In a shocking turn of events, something about Facebook isn’t especially good.
Alright, that’s probably a little harsh. You see, my two roommates both decided to move on at the end of July, and I needed to replace them. I was able to fill one room with a friend of mine, but I still needed someone for the other. I figured I would primarily (but not solely) use Facebook to find candidates.
After all, I’d used it when I was hunting for apartments myself, and had no real complaints about the process. Plenty of my friends have used it as both apartment and roommate hunters, too. Using Facebook groups or the Marketplace to do this (as I did) is a pretty common practice in New York City.
But throughout my nearly two-month-long roommate hunt, which was hellish for plenty of reasons that had nothing to do with Facebook, the massive social network didn’t help as much as I would’ve liked. This was primarily due to a number of user interface quirks that demonstrate one of the biggest problems with the Facebook user experience: A site that tries to be all things to all people will, inevitably, not be very good at any of them.
The appeal is obvious…
I suppose it’s possible you’ve never used Facebook to find roommates or housing. Maybe you’ve always relied on traditional means, or you’ve had the good fortune of fulfilling your housing needs through your social circle, or you’ve somehow never had a housing need that you needed to fulfill.
But the reason I and many others choose to at least give it a shot is its reach. Facebook boasts more than 2 billion users, making it perhaps the world’s most ubiquitous social network. So, there’s a pretty good chance anyone who needs to find a room in New York City has a page, even if they aren’t super active.
To its credit, Facebook makes it fairly simple to advertise a room. You can pretty easily post a listing with photos and pertinent info on dedicated pages like Gypsy Housing, or on Facebook’s own Marketplace. Some of these pages have thousands of members, giving them plenty of reach. Of course, you can ask your own Facebook friends, too.
Additionally, vetting candidates is easier than it would be on something like Craigslist. Social media stalking might be a little weird, but you can at least take a quick scroll down each applicant’s Facebook page to see what they’re all about.
Facebook is a leaky data vessel captained by those who make questionable leadershipdecisions on a regular basis. However, I figured that as long as it’s part of our lives, I might as well take advantage of its popularity.
…but the execution is suspect
Unfortunately, the user interface Facebook has in place for buying and selling things just isn’t up to snuff. Facebook has seen plenty of feature creep over the years with things like the Marketplace and eventually even dating, meaning you have to use features that weren’t originally designed for things like apartment hunting to find roommates.
I would put most of the blame on Messenger, the main point of contact between sellers and buyers on Facebook. I haven’t particularly liked Messenger since Facebook decided it needed to be a separate app all those years ago, and this experience didn’t change my mind.
Messenger does have the good sense to group most chats from a listing in one tab within the Messenger app, but it falls apart from there. I had at least one conversation with an applicant get mysteriously wiped. There were also several messages that were filtered to the “requests” part of Messenger for no discernible reason, which meant they were easy for me to miss.
It could also be easier to manage one listing across multiple groups. As best as I could tell, you can only make edits to a listing in one page at a time, rather than across every page it’s been posted to. It wasn’t nightmarish or impossible to deal with, but little interface quirks like this made me wish I’d spent more time with other sites.
Thankfully, it’s not the only option
The good news is, there are plenty of other ways to find people to live with IRL on the internet. Craigslist comes to mind as the obvious choice here. There’s nothing flashy about the internet’s most famous classifieds section, but it works. You have to be vigilant with applicants on Craiglist, but that’s nothing new.
There are also plenty of apps, like Roomi and RoomieMatch. Any site built with the express purpose of connecting potential tenants together could, in theory, do it a little more elegantly than a massive website that people use for all kinds of other purposes.
Eventually I did find a roommate, but not through Facebook. Though I posted the room in multiple groups and on the Marketplace, and I managed to bring in several candidates for visits, it was a random recommendation from a friend that sealed the deal.
Now, I wouldn’t tell people to straight up avoid Facebook for finding apartments or roommates, but I think it could be better. Obviously, I was able to find plenty of candidates for the room, but it wasn’t always a pleasant experience. Facebook’s ubiquity gives it a lot of potential in this mundane aspect of life, but it’s just a bit clumsy around the edges.