When it comes to data harvesting, Craigslist is not a particularly easy site to use, mostly because of how the platform has set everything up. Of course, this also implies that scraping data is not an easy task.
For the majority of the social, database, and commerce sites, the developers have figured out a way to use the API for scraping data and exporting it in a format of their choosing. For instance, you can consider the amount of documentation Facebook has for its API.
On the contrary, it is extremely easy to pull Insights data from any page that you own; however, did you know that you can just as easily pull public data from pages that you do not own? Overall, both methods are extremely easy.
However, Craigslist is a very different case. While the platform may have an API, its function is actually the reverse. From the above-mentioned example, Facebook’s API will allow you to pull the data; however, it will not allow you to post anything.
On the contrary, the API used by Craigslist will allow you to post, even in bulk if you want; however, you will be unable to pull read-only data. This backward implementation, while may seem nonsensical, does make a good amount of sense if you see it from the Craigslist perspective.
Craigslist was quite a boon for real estate managers with a large number of properties because it allowed them to post in bulk with the help of the simple API.
Additionally, they gained nothing by allowing third parties to scrape data and display it anywhere else apart from the Craigslist website. Even if you simply want to run some data analysis, it can apply significant stress on the servers, which gain nothing for Craigslist.
Craigslist also has dedicated RSS feeds that you can subscribe to in various regions and subsections of the site. While these are available for personal use, your access will get blocked if you try to harvest data in bulk and make use of the same elsewhere.
The terms of services are something like:
- You cannot provide or use the software (except for general purpose email clients and web browsers, or expressly licensed by Craigslist) or services that interoperate or interact with Craigslist for mobile use, search, emailing, flagging, posting, uploading, or downloading. Crawlers, scrapers, spiders, robots, etc. are not allowed, as are unlawful, unsolicited, misleading, and/or spam email/postings. You will not collect the personal and/or contact information of the users.
However, what does this all mean? Let us break it down in this section:
- You will only be able to access Craigslist through an email client or web browser
- Using the bulk posting API or web browser, you can only post to Craigslist
- You cannot scrape data with a bot, script, crawler, or spider
- You cannot harvest the contact information or personal data of the user
Then, there are some anti-spam measures that you need to deal with as well.
A Step-By-Step Guide to Scraping Data from Craigslist
If you want to scrape data, it is important that you make use of the exact method. Generally, the process looks something like this:
Step 1: Pick a Tool
When you want to scrape data, the first step here is to choose the appropriate tool. If you do not have access to one, you can also opt for developing one yourself. If you are a coder, it can be quite an interesting exercise. If not, there are various tools that already exist.
Here are a few options available for you:
Phantombuster is great if you want to scrape Craigslist data in a way that is anonymous and secure. They say that they can help you easily with data extraction, but they can also help you with code-free automations at the same time, which is always nice.
They want to ultimately help their clients generate business leads, growth in general, and help you market to the right audiences. They will lend their clients the tools and knowledge to grow your brand a lot quicker online.
If you want to try them for free, you can, and you can also watch their video on how to use their services to your advantage. We also love that they have consistent support that is available right on their homepage.
If you need a web scraping tool right now, and you need it for Craigslist, then you’re onto a good thing here with Octoparse.
These guys are all about making sure that you are taken care of when it comes to your online activity, and we think that the fact that you can easily scrape data with these guys without having to code anything yourself is nothing short of convenient.
They have a free trial that is going to last you two weeks, and they also have a demo on their website, so that you can work out how they work, and you don’t have to pledge a commitment with them before you’ve figured this out. They can help you extract data in three easy steps, which we think is ideal.
Apify is a great choice if you are looking for web scraping tools. This is free and easy to understand and use tool that allows you to scrape posts based on whatever you are searching for. This tool will help you extract and download various URLs, dates, prices, and images of the post. You can also choose to schedule the crawler to operate as fast as possible.
When new posts are found, you will even receive an email notification. Since you can make use of the in-built Apify proxy service with this scraper, you do not have to worry about anything related to setting up proxies.
As you can guess by the name, this is a crawler that works like a spider in the cloud; in most cases, this makes Step 2 a bit unwanted. However, this tool is quite advanced and difficult to use. Of course, there is not much documentation for the same. If you are into coding, it is quite good.
