There’s no doubt if you have listed more than a handful of items for sale on Craigslist you have ran into the issue of one of your postings being flagged and removed from Craigslist instantly and what your likely don’t know, autonomously. I have listed about 30 ads on Craigslist in my lifetime and only recently ran into the issue of having one of my listing removed because it was flagged. I received an e-mail which had a title of “flagged & removed: item#” and stated “Your posting has been flagged for removal.”. The e-mail was very short and to the point and listed 2 links to assist the user in troubleshooting the cause of the flagging. The first link was to the Craigslist TOC which I read over and nothing there fit my posting so I was left puzzled and clueless. I then decided I would visit the second link which read “If you need help figuring out why your posting was flagged, try asking in our flag help forum http://forums.craigslist.org/?forumID=3“, So I did just that.
At first I attempted to follow the rules completely and post the following
- categor(ies) posted to
- cit(ies) posted to
- posting frequency
- listed price
- links? images? HTML? counters? keywords?
BUT I ran into an issue immediately with the following errors “body is limited to 2400 characters” & “This account is too new to post images … please try again in 7 days“. This became a rather cumbersome issue because although I attempted to post as much of my listing as possible I was continually asked to post my ad listing body which I continually repeated that I could not.
Before I go any further I’d like to explain my ad and show a link to the HTML I attempted to use, the ad itself was for my Mazda RX-7 which I decided to sell for $900 which I believe was quite fair. I had bad experiences with Craigslist and eBay from not posting enough or very clear pictures of a vehicle and thus resulting in an unhappy potential buyer and lots of wasted time so my primary goal was information. Although I didn’t have a ton of information about the cars history I did have the ability to take lots of high resolution pictures and I did just that. Then the problem arose of how to display this information without overwhelming the potential buyer so I quickly formatted the text and pictures in HTML using standard formatting for the text and a 4 column table for the photos. I then re-sized all of the photos into thumbnails for the table with a link that would open the full size image in a new window so the user wouldn’t lose their place on the site. I put about 45 minutes into this listing but the thought was that it would potentially save me dozens of pointless phone calls and in person visits. Check out the ad for yourself and let me know what you think.
Most of the responses I received were rather demeaning and rude with unclear or senseless explanations that left me with a feeling that something just wasn’t right. Some of the responses I received were,
“If you want to post high res images and use lots of HTML go to eBay”
“Craigslist users prefer the built in uploader images and don’t like lots f HTML and High Res Images”
I thought this one was extremely retarded and immediately responded with the fact that I am a Craigs user and I don’t like the uploaded low res images and if this was true then why do people ditch their old low res TV’s for high def big screens and so on.
“You look like a dealer with all that HTML”
Another dumb one considering I was selling a $900 car
“”Looks like you created a $3000 ad for a $900 car”
Not really the point here but it really didn’t take me that long and again the trade off for wasted time would be well worth the extra effort spent.
Basically it went on like this for a while before I realized that these people have no clue why my listing was removed, in fact it was all automated with no user intervention what so ever. You might be saying to yourself “Well DUH” but I honestly did not know this. After I thought about it for a minute it made sense because Craigslist is free and for the most part non-profit so how would they be able to afford any staff to look at these flagged posts before they are removed. Just for a test I quickly sent out a message on IM to several friends to FLAG a post on Craiglist to see what happens, Sure enough 5 minutes later it was gone.
This shows that any group of individuals with nothing better to do with their time can simple pick out a listing and make it disappear. Whats even more worry some is that there appears to be no back-end logic what so ever. What I mean by this is the people I sent the message to were spread out among the US and the ad we took down was local to me for a coffee table, if there were any logic it seems the first thing would be to see where the IP’s are coming from and if they are within driving distance of the object if it is not an object that would normally be sold nationally like a car.
This got me thinking on my way home from work that day and I decided I would help write the algorithms to fix the issue at hand. The first thing I thought was that it needed to remain completely automated to keep things free.
These are not perfect and some are pseudo code but this should be more then enough to fix the issue and keep the process autonomous. Most of these solutions are meant to be implemented as a whole and work together to resolve the issue.
Flexible Flag Limt
Scenario: How do you set a legit limit on Flagging without effecting users who are truly trying to help? What is a realistic limit anyway? Is it per day, per month? per hour?
First we have to think of the person that only visits Craigs once a month to buy something or even less than that, when they browse a specific category for a specific item they are surely to find several items which should be flagged, they could easily flag 6 or more posts and all of them be legit. So should the limit be 6 posts a day, well what about the person looking to cause trouble this now allows them to flag 180 posts in a month. So should it be set per month, maybe 30 posts a month? This would still allow someone then to flag 30 posts in a day and then take the month off.
Solution: The limit needs to be set on a first reached basis, there needs to be a hard limit on how many posts can be flagged each day, week and month. Which ever limit is hit first is put into effect and disables the users ability to flag any more posts until the limit resets at the beginning of the next limit cycle that was hit.
Example: Bobby flags 6 posts a day and can no longer flag any posts until the next day, he repeats this until he hits the weeks limit which is 12 posts. This is reset on the next week until he hits 24 posts at which point he can not flag any more posts until the next month.
These values obviously need to be tweaked by this keeps flagging fair for the average user while putting a stop to be people abusing the system.
IP Weight Based Flagging
Scenario: A group of users on a forum agrees to flag every posts for a similar item that one of its fellow members is selling to help reduce competition in that users local area.
Solution: The IP of each user should be logged and checked for relative distance to the item being flagged.
If the user is within acceptable driving distance they will have a flagging weight of 1.
If the user is within the state of which the item is being flagged they will have a flagging weight of .75.
If the user is within the timezone of the item being flagged they will have a flagging weight of .5.
All others will have a flagging weight of .25.
This solves the issue of the item being sold located on the border of a state or in another timezone, as long as the user is within driving distance nothing else matters and they have full flagging weight.
Population Biased Flagging
Scenario: It’s obvious your listing will get more views when posted in New York City compared to a city in the middle of the desert somewhere. So its also safe to say that an item in a highly populated area will get much more flags than an item in a non-populated area.
Solution: The population of the location where the item is being listed would be taken into consideration for each item listed. The Flag limit would be raised based on population which would be hard set for each Craiglist location and tweaked by demand over time. This could be implemented with very little work by Craiglist and little to no changes to the current setup.
Solution: This is a simple warning system that sends the Craiglist seller an e-mail when their post has received half of the flags needed to be removed with a suggestion that they edit their post before it is removed from the site. The e-mail should contain common issues of why posts are flagged with suggestions how to fix the issues.
Implementation would be rather simple, first start my modifying the existing database to add a new table, this table will be the new flagging table and consist of the following columns,
- User ID
- Flagging Weight
- IP Address
- Distance to Item
- Current Flags Day
- Current Flags Week
- Current Flags Month
The current item flag count column could be utilized so no changes would need to be made to the item database.
Then the next step would be writing a new function which would be included in the listing page and linked to from the Flag button. Once the button is pressed the function will process recording user id and IP address and flag statistics. The distance to object could be calculated from a Whois or reverse lookup on the IP and then the zip code of the item being sold to determine the overall weight of the flag. The final or even the first step would be a simple if statement dealing with the current users flag limit.
If $userid $Current Flags Day < 6 Then; If $userid $Current Flags Week < 12 Then; If $userid $Current Flags Month < 24 Then; User Allowed to Flag; } } }
I believe these systems with some tweaking would completely resolve the abuse of the flagging system on Craigslist. Hopefully someone listens and implements them before it gets any worse.