The real losers in the PadMapper, Craigslist debacle? You and me

craigslist padmapper The dreaded apartment hunt has reared its ugly head far too many times in my life. During college, we all basically played house swap, where transactions were based on who was graduating and vacating what room or apartment. When they’d move out, someone else would move in. College doesn’t last forever though. We all have to adapt to the real-world way of finding accommodations, and I don’t think I have to tell you how terrible it is to hunt for a place to live.

I, and many others, have suffered trying to use Craigslist’s for home hunting. The search tool is antiquated, the images are poor or nonexistent, locations of listings are hardly dependable, and you can forget about an integrated way to save anything for later reference. There is a litany of shortcomings that come with the Craigslist apartment search; they are many and they are painful.

 And that’s where PadMapper comes in. If you’ve ever suffered the Craigslist apartment search, someone probably looked over your shoulder, called you an idiot, and directed you to PadMapper. The application mashes up Google Maps and Craigslist’s (as well as other site’s) apartment listings to give you a one-stop-home-shopping experience. In addition to better filters (like how old the listing is, what sites it’s pulling in, and zip code) and the ability to immediately see where a certain home is, you can also take notes, save apartments to a favorites list, and immediately check out Street View and walk scores.

I’m late to the PadMapper party, I know — most of you have been reveling at its greatness for a while now. But just as I began using the application a few days ago, Craigslist went and knocked the wind out of me and the site by pulling its listings.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I must announce that PadMapper is no longer including Craigslist rental listings – they’re currently being wiped from the search index,” creator Eric DeMenthon wrote this weekend. “I recently received a Cease and Desist letter from Craigslist, and wasn’t able to get a meeting or convince Craigslist’s lawyer that PadMapper was beneficial to Craigslist and apartment hunters in general.”

Apparently Craigslist allows mobile apps that pay the licensing fee to use and display their listings, but websites are a no go. The same thing happened to apartment referral site Oodle. “[Craigslist] is a cancer. I worked for Oodle a few years ago,” reads a recent Reddit post in response to PadMapper’s dilemma. “Our site was thriving and sending a bunch of traffic back to CL. We were basically a really nice search layer on top of them.” Oodle got the same Cease and Desist letter and was forced to pull the Craigslist content — the two sites have had an interesting (read: contentious) relationship since.

So is Craigslist just a bully, or is there a legitimate reason it keeps cutting off Web integration? To Craigslist’s credit, it very clearly states that other sites cannot use its content in this way.

“Any access to or use of craigslist to design, develop, test, update, operate, modify, maintain, support, market, advertise, distribute or otherwise make available any program, application or service (including, without limitation, any device, technology, product, computer program, mobile device application, website, or mechanical or personal service) that enables or provides access to, use of, operation of or interoperation with craigslist (including, without limitation, to access content, post content, cross-post content, re-post content, respond or reply to content, verify content, transmit content, create accounts, verify accounts, use accounts, circumvent and/or automate technological security measures or restrictions, or flag content) is prohibited. This prohibition specifically applies but is not limited to software, programs, applications and services for use or operation on or by any computer and/or any electronic, wireless and/or mobile device, technology or product that exists now or in the future.”

The site does not have an open API; it’s almost infamously kept to itself and hardly even updated its UI since launch. It’s not as if Craigslist is entirely useless either — the site’s simplicity is refreshing, in a sense, and it’s what led to creator Craig Newmark founding CraigConnects, a site to promote and connect socially responsible non-profits and ideas. And honestly, it might eventually hurt Craigslist if it didn’t shut down the doors of competing sites that scrape its data for their own gain.

All that said, putting sites like PadMapper out to pasture is incredibly, incredibly anti-consumer. And it means that Craiglist has two choices: Either allow the likes of PadMapper to exist, or massively update your platform. I’m in favor of the former — slap a licensing fee on interested parties for all I care, and those that are truly getting traffic thanks to the database that Craigslist has created will pony up the cash. Sure, you’re feeding your competition in that scenario, but unless you’re willing to redesign your site for a pleasant and successful user experience then you may as well demote yourself from consumer-facing application to platform.

As something of a short term (but maybe long term) solution, PadMapper is promoting its own service, PadLister, where you can list a home for free on the site. The entire debacle is getting so much hype that PadLister’s name is rising. Considering the angry mob ready to charge with virtual pitchforks, this could easily have a negative effect on Craigslist.

It sounds childish to say this, but you’re being plain mean to users, Craigslist. Your site is chock-full of data I need, but your interface is an exercise in torture. Either give me the tools to effectively use your site or allow someone else to do it.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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