If posting vacation photos and wincing at your uncle’s dubious political rants isn’t enough to keep you scrolling on Facebook 24/7, the social network hopes that hijacking your apartment hunt might do the trick.
Last week, Facebook added a new apartment search feature to its Marketplace platform that allows users to browse and filter hundreds of thousands of rentals, including listings pulled from partner sites Apartment List and Zumper.
Facebook’s Marketplace already encourages users to search for everything from clothes to cars without leaving the site, and it’s experimenting with job ads and event tickets as well. All of it, and especially the move into apartment listings, is seen as an encroachment on Craigslist, the longtime king of online classifieds.
Among the biggest drawbacks to apartment hunting on Craigslist, of course, are the occasional run-ins with total weirdos, fake posts, and recurring scams. But given that some 80,000 fake and dangerously divisive political ads and sponsored posts promoted by Russian trolls reached 126 million Facebook users during the 2016 election, I don’t exactly place a ton of confidence in stuff I see on Facebook these days, either.
Perhaps more to the point, there just weren’t a ton of available listings in my neighborhood when I checked Facebook’s Marketplace this week—just over two dozen apartments within five miles of my house, a radius that includes parts of Boston. By comparison, Craigslist had hundreds of listings in my neighborhood alone, even after filtering out duplicates.
Even with a captive audience, it remains to be seen whether Facebook’s Marketplace can one-up Craigslist. Sucharita Mulpuru, a research analyst at Forrester, told CNN, “To make any marketplace really work well, content needs to be comprehensive, easily searchable, attractive, and transactions need to go smoothly and exactly as expected… If any one of those elements fails, or is even underwhelming, Facebook Marketplace won’t succeed.”
And about that captive audience: I don’t know about you, but I’ve been trying to cut down on Facebook lately, and it appears I’m not alone. Even Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and founding president of Facebook, bluntly told Axios last week that he’s become “something of a conscientious objector” when it comes to social media, noting that Facebook and other social sites were designed to take advantage of our mental weaknesses.
“The thought process that went into building these applications,” Parker told Axios, was, “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? …And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in awhile, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content, and that’s going to get you … more likes and comments.”
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop,” he continued, “exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
Honestly, at this point I think I’ll take my chances with the old-school weirdos and scammers on Craigslist.