Second Chance Serendipitous Encounters: Missed Connections on Craigslist
“Had I said anything at the time, it would have come out as a disorganized mix of the different things going through my mind. So, opting for ‘better to be thought of a fool than to open one’s mouth and erase all doubt,’ I let the opportunity escape.”
-Anonymous 42-year-old Craigslist Author: Missed Connection at Greatland Target, Ad# 3303445221
A Missed Connection can take many forms. Typically of a romantic nature, this term describes an instance in which an individual has felt connected to another person or persons in some way, but was unable to obtain or hold on to their contact information in order to follow up on their interaction. Missed connection postings originated as flyers on public bulletin boards and evolved into dedicated sections, first in print media and then on the web. In 2000, classified advertisement website Craigslist added a “Missed Connections” section to its Personals category, and other websites soon followed suit.2
Craigslist, founded by Craig Newmark in 1995, began as a San Francisco-based email listserve. It gradually developed into a vast non-profit and community moderated website for classified ads and public forums, with sub-websites available for countless cities and regions throughout the world. It has since evolved into a for-profit company, receiving revenues from certain types of ads, but remaining largely a non-commercial enterprise.3
Craigslist usage varies widely depending upon location (Amsterdam’s site, for example, seems to be mostly used by expats living in the Netherlands). Having lived in the Washington DC Metro Area, I have been familiar with its extensive use in that region, and the Missed Connections page has always been an object of fascination for me. I have visited the site from time to time, and have frequently been linked to particular posts by friends and colleagues. The posts inspire a great deal of emotions in readers, ranging from amusement to disgust. Scanning through posts can be tempting for this reason, and of course for the off-chance that someone has felt a missed connection with you.
Craigslist Missed Connections: A Small Case Study
Craigslist categorizes Missed Connections postings into four subgroups: Women for Men (W4M), Men for Men (M4M), Men for Women (M4W) and Women for Women (W4W). This is interesting to note, as in its ‘Casual Encounters’ Personals section (where users solicit each other for no-strings-attached sexual activities), two other subgroups are available: Transexuals for Men (T4M) and Men for Transexuals (M4T).
In order to further examine Craigslist Missed Connections, I conducted a case study on data from one week of posts on the Washington DC M4W page. I read through 200 posts from October 6th to October 13th, 2012, manually coded their content to see if patterns emerge, and identified outliers and special cases.
Do These People Even Want to Reconnect?
The first observation I made was how surprisingly few details are provided by the authors of Missed Connection posts. While my coding scheme originally included categories relating to type and color of clothing of subjects and/or authors (I had hoped to develop a picture of what the average missed connection might look like), I had to quickly abandon these criteria when realizing how few users supplied such information. What was even more astounding was how little descriptive information of any kind was provided. Out of 200 posts, only 40 authors mentioned the hair color of their missed connection, 7 recalled their eye color, and 2 mentioned their missed connection’s relative age.
The amount of information provided by posters on their own appearance was significantly lower still, except for their ages. Hair color and type was identified by 6 authors, and eye color by 3. Age was included by 193 of the 200 authors, but this is most likely because of an affordance provided by the Craigslist site, with a field for age available (though not required) on the posting page.
Craigslist allows for photographs to be uploaded to Missed Connection posts, but only 4 out of the 200 individuals took advantage of the possibility to include photos of themselves for identification purposes.
Often, even details about the date and time of meeting were not included in posts or left ambiguous, with only 33 authors including the day or date and 36 the general time of day in which their encounters took place.
The lack of detail in these posts could point to an embarrassment on the part of the authors, perhaps not wanting to be identified unless their missed connection noticed them to such a degree that not much description would be required. This intentional ambiguity could also stem from a desire for increased feelings of serendipity, or to ease confirmation when reviewing responses. Many authors requested that respondents provide detailed information about the encounter in order to authenticate their identities.
While many of the posts reviewed were directed towards strangers that authors met or interacted with in the recent past, I identified two other types of missed connections. Some authors wrote to individuals they once were romantically attached to which they have not communicated with in some time, and a few authors were simply seeking a romantic connection of any kind.
Even among those writing about the recent past, the authors had varying degrees of interaction with their perceived connections. Some spoke with their connections either briefly or at length, some simply made eye contact, and many did not interact with their subjects in any way besides observing them in a public setting. This raises questions regarding what connection means for individuals, and tests the boundaries between a connection and act of voyeurism.
Of the 200 posts I reviewed, 54 authors spoke with their subjects, 42 made eye contact, and 72 had no contact besides observation. 26 of the authors had previous romantic ties with their subjects, and 6 were posting a general personal ad seeking connection.
When and Where Do People Connect?
The locations at which people interacted with their potential connections (those who they were not previously linked to) were for the most part expected. Public transportation vehicles, cafés, stores, restaurants, and bars accounted for the majority of encounters. What was surprising, however, was the number of authors (11) who specifically named Starbucks as the location of their encounter, though this may be related to the location of the authors in the Washington DC region. Another point of interest was that another 11 interactions took place in vehicles, while the author and subject drove past each other. In these, the make and model of car was often mentioned, and one author included a photograph of the subject’s car model for identification purposes.
A Note on Romance
A final point of mention–which challenged my ideas regarding Craigslist Missed Connections–was that 8 of the 200 authors reviewed were either married, writing to married subjects, or both. These authors explicitly suggested or inquired about the possibility of conducting an affair with their subjects. My notion of the Missed Connections page was that of a space of romantic engagement, and so I was somewhat taken aback by the offers of infidelity and sexual encounter, especially considering that there are dedicated spaces for these activities in other Craigslist ad categories.
1Craigslist. “Missed Connection M4W.” craigslist 2012. 12 October 2012. <http://washingtondc.craigslist.org/search/mis?query=m4w>
2Wikipedia. “Missed Connection.” Wikimedia Foundation. 2003. 12 October 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missed_connection>
3Craigslist. “Craigslist Fact Sheet.” craigslist 2012. 12 October 2012. <http://www.craigslist.org/about/factsheet>