The story behind Free & For Sale

By Natalie Ser

FreeForSale

Whether it’s about a missing glove or someone selling a football ticket, the Free & For Sale Facebook page is always flooded with new posts and notifications. The group was started in April 2012 and since then has continually offered hundreds of exchanges and opportunities for students to save some money.

The items featured on the page range from typical college necessities, like used couches, bike locks and kitchen appliances, to the unusual ones like a single cello string, a wall of fridges (yes, literally), and a half-eaten burrito. Several people offered face-painting services during Halloween, and one person (hopefully joking) posted: “looking for love and dignity.”

Free & For Sale was created by Patrick Hockberger, class of 2013, who became inspired by the redesigned layout of Facebook group pages.

“The day the new Facebook Groups were released, I saw them that morning, saw some potential for them to be useful, and literally skipped my classes that day to start dozens of groups and try to get them to catch on,” Hockberger said.

Hockberger created a total of 21 other Northwestern pages in addition to Free & For Sale. Some of the most popular groups are Textbook Exchange, Events & Parties, Campus Tips, and Economics, which are all still active and have more than 1,000 members each. For most of the pages, Hockberger just sat back and let them flourish, with the exception of Northwestern Class of 2012 and 2013 pages. The NU Alumni Association actually contacted him to appoint administrators and keep those pages official.

“I absolutely did not think they would be this big or popular today, after so much time has gone by,” Hockberger said.

Free & For Sale’s role at Northwestern is not only practical – it has also created a sense of community. One of Hockberger’s favorite posts in the group happened just a few weeks ago:

“hi
so i spilled a massive amount of tea on someone during russian lit, but i didn’t see who you were and i just want to say that I’M REALLY REALLY SORRY. i genuinely feel terrible for what happened, and if
i had seen who you were i would’ve apologized profusely. i owe you tea and definitely a dry cleaning bill ): i sincerely hope you didn’t get hurt or anything ):”

“I love it,” said Hockberger. “This has nothing to do with free or for sale. She just knows that this group is one of the largest, if not the largest, online communities of Northwestern undergrads, so she’s using it to try reach someone and apologize.”

Recently, Free & For Sale has also branched off into a separate but related website called the NUCraiglist. The site breaks down posts on Free & For Sale and categorizes them for easier browsing. Created by Al Johnri (’15, Computer Science) and Andy Bayer (’16, Oboe Performance and Computer Science), the website has recently been modified so it automatically updates every minute. Now students can conveniently browse through specific categories, like furniture and tickets, which have the latest offers.

“I found the Free & For Sale Group to be extremely unorganized, and an inefficient way for students to sell their goods,” Johnri said. “This seemed to be the obvious next step.”

He also believes that “NUCraigslist’s innovative approach of using natural language processing on existing unstructured listings will make it immediately useful for students, as opposed to waiting for a new platform to reach critical mass.”

Johnri’s other technological contributions to Northwestern include creating Courseseek, a faster and easier version of CAESAR that helps students visualize their course schedules, and taking down Morty’s Angels, a controversial website that ranked Northwestern’s female students based on attractiveness.

Group history aside, the stories behind the posts are many and varied. Fun fact: Daniel Flores, the founder of Mariachi Northwestern, actually found the ensemble’s mascot, a large penguin doll named Pepe, on Free & For Sale.

“I figured adopting a mascot would help in our marketing efforts,” Flores said. “Also what person in this world doesn’t love a life sized penguin that wears a bowtie and purple Mariachi Sombrero?”

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