However, it is not worth developing a scraper from scratch. The plus point here is that it is a free and open-source project.
While you need to code raw HTML in a notepad file in Cloud Crawler, Visual Web Ripper is almost like Dreamweaver. This is a graphical and user-friendly ripper where you can point out the information you wish to scrape; the program will deal with the rest of the work.
Things get a lot easier when you go through the video demonstrations. The website is quite nice; however, there are certain limitations as well. If you use the free version, you will only be able to use 100 elements on the platform, which can be bogged down by code and scripts. The full version of the tool is very expensive and can cost you $350.
This is another great scraper tool that is quite easy to understand and use. The coding language is quite easy and fun. This tool is considered one of the most fun Craigslist scrapers in the market today. You can learn more about it in this video:
Scrapy is considered one of the most legitimate, robust, and useful scraper tools in the market today. It is an all-purpose web crawler, which is why you can also use it for various other platforms apart from Craigslist. The tool is quite easy to configure and can be used for free. It is best used for documentation.
You can follow this tutorial for scraping non-profit jobs in a particular area. While the tool may look very intimidating, Scrapy is a great choice.
Step 2: Use Proxies Whenever Possible
As mentioned above, Craigslist is quite aggressive when it comes to stopping scrapers. So, what is the next best solution? In this case, it is best to make use of proxies for Craigslist. The only way Craigslist can look for scrapers is by identifying the same IP address that is accessing the pages quickly.
Of course, this could also mean that you are browsing. This is why using proxies, which like Google’s crawlers, will white list Google but won’t white list you. The working of the proxies will funnel the traffic via a rotating selection of the web servers. This will filter the origin point from the site.
Instead of seeing a single IP visit hundreds of pages in a row and Craigslist would view 20 different IPs that will be visiting five pages. You will not be restricted since this is quite a reasonable number. Of course, there is a learning curve; you will first have to learn how to filter the scraper through the proxy. Thankfully, Scraper has a way of helping you out.
However, it is only up to you to vet the code and ensure that it starts working based on the selected configuration.
Step 3: Harvest and Collate Data
After you have finally set your scraper, you are ready to start collecting the data. All you need to do is run it and the tool will start scraping the data. The data will be exported into a CSV file that you can open in Google Sheets or Excel.
You can choose to go through this data as you wish; however, it is important that you do not use it commercially and not let anyone know about the same. If Craigslist comes to know about it, you will have to get ready to receive the lawyers on your front door.
Scraping Legality when Craigslist Scraping
There are two primary reasons for bringing this topic up. The first is quite an obvious one; we are a platform that is known to provide guides and proxies and review them. In this instance, proxies are quite handy in this process. The other reason is just a simple warning.
You may even face legal action.
Is Scraping Data from Craigslist Legal?
Yes, Craigslist has taken legal action in the past. However, the chances of you landing in this legal tangle will depend on the scale of your scraping. If you make use of Craigslist for data analysis, it is quite fine. However, commercial use on Craigslist’s platform is a big no.
One recent example is the recently settled legal hassle between the 3Taps API creator and Craigslist.
3Taps partnered with Padmapper, a company that makes use of real estate data that have been harvested by Craigslist and overlaid it on a map, has created a Craigslist data harvesting API. This resulted in a real estate availability map, which happened to be quite useful.
Sadly, Craigslist did not approve of having their data used by a platform that was going against the terms and conditions set for third-party platforms. The legal suit against Padmapper and 3Taps was registered in 2012 and was finally settled in 2015. Both platforms had to stop harvesting data and 3Taps additionally paid millions in settlement.
While Padmapper and 3Taps eventually started using data from platforms that were non- Craigslist sites, the settlement turned out to be a major blow. This is just one of the many examples of what you could face if you try to scrape Craigslist data and use it for commercial purposes.
One of the most common mistakes of these businesses is that they ignore the warning sent by Craigslist and will also go further to ban the IPs. They will continue to circumvent the scraped data and restrictions, which results in further legal action. It is recommended that if you get a letter from Craigslist, it is better that you comply. The risks are not worth the outcome.
Issues With Craigslist
Craigslist is a platform that is known to have a lot of problems. Since its debut in 2006, the platform has not changed much. Of course, there were a few major changes and updates over the years; however, if you compare Craigslist with most other platforms that have changed its appearance since its launch, we can safely say that Craigslist does not really care about this matter.
