Of the new electronic classifieds platforms to emerge in Zimbabwe’s during the past few years, Dipleague and classifieds.co.zw stand out and have achieved relative success to Zimbabwean internet users.
It’s common knowledge in Zimbabwe that to get some meaningful response for a classifieds advert you cannot afford to ignore the 2 platforms. And unlike traditional newspaper classifieds posting adverts on these platforms is free.
The story of Dipleague’s founding is somewhat similar to that of global classifieds site craigslist.org; started as little efforts by an individual to send information about events to a small group of people then evolving to a mainstream classifieds platform for a much wider audience.
Dipleague states on its homepage that the site was “intended originally for the acclimatization of the diplomatic and NGO community”. The service was started around 2004 by Marijn Goes who, at that time, was part of the NGO community in Zimbabwe. Marjin would send emails to about 100 NGO and diplomatic community members about events and former ZOL CEO, Samir Shasha, who now moderates the Dipleague, recommended moving the emails to proper mailing list system at ZOL.
On how the mailing list evolved to the widely used classifieds mailing list it is now, Shasha explains:
“People would ask to join the list to be able to sell or buy items from the diplomatic/NGO community. Soon the list took on a life of its own. Marjin left the country and I was left with no choice but to manage the list. The tipping point came when the supermarkets could no longer carry anything on their shelves…- people started offering and looking for basic items on the list.”
The mailing list now has about 15,000 members and processes an average of 2,300 messages a week. The membership growth rate has been “fairly geometric” but it slowed down since the end of the supermarket shortage era.
Needless to say, the exponential growth meant the mailing list could no longer cater for the non-commercial purpose it was created for. Shasha has tried to recreate the original community-centric Dipleague by establishing a non-commercial version of the service (NCDipleague). Unfortunately he says, “due to non-compliance (people use it like Dipleague) its purpose has been frustrated.”
As more people hear about it, the number of subscribers continues and greater numbers means more readers of the classifieds messages. But more members also means more noise and this translates to more moderation work for Shasha and his team. Dipleague runs on open source mailing list manager, Mailman and is hosted at ZOL.
When you run a free to join and free to post email list where your audience is mostly working professionals, it’s not surprising spam and general abuse would be an issue. An issue initially was members subscribing with free webmail accounts like Gmail, Hotmail & Yahoo, and using these anonymously to engage to abusive behavior on the platform. Dipleague subsequently blocked all free webmail accounts and gave existing members an option to open free accounts with ZOL, an email service Dipleague can control.
Shasha also explains a big problem was people abusing the system by spamming Dipleague with multiple messages per day and per week. Another problem was stopping people from using the system to send religious and political views. Shasha says however that despite members gaming the system for their ends, “we have for the most part managed.”
Dipleague remains a free service and, without disclosing if he has some monetization plans for the service in future, Shasha explains that many members use the service for non-profit purposes and it is hard to monetize it without penalizing those who use it effectively to communicate valuable community based information. Maybe the establishment of NCDipleague separating the non-profit users from the commercial classifieds was a step in this direction.
On Dipleague’s plans for the future, Shasha says they’re considering creating a more streamlined template where the number of characters is limited and the information is categorized.
And with the Zimbabwe’s rapidly changing internet connectivity and even more rapid mobile connectivity, Shasha explains:
Until now the main problem has been more access to email than internet – it remains this way – even on mobile platforms. The success of Dipleague has been the passive nature of receiving the information on email as opposed to the interactive nature of the other services reliant on internet. How and if this will change will truly depend on the community itself as most decisions are put to the community.
If you’re not already on Dipleague instructions to join the mailing list are on the Dipleague website: dipleague.zol.co.zw