It's almost that time of year again: Students will flock to new apartments and scrounge for used furniture, look for roommates or a date, and chances are they will search Craigslist, a site that's turning into the most popular way to search the classifieds.

Craigslist operates in 50 countries and hundreds of cities. It is the 47th most viewed Web site in the world and ninth in the United States, and yet feels so personal and community-based, which is precisely the lure.

One of the reasons it feels so personal is because it refuses to advertise for businesses. Craigslist declined running banner ads, keeping themselves noncommercial. In 2002, Craigslist staff posted mock banner ads throughout the site as an April Fools joke.

Craigslist has made the entire home-hunting process unnecessary. No more shady Realtors or property management; no more scouring the weekly paper. You just log into your city, and search the "apt/housing" section for free. Some ads even include pictures.

If not yet familiar with this internet site, it is a central network of online communities, featuring free classified advertisements in categories such as: jobs, internships, housing, personals, erotic services, for sale/barter/wanted, community, gigs, resume, and pets; as well as forums on various topics.

The site receives more than 2 million new job listings each month, making it one of the top job boards in the world.

"It's been such a helpful tool these past few years, especially traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast," said resident Albertico Acosta. "It definitely makes things way more accessible. It's helped in finding multiple apartments and roommates, to selling my plants and furniture. It's all with a click of a button and for free."

However, beware of scams. In April 2008, a couple was charged with placing an ad on Craigslist inviting the public to take anything from a man's home in Oregon, leading to the loss of his possessions. The couple had placed this ad to cover up their own burglary of his house. A lot of brokers have co-opted Craigslist in a way by cluttering it up with duplicate listings so they stay at the top of each search page.

The housing exchange isn't the only area noticing a Craigslist influence; the job market has also noticed a major shift, especially for those self-employed.

"It's a freelancer's dream," said Acosta. "I recently discovered Craigshelper, a third-party company, which has been a great tool. It allows me to search as many cities and countries for specific key words at the same time. I've been able to find great opportunities in many different places."

An ad under the "free" section advertised an open carton of almond milk. "Free if you want to pick it up. I was curious but it's not for me. Original flavor."

For all you lonely, or curious folks, there is a "personal section" including men for men, women for women, women for men, men for women, platonic friendships and casual encounters where personal ads race from obvious and clich&

233; to illegal and risqu&

233;. Cops have made busts through Craigslist for different reasons, including prostitution.

The "ride share" category has become a popular way for students to travel between home and school much cheaper.

"I've always had a good experience with reliable transportation like ride shares," said student Annie Walsh, who frequently travels between Ashland and Portland. "I've even found consistent travelers, so I don't have to look for new people each time. I know people who were furnishing their whole apartment by finding house sales and buying from individuals instead of from the store. It's amazing all the ways people use Craigslist."

"Just the fact that it's localized to your individual community as well as multiple world cities makes it a really powerful way to communicate," said Acosta. "It's really bridging the gap and changing the way we go about looking for things we need and giving what we have to offer."

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