The only few changes that the site has seen in the last few years include the center alignment (previously left-aligned), more spacing, and better coloring. Hence, it is quite safe to say that the user interface has not changed much over the years.
Additionally, Craigslist has started obscuring more data than it previously used to; today, you will see three variants of ads being posted today:
Ads with Plain Text Contact Information
These types of ads are mostly posted by businesses where they are looking for people to contact them. In most cases, these businesses have their staff answer the phones, which is done to weed out unwanted callers.
Ads with Obfuscated Contact Information
These are people that post personal ads; however, these ads have contact information with obscure formats like four56’’’7 1two, etc. This is mostly done so that the number does not get parsed by the bot.
Ads with No Contact Information
As you may have guessed by the name, this is a type of ad where there is no contact information. If you want to get in touch with the person who has put up the ad, you will have to send an email to the anonymized email address provided by Craigslist as the forwarding address.
While there is no contact information on the ads, you will be able to see the return address; additionally, these ads are also free to respond to. Apart from these, there are many issues in identifying what all are allowed on Craigslist and what is not. Typically, post titles are free to include on all types of Unicode symbols.
Additionally, it is a more effective approach since normal text headlines rarely stand out. It also provides more problems to scrapers because they have to deal with figuring out how to parse the special characters or eliminate them altogether first.
Then, there is always the ongoing issue of spamming. Of course, this is not much of a problem for the so-called ‘serious’ sections, like real estate, which are heavily moderated. Instead, the problems can be seen in more personal sections like the Personals category.
Yes, Craigslist does have some anti-spam measures in place. At times, you will have to verify via phone verification. For instance, there are posting limits, except for the bulk post API, which will only work in some sections.
There is also an automated system that will lock out individuals who are trying to break the rules. Sadly, none of these measures have been proven to work. The worst aspect of Craigslist is that the platform has been working to improve its viability and flexibility until a few years ago.
There were a lot of options for using HTML to customize your postings, which would often make the platform look more robust. Additionally, the information is provided in a much concise manner. Craigslist removed all these features in 2013 and reverted back to its monochromatic look.
This was known as Hurricane Craig, which was the name given by over-zealous marketers and web monitors.
Overall, there was only one viable benefit of Hurricane Craig – it standardized a lot more data in the post, which made it easier for a robot to pull more data from the browser, rather than having to make use of the long and painstaking method of finding and parsing the data in code, based on the criteria.
Therefore, Craigslist made this process a lot easier for things that we do not want to do.
Why You Might Scrape Craigslist
Why would you want to scrape Craigslist? Well, some of the reasons include:
On the Analytical Front
In most cases, people simply want to harvest data to write a report. This is mostly done in investigative journalism, which still exists; however, it is very rare.
Alternatively, you may also want to scrape all the posts in a particular section and analyze what you are looking for, like comparing the type of the item, the frequency of posting, and the average prices of the products.
Of course, none of this is profitable; this is just information that you would use in any other way. Normally, Craigslist would be quite fine with this and you would mostly be safe doing this because they cannot sue you in court. However, it is always better to get some research done before getting confident.
On the Personal Front
As mentioned above, you can easily harvest data for information that you may use. For example, let us consider that you are shopping for used cars.
You may have to harvest data on used cars like make and model, locations, prices, etc. for correlation. Of course, Craigslist is quite useful; but the filtering and browsing features are not great.
On the Profitable Front
It is possible to scrape data for something that you will purchase and resell. Some examples include event and concert tickets; you can monitor events that are being sold out, crape Craigslist to look for tickets of these events, buy them below a price point, and resell them elsewhere, like eBay.
Of course, you will have to make a lot of personal effort. Thankfully, there are a lot of people that are willing to do this work for an extra income.
On the Commercial Front
You can make use of Craigslist to generate leads. You can scrape for the Wanted section for anyone who is looking for a product, item, or service that you provide, and you can simply reach out to them. While it is certainly not an efficient method of generating leads, and particularly not more effective than placing ads, it is still present.
Yes, all of this will depend on your willingness to violate the terms of services put forward by Craigslist. Experts recommend that you should avoid overt commercial usage. If you walk down the path of Padmapper, you will possibly face the same legal damage. Also, there is a list of legal precedent for arguments that are not successful.