Craigslist adds maps (quietly)

Historically, there’s always been one step missing from trawling Craigslist for the latest rental opportunities, cheap garden furniture or job opportunities: The need to have some sense of geography or go to another site that can help you with that. But no longer – or, at least, no longer for two specific metro areas, which are part of a pilot program to add maps to the free listing site.

Without any fanfare, Craigslist added embedded maps to the housing ads for the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland, Oregon sections of the site last week, using data from OpenStreetMap, a service that describes itself a “the Free Wiki World Map” that is “created by people like you” (The OpenStreetMap Foundation alerted the world to the change via Twitter on August 21). One of the reasons for the relative silence surrounding the trial is that it seems to be somewhat unevenly applied; maps appear on some listings, but not on others, apparently reliant on whether or not the original posting including an actual address or not. The maps, then, are not added by the posters’ choice.

Oddly enough, even though the maps are dynamic – The user can move around the area, as well as zoom in and out of the area – they don’t appear to be hosted on OpenStreetMap’s site; Richard Fairhurst, a board member with the nonprofit OSM organization told Talking Points Memo in an email that “They [Craigslist] appear to be hosting the maps themselves.”

As TPM points out, Craigslist is merely the latest name brand to turn to OpenStreetMaps’ offerings to give users a chance to get their geographical bearings; so far this year, the non-profit has added Apple, Wikipedia and Foursquare to its user roster, with iPhone and iPad apps expected to begin using the free alternative to Google’s Google Maps offering with the next major update of iOS. It’s believed that OpenStreetSource has benefited from a backlash against Google when the latter company introduced a plan to charge users of its Maps API over a certain amount back at the start of this year. Although Google has since rolled back the plan – it should be noted, however, that the rollback saw Google reducing the charges, but not abandoning them altogether – the damage is likely already done, especially with an equally impressive, and far less expensive, alternative available.

Having rolled out its own map feature without announcement, it remains to be seen whether or not Craigslist will be expanding its trial to other regions or areas of its website.

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