Category: ST – Features and News

SearchTempest news, plans, and thoughts

Recent Changes

Craigslist Change

Craigslist (with whom we have no affiliation) recently made a change that prevents their pages from being loaded in ‘frames’. Frames are basically sub-windows within another page, like our default results mode at SearchTempest used to use. This caused several other search sites to simply shut down, but we made some changes and are still going strong.

Problems?

If you are having issues, please try the debugging steps in our FAQ. Then read on!

Changes to Separate Cities Mode

First, you will notice there are now three tabs near the top of the results page. The first, ‘Separate Cities’ is basically our default results mode from before, except that we have switched to getting the links to the craigslist results from a service called 3taps. It works essentially the same as before for now, although in the future it will allow us to do some cool new things like filtering by date and consolidating everything into one list rather than windows within windows.

The only issue at the moment is that 3taps didn’t quite have the capacity to handle all our traffic, so things can be a bit sluggish at times, especially between 5-7pm pacific time. They are working hard to ramp up, and this should be dealt with very soon. Also, in order to help with the slowdowns in the short term, currently only results from the past seven days are shown in this mode.

Update: 3taps added some new servers today, so we’re hoping this will be resolved. We may still have to do some tuning, but timeouts should now be seen much less frequently.

New Direct Results Mode

Now, for those of you who liked getting your results straight from craigslist, just more conveniently, we have also rushed to develop a new alternative that will let you keep doing just that! You’ll find it under the ‘Direct Results’ tab on the results page. Since we can no longer use frames, it basically opens a craigslist results window along with a little control window with links to easily flip between cities. I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out in such a short time!

And of course, we still have the ‘All Cities Together’ mode, which remains a good option for quick searches across wide areas.

Summary

So basically, craigslist made a change, so we reacted to keep the site (hopefully!) as useful as ever. We are still dealing with that performance issue in the ‘Separate Cities’ results mode, but it should be 100% very soon. For now you might want to try searching outside the peak hours of 5-7 pacific if you find things are running slowly.

We also recommend you give all three results modes a try, using those tabs near the top of the results page: ‘Separate Cities’, ‘All Cities Together’, and ‘Direct Results’. We’ve found that different modes are more convenient for different types of searches, so there’s no right answer for everyone. Fortunately, it’s easy to quickly flip between them!

Feedback

Since we got all this out in such a rush, please do let us know about any difficulties you might be having. We will work to address them ASAP. Even if everything’s working great (and we certainly hope it is!) we want to hear your first impressions, and what you’d like to see in the future!

If you are having problems though, first try out these basic debugging steps. If those don’t work, please do contact us, but please be as specific as possible about what isn’t working. What results mode are you using, what’s the URL of your results page, etc. We need specific info about the problem to try and fix it!

You can comment here, check out the forum thread, or even just fire me an email. Thanks!

 

Scavenger Hunt Update: craigslist is being changed to eBay

I know you’re all excited with our Scavenger Hunt coming up in a couple days. Initially the idea was that you guys would search for craigslist ads for the hunt, but after a letter from craigslist’s lawyers, we’ll be switching the hunt to eBay. You can still use SearchTempest to hunt for ads, but you can just go straight to eBay as well.

One of the benefits of doing the hunt on eBay is, since eBay archives ads forever, a screenshot of the ad will no longer be needed, just a link to the ad! That makes things a lot easier for all of us.

Other than those small changes, everything will be going ahead as scheduled. You can check out the revised Scavenger Hunt page and make sure to follow our Facebook for the category being posted at noon, PST, on May 1st!

$500 in prizes with SearchTempest Scavenger Hunts!

We’ve all found some weird things using SearchTempest. Over on Facebook, we’ve heard about people finding llamas, universal dentures, a case of rubber nipples… there’s a lot of weird stuff out there. But there’s also a ton of really cool stuff on there too! And that got us thinking…

Could we do a scavenger hunt for cool stuff using SearchTempest? Short answer: Of course we can.

On May 1st, we’re going to post on Facebook the category for our first ever SEARCHTEMPEST SCAVENGER HUNT! And of course there will be prizes, even if you’re just a voter.

