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Facebook takes on Craiglist, adds tools for selling to a group

The social-media network capitalizes on the growing popularity of buy/sell/trade groups and adds the ability to catalog and mark items as sold.

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Facebook

Facebook on Tuesday started rolling out a way for people to post items for sale in a group -- a new destination for virtual garage sales.

The new features include a way to catalog the items up for sale and those you sold previously, and the ability to mark an item as sold.

These groups, known as buy/sell/trade groups, consist of people who want to offload their goods in an intimate setting versus the a public post like Craigslist or eBay. People offer up items by posting a photo with a price and details, and the first person to comment then connects with the item's owner offline. These groups, which are like forums, are not formal and often focus on particular items, brands or neighborhoods.

Ann Chen, an admin for one local group in a San Francisco Bay Area community that has about 1,000 members, said people prefer it to Craigslist because Facebook profiles provide a sense of security, rather than an anonymous online post.

"It's attached to your name and it feels like these are real people. These are people in your community," she said. "It's not just about selling things. You can ask about kids' classes or for a good handy man."

Chen's group has members who are mostly parents looking to clean out their closets, and posts are frequent. She said the group limits it to three posts a day from people so the feed isn't overwhelming.

With these new features, Facebook is recognizing a way to build on top of a popular trend that has popped up on its network without any help from the company. It's tried various approaches to online shopping, including selling and shipping physical items, and including "buy" buttons in advertisements, but nothing has caught fire in the past.

There are "tens of millions" of Facebook Groups and these "for sale" groups are among the most popular, according to a spokeswoman. She wouldn't say if the social-media site would ever add a direct way to buy and pay through Facebook.

Chen said a direct payment feature would be handy, but the new catalog features are already an improvement. She said being able to let other members know when an item is already sold is at the top of her list. Previously, if a user posted multiple photos of an item, those photos would become individual posts on the group's timeline, making it difficult to keep track of different comment threads.

A more specific time stamp would also help, Chen said, since buyers sometimes post at the same time and then there needs to be a discussion to figure out who actually claimed the item first.

Correction, 10:45 am PT: This story originally misstated the popularity of "for sale" groups. That category is one of the most popular within Facebook Groups.