by Brian on June 30, 2006

in Only in Israel

Last week, the web’s leading free advertising listing site,, solidified its position as the big mother of the online classified industry by announcing it was adding over 100 new cities, bringing the total number of locations served to more than 300. On Craigslist and on Craigslist contenders with cute names like Oodle and Kijiji, you can sell just about anything – from pets to property and everything in between. The free classified listings business has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Everywhere, apparently but here in Jerusalem.

Just look at the numbers. The flagship Craigslist site in San Francisco this week listed 134,736 items in the for sale category alone. There are also 64,070 personals and 34,081 housing ads. In Jerusalem, by contrast, there were a paltry 65 items for sale and just 199 ads in the housing section, a number of which have been posted by some unscrupulous spammer from South Florida.

Now, all this would be nothing more than an interesting tidbit, were it not for the fact that I actually wanted to sell a few things last week. As we unpacked the boxes from our recent move, I was seized by an uncontrollable urge to purge, to get rid of the junk which I’ve inexplicably held onto over the years – an obsessive tendency I’ve written about here previously.

This time, instead of t-shirts, there was a large box of old computer equipment, some of it broken, most of it just outdated, that I thought I could earn a few shekels from. Now, if I lived in North America, I imagine I’d just list it on Craigslist then sit back and fight off the interested buyers. At the very least, I’d generate a bit of nostalgic buzz.

But that’s not how things work in Jerusalem.

It’s not like we have no free listings system in this part of the world. Craigslist hasn’t taken hold in the holy city, but there’s an extremely active Yahoo Groups list called Janglo that has over 10,000 members and logs thousands of new posts a week to its free web and email service. So I started there.

But no one was interested in my pile of serial port mice or the English-Hebrew keyboards that have stuck around long after the computers to which they were attached headed off to the giant CPU in the sky.

My beloved circa-1999 CD-ROM drive sat unloved and uncalled for, despite my parsimonious posting on Janglo. And don’t even get me started on the old Visioneer PaperPort sheet-feeder scanner that was collecting dust in the closet, or that perfectly presentable Zip Drive (y’all remember the Zip? With 100 MB of storage per disk, this was poised to be the floppy killer of 1996).

Fortunately, there is a far more effective way in Israel of getting rid of old unwanted junk cluttering up the house. You simply leave your undesirables outside by the curb, near but not inside the trash bins. Within a matter of hours – and sometimes minutes – it’s gone.

My family had already seen the effectiveness of this method through some larger ticket items we’d disposed of earlier during the move. A large microwave table – a bit scuffed but otherwise in fine condition – was picked up within a couple of hours. Same for a fake wood bookcase.

The question was: would it work for aging electronics.

I decided to look at the whole exercise as a sociological experiment. I would see what type of items went the fastest and at which hours. Were the scavengers who licked the curb clean fussy about what they took? Or were they more of an egalitarian lot, grabbing whatever appeared to have even the smallest resale value?

I made sure not to put anything out too close to the time the garbage men came, lest my experiment in schlepping be foiled. Unfortunately, in Jerusalem, the garbage men don’t come all that often.

I started with my keyboards. I took the first one out at around 8:30 AM and set off for more morning jog. By the time I returned, some 45 minutes later, it was still there. But an hour after that, when I checked again, the keyboard was gone.

I placed a pair of old speakers and a telephone out at about noon, headed up the street to grab a falafel, and when I returned, my tummy was full and the curb was bare. Imagine that: both fast food and fast service.

But, I wondered, did that mean that speakers and telephones are more desirable than keyboards? Or that noon is a more lucrative hour than the early morning?

To put the first question to the test, I decided to take out my most unlikely electronic item:  an old Intel AnyPoint Home Networking system. The AnyPoint system was not immediately identifiable like a keyboard or a mouse. It was unmistakably electronic, to be sure, but what it did would be shrouded in mystery to all but the most hi-tech collectors – and they would also know that this plastic parallel port beauty was pretty much useless in the modern age of ubiquitous broadband.

The AnyPoint hit the curb at 5:00 PM. I checked again at 6:00 PM. Still there. Ditto for 7:00 PM. Clearly no one was beating down the pavement to set up a home network at a blazing 1 Mbps.

8:00 PM still there. At 9:00 PM, I gave up for the night. I fully expected to be saying hello to the AnyPoint in the morning.

But no! As I headed out the following day at 8:30 AM to jog, the AnyPoint was gone. Someone had seen fit to bestow pity on this artifact from a slower gentler era of computing (ah, what a difference a decade makes) and provide it with a caring new home.

Over the course of the next week, I was able to part with my entire box of techno goodies…a Palm III docking cradle – albeit without the Palm itself. A sack full of 110 volt adapters that won’t even fit in our 220 volt Israeli plugs. A tangled web of corded cell phone headsets.

I never did find out who actually came and carted away my junk, so I can’t report whether it was a single scavenger or different folks each time. I don’t know whether my old ThinkPad UltraBay II DVD drive is now spinning happily in an IBM laptop somewhere in Ra’anana…or being sold for drug money in a less savory corner of the country (or perhaps even beyond our beleaguered borders).

I briefly considered staking out the curb from the perch of one of the large Eucalyptus trees that line our street, but what would I do if I actually met my virtual buyer? Invite him (or her) in for a cup of coffee and a private peek at the rest of my stash? However intriguing such an “exit interview” might seem, it wasn’t really appropriate under the circumstances.

But there was one thing I learned without needing to conduct any further research. In the Middle East, you can forget about and the like. I’ve got a new startup in mind that works a whole lot better. I’m thinking of calling it

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