Online classifieds to target U students

Two new online classifieds systems are vying to compete against Craigslist.org.

JP Leider

As summer winds down and students begin the inevitable dorm-accessorizing quest, chances are they will frequent Craigslist.org, a popular online classifieds site, with some fixation.

Two entrepreneurs with ties to the University hope to draw students away from Craigslist and to their new respective endeavors – Web sites targeted to the University community.

Utank.com and SUPost.com offer classifieds, job listings and event postings free to University students and staff members.

Jawed Karim, a Minnesota native, said he came up with SUPost.com to create a good classified solution for his home university, Stanford. There were trust and convenience issues associated with using other classified sites such as Craigslist, he said.

Karim, a former University employee who co-founded YouTube.com, has also worked at IBM and PayPal. He said it made “a lot of sense” to have a site for students to interact with other students.

“Undergrads don’t want to interact with people that they don’t know, that are older or are not in their environment,” he said. “A lot of people like to do impulse buying, and you can see what people are selling in your dorm. There’s something really appealing about that.”

Ousama Haffar, a political science senior and creator of Utank.com, said he isn’t concerned about generating revenue.

“We are simply interested in producing the best resources to make available to students,” he said.

Haffar said that while classifieds are the “meat and potatoes” of the site, supplemental features that will be released on the first day of the academic year will be the real draw to the site.

While Haffar said he couldn’t discuss the new features because of competition, he said students should look out for everything from note-swapping to coupons.

In terms of Utank and SUPost contending for users, Haffar said he wanted to work with competitors but didn’t receive a warm reception.

“(Competition) was never my intention – I’m not a capitalist monger that goes after getting a large amount of users and exploiting their value by selling user registration,” he said.

Haffar said students should be critical of online services like SUPost targeted at students.

“It’s not just a service – it is a big business for them,” he said. “They see it being the next Facebook.”

Those who think Facebook is an “innocent” Web site for community-building targeted to University students should “wake up,” Haffar said.

“This is an industry, and these guys are looking for the most amount of profit they can possibly generate,” he said.

SUPost and Utank might have trouble breaking the Craigslist hold on the online classifieds market – the sites have only a handful of postings, while Craigslist has tens of thousands of listings for the Minneapolis area alone.

The sheer traffic at Craigslist is enough for Laura Hagen, a psychology junior and avid user of the site.

“I’m a big Craigslist fan, and I’m not of SUPost just because there’s not much on it,” she said. “No one really knows about it much yet, so no one really has anything on there.”

Hagen said she’s purchased about 10 items, mostly for her apartment, through Craigslist and has had only positive experiences.

It would be nice to deal directly through students, but it is not utilized heavily enough yet to be useful, she said.

However, Hagen said, she would be interested in sites like SUPost should they become more popular.