Basically, we’ll post a category for the hunt, like “The coolest _____” or “The weirdest _____”. Then when you guys find something on eBay* that fits in that category, you’ll post it to Facebook and everyone votes for their favorites! There will be three different prizes given out:

First Prize of $250 goes to the person who posts the ad that gets the most likes. If you want, we’ll also put your name and link in the sidebar of the SearchTempest results page for a month!

Honorable Mention of $150 goes to the person who posts the best ad, as judged by the impeccable taste of the Tempest staff.

Bonus Prize of $100 goes to a random “liker” on the post we choose for Honorable Mention, since agreeing with us clearly deserves a reward. Just don’t go spamming all the posts in hopes of winning. Picking everything isn’t good taste. Keep it to the ones you actually like, if you want to win this prize.

Check out our Scavenger Hunt page for more on the rules and how to make a submission.

We’ll be hosting these regularly, and the prizes will vary with each draw.

The topic of our first Scavenger Hunt will be released at noon, PST, May 1st, and submissions will be accepted until midnight, May 21st. Even though you have three weeks to get your submission in, remember: all listings must be posted to eBay BEFORE the start of the competition, so it’s best to start searching early. Also, the longer your submission is up there, the longer it has to get votes!

And that’s it! Stay tuned to our Facebook and Scavenger Hunt page for more info.

Tell your friends, and happy searching!

*Note: this is a hunt for eBay ads – which SearchTempest also searches – not craigslist as you might expect.

Faster to re-calculate than retrieve from database

As you know, SearchTempest allows you to search craigslist by distance from your zip code. To do this, we keep database tables (MySQL) of zip codes and craigslist cities, each with latitude and longitude.

In the past, we also had one large table containing the distance between every single zip code and every craigslist city. Although this table takes a long time to put together, the logic is it only needs to be done once. When you actually do your search, all the distances for your zip code have already been calculated, so the server just has to grab them from the database.

I’ve had a suspicion for a while and just decided to test it. Long story short, it turns out it’s actually faster to recalculate these 500-odd distances on the fly, than it is to simply pull them out of a database table on the hard drive. Basically, processors are so fast compared to hard drives that minimizing hard drive access is practically the only thing that matters. Pretty cool!

(Yes, if the database were on an SSD the result might be different, but at the moment it takes approximately 0.01s to pull up all the distances, so that’s probably an unnecessary investment at this point! 🙂 )

iPhone/iPad/Android Awesomeness

After way too much effort, SearchTempest is now working quite well on all those platforms! For smartphones, it defaults to the Google-powered ‘All Cities Together’ tab on the results page, since this format requires less processing power. The iPad default is the same as in standard browsers though, where you get each craigslist city in a separate window. That said, both modes are now fully supported on phones and tablets running iOS or ‘droid though, so feel free to try ’em both! You’ll notice that instead of scrolling each city, as you would in a standard browser, you will just have to scroll the whole window. (If you like that, great! If you hate it.. sorry!) Basically, since these devices use touchscreens instead of mice and keyboards, their makers figured it would be difficult to scroll frames inside of windows. So instead they expand the frames to fit their contents, allowing you to just scroll the main site. (Of course, if you happen to be a web developer that can be kind of a pain in the butt, since 1) each phone and browser tends to do it in a slightly different way, and 2) frames expanding to fit contents you can’t control tends to wreck havoc on the design of your page in general… But fortunately only I have to worry about that. 😉 ) So! Enjoy the improved mobile compatibility, and of course, please comment or fire me an email if you notice any problems!

+1 This

SearchTempest is now sporting a flashy new +1 button, courtesy of Google. Learn all about it here. (Then head over to SearchTempest and click it.. 😉 ) Took the opportunity to improve the look of the Facebook like button too. (Almost up to 5000 likers there!) Granted, ways to share SearchTempest with your friends probably aren’t the most exciting news in the world, but I certainly appreciate it if you make use of them! The more people use it, the more resources I can put into making it awesome, after all.

