Category: ST – Features and News

SearchTempest news, plans, and thoughts

Performance Improvements

We’ve just finished some pretty major changes behind the scenes to improve performance from the new 3taps-powered ‘Separate Cities’ results. If all goes well, you shouldn’t see any difference… except for a much snappier site. If you do run into any new problems, please feel free to let us know, and we’ll take care of them asap!

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.