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Craigslist study finds Chicago trains are a hub for Missed Connections

On June 7th: "You got on at Jackson, off at Damen...m4w (Blue Line). 8:00? You were wearing white Chuck Taylors. There wasn't a missed connection of any kind, but I still wanted to put this out there. You are very easy on the eyes."

So says an anonymous writer on Craigslist's Missed Connections, an Internet darling for strangers who want a romantic connection, or sometimes just a new coffee table. And according to Craigslist researchers, it's on trains that many of these missed connections occur.

This week, Craigslist released a new study analyzing the five American cities with the largest subway systems -- New York, Chicago, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston -- and calculated a TRIST (Train Romance Index Score Total), which put five Chicago L stops in the top 10: Belmont (Red/Brown line), Addison (Red), California (Blue), Linden (Purple), and Fullerton (Red/Brown). Researchers tried to identify which stations had the most missed connections postings per passenger, first in London, and then in the US.

"People really do value long-shots. The idea of getting a second chance, however small, is very powerful," wrote Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster, who originally conceived of the section. Director of Improbable Research Peter Freedman, who has worked with Craigslist on several projects, believes looking at train stations is a fresh way to mine a fascination with second chances, something he called a very American preoccupation (Freedman is from the U.K.).

Craigslist isn’t the first site to mine its dating data for informative and hilarious commentary. OKCupid, a dating site that is especially popular among young people, has become famous for their OKTrends blog, where they analyze data sets of their user behavior. They’ve found that OKCupid users who like beer are more likely to sleep with their partners on the first date, and looked into how more traditionally attractive women are actually messaged less than their counterparts.

Why did Craigslist feel motivated to do this research? Freedman says they wanted to bring a smile to people's faces, while also getting some positive publicity, stating that "They don’t act like a kind of conventional corporation in their attitude towards publicity.”

“We get so much interest from the public and the media on this quirky section of the site. That's what inspires us to look for trends there," said Craigslist spokesperson Beth Cook in a statement. She did not indicate whether Craigslist would be exploring more of the Missed Connections site, but Freedman has ideas for future projects. He'd consider continuing work they've started that looks at the colors people wear when they are noticed (black was predominately the most popular). 

This study might be an attempt to draw attention away from the negative press they've received in the past year. In September of 2010, the company shuttered their Adult Services section after pressure from several lawsuits alleging that they were propagating prostitution. The Casual Encounters section is still open for consenting adults interested in pursuing sexual relationships. But the company appears to be more interested in focusing on the more "romantic" aspect of their services, rather than the illicit.

Though he knows that the study wasn't rigorous enough to be in a journal, Freedman believes in the information they can cull from further postings. "Craigslist has a unique wealth of data. There are over 100 different categories of ads on Craigslist, but the Missed Connections one is arguably the one that gets the most publicity," he said. There's still no data supporting why Chicago is so popular among Craigslist users, but no matter what the city, it provides a welcome distraction to transit-users. 

For instance, this June 7 posting: "Purple Line Guy - w4m (Willmette-Chicago). Thank you for letting me gaze at your dreamy, dark eyes today. By the way, I rarely, if ever use the word "dreamy". I'm not that kind of girl that would use adjectives like that to illustrate such things, or dot my 'i's' with hearts and read Tiger Beat. But honestly, I can't think of another word to describe your eyes. You glanced my way a few times and I shyly looked away. I was the girl with the mascara-slightly-streaked-tear-stained face. I wondered what book you were reading, what you were listening to and where you were heading. You see, I had a bit of suck ass day. I won't go into it, but trust me, it was up there in "the worst" category. So, thank you, Purple Line Guy. You are a very nice distraction."

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