Working around craigslist’s all-negative-keywords deficiency

Craigslist is great, but if you’ve used it at all, you’ve likely noticed it has a number of … imperfections. One of these is that you can not do a search with only negative keywords. For example, a SearchTempest user wrote on our forums recently that he was having trouble with his motorcycle search. He basically just wanted to browse the motorcycles/scooters category, but didn’t want to get all the atv and scooter posts. He knew he wanted a bike, and the price range, but otherwise wanted to browse. Logically this would be a simple matter of using -atv -scooter as your keywords. Unfortunately, craigslist barfs when you do this. (And since SearchTempest passes your keywords through to craigslist, we got some barf on us too. Never fun.) Fortunately, there’s a work-around. Every craigslist post ends with “You may [not] contact this user for commercial purposes”, or something to that effect. And for whatever reason, their search system actually indexes that part of the post. (A bit of a waste, but I won’t complain since it turns out to be useful. 🙂 ) So for the search above, we can use contact -atv -scooter as our keywords and we’ll match every post, except those with the words atv or scooter in them – just as we wanted! And now, SearchTempest takes it one small step further. It now automatically checks for search strings like -atv -scooter and automatically adds that ‘contact’ in there for you.

Google Mode Awesomeness

The Google-powered results mode at SearchTempest has received a complete overhaul. You can now access this mode more easily by clicking the All Cities Together link at the top of the results. The internal scrollbar has been removed, and a number of customization options have been added – these can be found in the Display Options tab. Find things like how many results to show per page, and whether to show previews of the post bodies there. As its name suggestions, this mode allows you to view results from all cities within your search radius together; particularly handy if you’re searching for something rare, or are only interested in the newest postings. One thing to keep in mind though is that this mode is powered by Google. Their index, while excellent, is not 100% perfect, so if you want to be absolutely certain of seeing every post that’s up on craigslist, it’s best to stick with the default Craigs Results tab. What I generally do is use the Google mode most days, but check the standard tab every once in a while or before I make a big purchase to make sure.

Old News

Before starting this blog, I had a page listing all the cool SearchTempest developments in good old HTML. Here it is for posterity:

Early 2011

Improved search history, results layout improvements

  • SearchTempest now lets you easily pull up recent or favorite searches to search again.
  • You can now easily flip between the two most popular results formats without even reloading the page. See the tabs near the top of the results page, right under the search bar.
  • Updated the documentation. May not seem like much, but it tends to get overlooked with other, more fun work to do!

September 2010

More improvements on the new design

  • A small section on the results page has been added to show any additional search options, like price or ‘has picture’. Keeps you from forgetting about them and allows them to be easily changed or removed.
  • The stacked results mode now works on Android.
  • Even fixed some stuff in IE6 (but do yourself a favor and don’t use it…) 🙂

Aug. 4, 2010

Several initial tweaks and improvements to the new design

  • Cities with no results are now automatically closed! (Relies on craigslist allowing Yahoo Pipes access to their feeds; hopefully that will continue to be the case!)
  • Greatly improved keyboard-browsing of the main search form and the site in general.
  • Added a notification to let users know about the new craigslist image preview option, and how best to use it.
  • Increased the default city size (which is nice for the craigslist image previews), and added a feature that auto-shrinks cities if the browser window is small. (All controllable via the Display Options results tab.)

June 20, 2010

  • All new site design!

    An all-new version of SearchTempest rolled out today.

    The new design is greatly streamlined, reducing clutter and complexity. It will hopefully make things much easier for new users. It will retains all the power of the current site, while allowing us to add even more features in the future.

December 30, 2009

  • Another new results format!

    This is for those of you willing to look far and wide for long distances. I know it’s a struggle slogging through all 400 odd craigslist cities, so I’ve enlisted the help of google to build a new results format. It shows all results in the US and/or Canada in a single list, sorted by date or relevance.

December 15, 2009

  • Brand New Server

    You may have notice SearchTempest lagging out a bit around dinnertime lately. Well, I’ve just upgraded to a brand new server with dual quad-core cpus, and other such fanciness, so lag should be a thing of the past!

September 28, 2009

  • Performance Enhancements

    Through a combination of code optimizations, compression, caching, etc, I’ve managed to cut the amount of traffic between SearchTempest and your browser by more than half. I’ve also added smart pre-fetching, so the results page (particularly searches with multiple pages of results) should be much snappier. The end result: SearchTempest.com should now be 2-3 times faster! I imagine this will be especially beneficial for mobile and dial-up browsers, but regardless of your connection speed, faster is always better, right? :-)

September 1, 2009

  • New Cities

    Added about 140 new craigslist cities today. Also removed a few duplicates where craiglist lists the same city under two states.

