a heuristic analysis of craigslist.org
Craigslist.org is the grand-daddy of user generated content, and has been incredibly successful connecting buyers and sellers on a local level. The simple text based design of the site has gone through very little change since its start as a mailing list in San Francisco, and the look and feel of the site has become its brand. This no nonsense presentation re-enforces the feeling of efficiency and honesty. The look sets it apart from other image heavy community commerce sites, and has incredible brand value.
Users and their content are what make the site so valuable, and collecting this content should be as frictionless as possible. In some cases craigslist is very good at this. The image free design helps the page to load incredibly fast across many different platforms and is free from display ads which are an attention poison all over the rest of the web. Craigslist is good at a lot of things, but could be more efficient in gathering the content that makes the site so great.
Gimme friction baby!
Browsing listings on the site is very fast because images are only loaded once the user reaches the detail view for an auto listing, although getting that listing posted is not as efficient. I interviewed a variety of users and analyzed each screen as they navigate through the process of listing their automobiles.
Our adventure launches from the craigslist.org home page. There is a lot of information presented in five columns with the middle three being craigslist content and the outer two being other geographic locations and events and best of content. Initially users had trouble initiating the post creation process. A majority of users went either to the more specific geographic location or to the auto listing section. Once there, they were confused and went to the back button. There was no way to create a post from the auto listing pages, which is where a majority of the lost navigators ended up. Nobody noticed that they could use the bread crumbs in the upper left to get back, and instinctively went for the back button.
They should make it a big button if it is that important!
Since gathering content from its users is paramount to the ongoing life of craigslist, it should be something that is as easy as breathing. iPhones have their home button, creating posts is craigslist’s life button. It should be always at the user’s fingertips, not just brought out for special occasions like the embroidered bath towels.
Radio buttons from Krypton
The initial step for creating a post requires the user to refine what kind of classified ad they would like to create. Items are helpfully grouped into contextual groups to make visually navigating the list easier. Here we run into a recurring issue throughout the site: warning messages. These messages are placed right in the path of a user’s eye path, but they never go away. They are there for logged-in accounts and guests, and there is never a means to dismiss them. This creates visual noise and adds friction to the posting process.
The second persistent problem is the continue button. This UI element is as useful as wearing your skate guards onto the rink. Every click of the radio button moves the user to the next screen. Pressing the continue button without the required radio button only reloads the same page. There is no warning or explanation for what was missed. The user is given no indication that they are stuck, or guided to complete the necessary action. The first step in creating a post is potentially very frustrating.
Let’s get educated
Throughout the site craigslist works to educate new users to the etiquette surrounding its listing environment, which is very reassuring for newbies to see. Unfortunately the execution creates more usability problems. These [?] icons link to further explanation of the terms, but open in completely new pages. Once on these pages there is no direct link back to where the user was, and they are required to close the window or tab. This disrupts the posting process and can add substantial uneasiness for somebody slightly jangled having just been whisked to this page with only a click of a radio button.
Choose your poison
The user is next presented with a list to further refine what they are posting…a very long list. Items are not grouped by what they are, but rather arranged alphabetically. This is good way to eliminate friends from sitting near each other in third grade, but has no place here. Users scanned the list and found “auto parts” but didn’t find “autos” where they expected it. Since they didn’t know that they were listed as “cars & trucks” they are required to read the whole list to find the term they need. Once they found what they think is the correct category they spend more time and energy reading the rest of the list because they are unsure if this is the most correct category. This whole process is exhausting and unsettling. There is also no way presented to go back to change their initial post type, which is doubly troubling considering the unexpected super powers of the radio button selection. The only on screen reverse navigation brings you back to the main Chicago site, even if you were previously navigating the one for the Northwest Suburbs. Unexpected destination in every sense of the word.
Where you at?
The user is next asked to further refine their geographic location. The user testing was done in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago, but more than half of the users got it wrong, even the salesman that spends most of his workday on the road. The problem is that the terms are much too ambiguous, and since they don’t give any town samples to add specific meaning to the areas it is very easy for a user to make a mistake.
This is what we came for
The fifth screen presents the user with what they are waiting for, the post creation screen. Just as the geographic designation was too vague, so are the titles for the input boxes. “Posting title” is a great name for a database column but provides the user with very little context for what this information is to be used for. Specific location is equally vague and the 9 year old typed in “the street.”
Guests are required to enter in their email address, twice. Nearly all the users copied and pasted the email address from the first field into the second. The 9-year old did not do that, and just asked me “Why do I have to type it twice?” Seeing that I had just watched people eliminate any possible use for entering it twice I simply answered “Please continue.”
Vogue for me!
Over 90 percent of the listing in the cars & trucks section have pictures. I know from my own use of the site I won’t even click onto a listing that doesn’t have an [IMG] tag, though the dealer listings are inexplicably designated with [PIC] tags.
The image upload process starts by clicking on the poorly labeled edit/add images button. Until there are some images to edit, the edit label is not correct. The button should just say “add” switching the label to “edit” when that is actually possible. Clicking on the button keeps the user on the same page and slides down the input area for adding pictures.
Initially the user is startled with 4 red X’s. This creates the impression that something is wrong, and a majority of users leaned forward to try and figure out what was going on. They eventually dismissed the false alarm, and navigated to the image on their hard drive and “uploaded” it. I put upload in quotes because once the image was selected through the browser dialog box there was no feedback as to what was happening. The nine year old read the red hint again about file sizes and assumed he had messed up and searched for a smaller image. The 53 year old salesman was also confused when he added the picture.
[quoteI don’t know if that worked or not, I am just going to finish and see what happens.[/quote] -male, 53 years
This mystery and intrigue does not build user confidence.
The user is then presented with a preview of how their listing will look in the detail view. For the first time they are also presented with an option to go back and edit their listing. Unfortunately they are not given a view of how their listing will look in the list view. This denies them the opportunity to see how others will compare their listing to the rest of the listings on the page.
In addition to the edit button there is a continue button. That label is deceiving and users were surprised by the next confirmation screen. They were expecting to input more information rather than submit their posting to the site.
Chinese water torture
The issues outlined here are troublesome for private sellers, but turn into a real business problem for auto dealers as they post many listings a day. Even though they are logged into their account, they still have to designate every single attribute every single time. Every post from the same dealership will be from the same geographic location and will be vehicle sold by a dealer. Requiring a user to repeatedly fill in the same information over and over again fails to prevent errors does not speed up the process with efficiency.
Craigslist has been incredibly successful for more than 15 years. Once users are trained up on the process of posting and navigating the site, it is an incredibly valuable tool. Making it easier to get up to speed and participate in the community will only work to continue its success.
It seems like somebody took their first brainstorm, posted it on the internet and walked away
Eliminating many of the friction points I have brought up in this write-up will help engage a new generation of users, and can be accomplished working within the text heavy brand that craigslist has built over the years. Craig Newmark calls himself a “customer service representative” and his site should reflect that dedication to the customer.