SooToday classifieds the way it should be

SooToday is a very popular online community site where I live. They have a classifieds section that gets lots of traffic. I once posted looking for a cheap pre-paid cell phone, and got 8 emails within a day or so.
Trying to find deals on SooToday is an effort in aggravation. Think Myspace design (or lack thereof). Where to start?

  1. There is only one search field and it is at the bottom of a very long classifieds front page. Want to do another search? Click the back button a few times, or bookmark the page. Yuck.
  2. No searching by category. Type in ‘rug’ and you get everything from houses for sale, to stereo equipment, when all you want to buy is an area rug. The search will match any posting with the letters ‘rug’ in sequence, so ‘drug’ and ‘rugged’ match.
  3. Browsing is useless, because it’s possible that someone posted in a different category than the one you think you should find it in. For example, there are Miscellaneous and Freebie categories.
  4. Duplicate postings. Everyone wants their posting to be at the top of the list since no one browses more than a page, so the same ads keep showing up day after day.
  5. Time consuming. This is a general criticism of classifieds sites. Why make me come to the site every day / hour? Why can’t I sign up for notification when something I want gets posted? I don’t have time to be searching regularly.

First attempt: Google Alerts
I tried using Google Alerts for a while. It’s simple and easy to use. You type in something you are looking for, and when new items show up in the top 20 results, you get emailed. For example, to search for a cordless phone, use this as your google search:

“cordless phone”

The problem I soon discovered is I got the results too late. I would get a notification days after the ad went up, and by that time, the item was sold or not even listed on the site anymore! The problem is that the search depends on Google updating its search index, which can happen days later it seems.

Then I came across Dapper, an amazing tool that lets you build data maps from content on web sites. In short time, I created a ‘Dapp’ of SooToday classifieds, and built a search around it. Now I get results sent to me soon after they get posted. I use RSS feeds but email notification is also possible. This is my holy grail. It’s awesome.

We just bought a house recently and are expecting twins, so I’m searching for quite a few items. Using my Dapp I was able to spot some bamboo flooring, regularly priced around $6 sq ft for only $2. I’ve checked out a few dishwashers, called about a number of desks, and followed up on some moving sales.
Try out my SooToday classifieds search Dapp yourself. Here is the link to create an email notification (account required), and one to create an RSS feed of search results.
Perhaps I’ll create another post that provides an example of creating the alert or RSS feed, if people indicate interest. Let me know what you think of it.

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