    If you are selecting states manually though, don’t worry – you’ll still be able to find the cities in either location.

July 29, 2009

  • Recent Searches

    After you’ve run a few searches, you’ll notice that the keywords entry is now a combobox. You can use it to type in keywords as usual, or you can select one of your recent searches from a dropdown! It loads all the options from the selected search too, like category and price.

    Of course, if you don’t like this option or don’t want your searches saved, you can turn it off under the ‘Other’ tab of the Options menu.

  • Aaand more performance improvements

    Made more changes to improve the load times of the site, and there are even more to come…

July 9, 2009

  • Speedy speedy

    Made some changes to the results page to speed up load times. With my test setup, the page now loads about 33% faster!

  • Amazon test

    I added an Amazon section similar to the eBay section. I hope people find it useful, especially since it took a bit of doing to cobble something decent together with their tools! (I think it turned out fairly well. 🙂 ) Either way though, I learned a fair bit from doing it, which helped with the speed improvements mentioned above.

    Naturally, if you don’t want the Amazon results, it’s easy to get rid of them. Just uncheck the ‘Include Amazon.com results’ checkbox on the main page. (If you already said no to eBay results, I’ve unchecked it for you by default.)

May 17, 2009

  • Car Search

    You’ll notice the ‘car search’ link on the main page is now active! I believe the car search site is now at a point where it surpasses SearchTempest when searching for vehicles – and it’ll only get better from here! So check it out! :-)

  • General Streamlining

    I’ve made a bunch of small improvements focused on making the site easier to use.

    Particularly, all the additional options have been consolidated into a single (much) simpler pop-up box, accessible by clicking the ‘Options’ link at the top-right of either the search or results page.

    I’ve also made a number of improvements behind the scenes to hopefully make things even faster and more stable.

November 12, 2008

  • Search by Zip and Distance!

    It’s now much easier to enter your search into SearchTempest! Instead of manually choosing states and cities to search, all you have to do is type in your zip code, and you’re good to go!

    Also, cities in the results page can now be sorted by distance from you and by size, as well as alphabetically.

    Yay! :-)

  • Save searches/results

    You could always do this by bookmarking the results page. Now it’s even easier, using the “Add to Favorites” button on the results page. When you open the page from your favorites/bookmarks, you get the newest results for that search!

October 30, 2008

  • RSS Feeds!

    I’ve heard from a number of you that you like to use RSS feeds for searches you run often. (That way you only get the newest results, and don’t have to keep coming and checking back.) However, it’s a pain to manually go to each craigslist city to grab the feed. Now SearchTempest does it for you! Just look for the RSS icon (RSS) on the results page!

September 24, 2008

  • Search from Results Page

    I’ve had a few people ask for this, and I agree it definitely has value. You can now change the parameters of your search and re-run it right from the results page!

July Something, 2008

  • Advanced Keywords

    Through my ongoing, industrious research, I’ve discovered even more hidden craigslist keyword functions. These are all now organized under an ‘Advanced Keywords’ mode. Click the little [?] beside it on the main page for more info…

  • eBay Results

    SearchTempest now provides eBay results as well as Craigslist, with no added effort required. Many people tend to search both Craigslist and eBay, so hopefully this’ll save you some time.

    Of course, if it doesn’t, feel free to turn it off; SearchTempest will remember your choice and won’t show it again. Just uncheck the ‘show eBay’ box on the main page, or press the big red ‘X’ above the eBay results! :-)

June 15, 2008

  • Stacked Results

    Multiple cities, all on the same page! Should speed up browsing nicely, especially for those searching for rare items. Learn more here!

June 7, 2008

  • Keyboard Browsing

    Rather than clicking the ‘Next City’ and ‘Previous City’ buttons, you can now use the ‘N’ and ‘P’ keys on your keyboard (or in Firefox, the left and right arrows) to switch between cities. Should speed things up a bit! Thanks to Jim for suggesting this one.

  • Firefox 3.0 fixed

    Since it looks like Firefox isn’t going to bother fixing their broken object element before releasing v3, I went ahead and coded a work-around. SOoo the site should now work just fine in Firefox 3 as well as 2. 🙂

March, 2008

  • Complete Facelift!

