What’s Missing From Missed Connections
Have you ever had someone cute smile at you on the train, but your stop came before you got the courage to speak to them? If you have, you’re not alone.
Craigslist.org has been sitting on a potential online goldmine for over a decade, and it might not even realize it. While most people go to the site to buy others’ used items or find apartments to rent, some go there as their last ditch effort to find love. This occurs in the Missed Connections section.
This section is meant for people to post ads directed toward one specific person that they missed their chance with. Perhaps they forgot to get their name, or forgot to make plans. Maybe they had plans, but no phone number to call when something unexpectedly came up. Entry after entry is a short-form love story or meet-cute that seems as though it could be written into a romantic comedy (alongside some pretty disturbing entries, but that’s par for the course when it comes to Craigslist.)
Sex and love sells, so why isn’t Craigslist making money on it? There are several things that they could be doing differently, but the main goal should be to create a community. I will be looking at several design claims from Robert Kraut and Paul Resnick’s book Building Successful Online Communities in order to provide consultation on how Missed Connections could welcome users to its hypothetical platform.
Craigslist is creepy.
This is the main consensus regarding the site. It is also why an entirely separate site must be made if the company wants to succeed in developing Missed Connections. Missed Connections will then be known as its own entity and will be more likely to become integrated into the cultural vernacular once it is no longer directly associated with the Craigslist name.
Users can begin to be redirected once a new site has been made. The current Missed Connections link can then redirect to the new site so that people who used it on Craigslist do not have to remember to readjust. This will reduce the cost of site interaction and retain the users Craigslist has already gained.
Weeding out creeps is the biggest hurdle Missed Connections will have. Moderation and user verification needs to be top priority. This should be strategized before recruitment even begins. Forcing people to pay or wait before they can post will weed out undesireables but could hinder the amount of people that join. This could hurt the site due to the fact that its success in connecting people will directly correlate with the number of users on the site reading posts.
Instead, it would be a better strategy to integrate advertisements into the website in order to generate revenue so that users are not being weeded out purely based on whether or not they would like to pay. The users who should be weeded out are those who do not or would not interact appropriately according to the site’s guidelines. The users should not give Missed Connections the reputation of being creepy. This is why I would propose mandatory user referrals as well as public profiles. Requiring members to invite five of their close friends on Facebook to join the site would allow the network to grow exponentially as well as make sure that most people who are joining are trusted by other users (*DC16). The anonymity of Craigslist is why its users have a bad reputation, so public profiles would allow others to see pictures and verify if it is the person they are looking for. Verification would then increase interactions among users (*DC18). Perhaps users could even connect their Facebook profiles to the site, like Tinder has done. Missed Connections would also be able to moderate which pictures get uploaded so that there are no inappropriate submissions.
Publicly searching for love can seem pathetic.
It is normal to feel sad for the people who are posting on Missed Connections. This is a branding issue, and one that dating platforms such as Tinder and Bumble have done well to overcome. Kraut and Resnick’s first design claim implies that Missed Connections should be advertised to young demographics, through Facebook ads and TV commercials. The most frequent kind of Missed Connection ad is from a public transportation interaction. Bus ads and train ads would be effective in gaining attention because they would be placed in the exact area where there is need for the service. It brings awareness to the service for those who may have never heard of Missed Connections, but need the service. This fulfills Kraut and Resnick’s sixth design claim suggesting that impersonal advertisement will attract more users.
Design claim 7 suggest that testimonials from couples who were able to succeed in finding each other would also be an effective form of advertisement and dispel the stigma against replying to a Missed Connections post. Sharing number of users data would be the biggest way to attract new users, as it would imply that nonmembers are missing out. Advertising large numbers of users and views per post would imply that there is a good chance of the site working for a new user who is trying to find their crush (Design Claim 8).
Posts will no longer be for one specific person, and that’s a good thing.
Craigslist Missed Connections posts are only directed towards the person the post is looking for. This is a poor design. The new version of Missed Connections will emphasize and rely on the communal aspect of networks. This requires user interaction and socialization. Most successful Missed Connections posts on Craigslist seem to come from strangers seeing the post instead of the intended recipient. One man had some of his regular customers notify him of a post on Craigslist directed at him, which resulted in him reaching out and having over a two year relationship with the woman who posted it.
There needs to be a focus on “Do any of you know this person” instead of “Is this specific person reading this?” Direct messages could be sent from user to user with tips on who they are looking for or how to find them. Once the site has a substantial following, there could be Connection of the Day posts, much like Wikipedia’s featured article on the homepage. This would attract viewers to individual posts in the interest of helping. Socializing the new users would be done through a set of interaction guidelines that stress respect and cordiality in order to prevent a hostile or abusive environment. Individualized socialization would occur by having an easy response button or comment thread on each post. Users would have to see which types of messages gave them the best response and learn from that.
Effective communication is severely lacking in the current Craigslist platform in general.
Having a block of text with zero formatting is difficult to read and makes the content easy to neglect. Missed Connections will have to create a user-friendly template for inputting appearances, location, date, and scenario details that displays clearly in the post. It would then say “Hair: Black” instead of a weird rambling poem. A template would make posting as a newcomer much less daunting and would streamline the process due to the lack of worrying and editing long sentences. Making the posts easier to put out would also lower the assumption of pathetic desperation, as there is less apparent effort being put it in order to get the same result. This why platforms like Tinder, where there is little effort in being a member other than uploading a few pictures, are less stigmatized than OkCupid, where a full profile needs to be created and hundreds of questions answered.
Craigslist has a great opportunity waiting for it within its Missed Connections section. It will need to de-stigmatize itself in order to succeed in attracting new users, as well as detach itself from the Craigslist name. It should aim its recruitment efforts at a younger demographic so as to attract the majority of the current dating scene. Anonymity should not exist in any way other than to protect personal details, and all users should be verifiable. The main goal of Missed Connections will be growing the network, which will increase success rates and lower the stigma against new users joining and posting. The site will socialize newcomers by having a clearly defined culture within the site’s guidelines as well as promoting responsible and cordial interactions between members. Streamlining posts to become user friendly will create a more visually-approachable site and will increase interaction. Craigslist has the potential to create the next big dating site, and it should act soon before it misses out.