However, one of the biggest complaints I have with using it is making my way through the sheer volume of postings.
There is a decent system in place for “flagging” inappropriate posts, but that only helps maintain the clutter to a certain point. When I’m shopping for something in particular, I usually run a search, and then just scroll through the pages with my command key pressed, clicking links to open in new tabs. Then I scroll through the tabs to filter out what I clearly am not interested in. This lets me keep my search results window intact, but makes the whole process clunky.
CraigShopper fixes this problem by allowing you to see the search results on the left column while viewing content in the main window. Now you can click on each link without having to worry about opening up a huge number of tabs. You can change the viewing format of the search results as well.
One thing that eBay has going for it is the ability to view thumbnails right in the search results, but the Craigslist’s site has stuck to its plain-links layout. CraigShopper gives you the choice of viewing image thumbnails in the search results, (as well as giving you some flexibility over the size of the thumbnail).
You can also modify your searches if you want to change some of the parameters. For instance, if I want to expand the price range of the bike search, I can duplicate it so that I don’t have to re-enter location information, and then just increase the upper and lower bounds. Now I can compare the two searches. CraigShopper lets you rename and save searches for quick reference.
What I love about this duplicate search function is how you can compare new results. My original search was for Specialized bikes from 400 – 1000 bucks. When I duplicated the search, expanding the price range to 200 – 1200, CraigShopper marks new results that showed up in the new range (200 – 400 and 1000 – 1200). It’s a great feature that makes recognizing how your new search changed really easy.
In my search for a bike, I have filled up a folder in Chrome with dozens of prospects. Rather than create more clutter in your browser’s bookmarks, CraigShopper lets you mark what you like within a saved search, so that you can go back once you’re ready to narrow down your choices.
As I mentioned, I always hated having to click through pages of results, opening new tabs. However, there was one big upside to that: purple links. My browser kept track of what I had already looked at, and CraigShopper oddly overlooks that. Sure, you can mark what you like, but I also want to be able to do that for bikes I’ve seen and can eliminate from my search. Some sort of “hide” button would be a big plus.
The preference settings on CraigShopper are surprisingly barren. While the search window is great for viewing hierarchies of categories, locations, etc., there is no way to set a default location. Most people will always use this app to search specifically within their city, and being unable to save that means you have to start at the top of the list every time, (and by “at the top,” I mean starting at the continent you live on).
While I liked the simple layout, some of the design choices made the app feel sort of cheap. The landing page for the main window is ugly, and would be nicer to see the actual Craigslist landing page there instead.
Bugs, Bugs, Bugs
My complaints above are minor in comparison to some of the bugs I’ve experienced. They range from minor inconveniences to total crashes. This is version 2.0 that I reviewed, so I assumed that most of the bugs would have been ironed out.
The most prevalent problem was having the search bar clear out. The search was saved, so all I had to do was click on it again, but its frequency was annoying. I’ve used the app for a couple days, and it has completely crashed more than a handful of times.
If you are someone who looks around on Craigslist for the personal ads, I would say using your browser is probably fine. CraigShopper is designed for users who find themselves scouring the site for something in particular rather than just browsing. However, searches for jobs, apartments, goods, etc. all benefit from the advanced search features.
The problems that this app has don’t appear to be so severe that they couldn’t be addressed in a single update. If it gets a bit more stable, and the appearance gets tweaked just a bit, I would have no problem making this my go to app for browsing Craigslist. At $2.99, I don’t have any qualms about recommending it, but only for the most hardcore Craigslist users. Until it gets cleaned up a bit, I would recommend casual users stick to their browser, and check back in a while to see if the bugs get fixed.