    Hopefully it’s obvious, but SearchTempest’s looking a little cooler now! Thanks to web designer Jason, and Steve from the Craigslist Handbook, we now have a whole new look. Hopefully it’ll be even easier to use too!

Mar. 14, 2008

  • Improved keyword functionality

    I had planned to introduce this along with the new site design, but… it was done, and I couldn’t make you wait. :-)

    You can now choose whether to search for ads with ALL your keywords, ANY of the keywords, or a complete phrase.

Mar. 8, 2008

  • CLH Kijiji.. Canada

    I can’t believe how many requests I got for this! OK.. now you can search Kijiji Canada too. 🙂

Jan.? Something, 2008

  • CLH Kijiji

    Now Search Kijiji, in the friendly, SearchTempest fashion! CLH Kijiji

Nov., 2007

  • Works in IE!

    Finally figured out a way around IE stupidness to get the site working in everyone’s favourite built-into-windows browser! Of course, everyone should still use Firefox, but if you can’t, now you CAN use SearchTempest.com!

Oct. 13, 2007

  • Worldwide Areas

    Added a version of the ‘U.S. Regions’ dropdown for the rest of the world.

Summerish, 2007

  • ‘Major Cities Only’ Checkbox

    You can now choose to only show results from the largest cities in your search region. Could be handy when you just want to take a quick look, or to keep craigslist happy if you do a Lot of searching…

  • Polls!

    Added a fancy AJAX poll to the results page. Sometimes change the poll question too… heh.. 🙂

  • Refresh Button

    The results page now features a refresh button to bring you back to the list of results for the currently viewed city. (That way you don’t have to back-back-back out of the ads. Also helpful if the internet breaks and the page for that city doesn’t load.

March 25, 2007

  • Regions!

    Just added the new ‘Regions’ dropdown box for US Regions! Please let me know a) if it’s useful, b) if I messed anything up, and c) if any of the regions need tweaking, if there’re too many, too few, etc.

Dec. 3, 2006

  • Added New Cities

    Added all the new Craigslist cities! Looks like there’s quite a few. Managed to delete all the biggest cities in the process, but got it fixed quickly, thanks to a heads-up from Terry and Ken.

Nov. something, 2006

  • Horizontal Add/Remove Layout

    Changed the default layout for the main search page to something (hopefully) more user-friendly. I kinda prefer the more compact nature of the old, vertical layout though, so if you feel the same, you can switch back using the link at the top-right of the main page.

Oct. 16, 2006

  • Added ‘Has Picture’ and ‘Search Titles’, plus other options

    Craigslist recently added these two vital options, so I’ve incorporated them as well. Also added was the “By Dealer/By Owner” option for the cars & trucks for sale category. If I’ve missed any options that you can find on Craigslist (or if you notice that they’ve added more), please let me know – I promise to get them up here asap.

    Also while I was doing some preliminary work for this yesterday, it turns out I broke the results page rather badly.. so a big thanks to Steve E. for pointing that out!

Oct. 12, 2006

  • Paypal Link

    To be honest, as useful as I think this service is, I was pretty surpised that people would be kind enough to donate for my time. Thanks to Terry for sending me an email to *ask for a way to donate*! I must say, that was some pretty cool recognition. So as requested, there’s now a paypal link like this one at the bottom of the main page. Please don’t feel any pressure to donate. (But I won’t discourage you either 😉 )

Sept. 30, 2006

  • Improved <Back> Button

    Improved/fixed how the back button works in the results page. Now lets you back through the cities you have viewed.
    Thanks to SearchTempest user Bob for getting me thinking on this.

  • Added Tips and Help

    I actually put the ‘tips’ up on the results page a few days ago, but added a few more today. Added a couple of new help pages too.

Earlier Changes:

  • Canada and Worldwide

    Search is now available for every craigslist city everywhere. New cities will be adopted as they are added to craigslist (but if we miss one, feel free to let us know).

  • Saved Search Info

    Your most recent search will now be saved by searchtempest.com. When you return, your search cities and other info will be ready for you. To start fresh, simply click the “clear all” button.

  • Better Results!

    The Results page has been overhauled! I’m actually quite pleased with it – it fits into the craigslist colour scheme nicely, and should make viewing results much more efficient. However, if you liked it better the old way, just click the “View results in whole window” link in the top corner to switch back.