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Craigslist strikes again in its data war with PadMapper

CL message to developers: go awayIf you thought the PadMapper vs. Craigslist data war was over, you were wrong. After Craigslist sent its rival apartment-hunting application a cease and desist letter to stop pulling its content, PadMapper turned to data service 3taps, which compiles Craigslist data into an API for outside developers. It was using a legal loophole, but that was the only option at PadMapper’s disposal.

Now it appears that Craigslist will fight this tactic. According to GigaOm, the company has filed a complaint against PadMapper and 3taps, saying they’ve violated its copyright and trademark, as well as demanding the court immediately stop them from pulling data.

I recently talked to 3taps founder and product manager Greg Kidd after the company started working with PadMapper to get a better idea about its purpose and co-existence with Craigslist. Kidd was an early investor in Twitter and an advisor to Square, where he’s worked with Jack Dorsey. He says there’s been an emphasis on matching seekers with providers, on helping people find what they were looking for directly rather than dealing with things that interrupted the exchange.

His time working on the federal level of government also influenced his desire to connect people to the information they wanted and to make the exchange direct. “We never liked to see closed exchanges because it meant there was a lack of transparency,” he says. “We called them dark pools, and they contributed to consumer and economic loss. You always want open and equal access to all offers and bids for goods and services in the marketplace.”

Obviously, Craigslist is a large pool of data that people want, and 3taps wanted to facilitate our ability to access it. And given the company’s firm anti-API stance, you (and I, admittedly) probably feel slighted when services like PadMapper get shut down. Kidd explains that this has more to do with Craigslist wanting to avoid straining its servers. “Craigslist is very honest in answering Quora questions about Craigslist having problems with people using its data, and he says it’s only a problem if it uses their servers,” he says.  

But given that the solution 3taps has provided PadMapper does not overload the Craigslist servers, it appears the contention goes deeper. (For the record, PadMapper still refers traffic back to Craigslist.) These developers interpret Craigslist as a searchable database, and then create their own niche-specific search engines that pull from the database – and when you think about it that way, it would be crazy not to include Craigslist data. Of course Craigslist isn’t interested in being a scrape-able site, something it’s made very clear.

PadMapper founder and CEO Eric DeMenthon tells me he thinks the claims are baseless according to what lawyers have told him, but that he’s not looking forward to the time and money that will be wasted on court. He requested to talk with the Craigslist team to come to an agreement, but they declined to meet with him. He also wants to clarify some of the misconceptions surrounding the entire debacle:

“Many seem to feel that PadMapper deserves this lawsuit because it was profiteering off of Craigslist’s data and they are down on profiteering,” he tells me. “This is actually pretty amusing since PadMapper is roughly breakeven to date despite quite a lot of usage and has raised no VC funds to date (it does have a small amount of seed money it took two years ago to build a safety net, but has turned down every other interested investor since). I’m the only person who works on this full time, and it’s a free service to users, and I pay myself about half of what I could make if I were working at any other company in the Valley. I don’t own a car and work out of my apartment in Mountain View.”

DeMenthon says the main reason he wants to keep PadMapper alive and fight this lawsuit is because it’s a useful, user-friendly service, and because developers should be allowed to include search results from Craigslist.

Clearly, Craigslist is putting developers on notice: we are not a platform whose data is at your disposal – and we will take action if you don’t respect that. Again, this is a lose for users. And while there were rumors about an upcoming redesign, this Quora exchange should kill any hopes for a better Craigslist user experience in the near future. 

CL redesign? What CL redesign?