Unfortunate: Craigslist Continues To Be A Walled Garden

from the share-a-little,-guys dept

For many years I’ve been a big supporter of Craigslist, both as a user and an observer of innovative businesses. I’ve even argued that the company itself is too modest in pretending that it isn’t a profit-maximizing firm. I’ve frequently defended the company when it was attacked with bogus lawsuits. However, for years, I’ve been baffled by Craigslist’s insistence on being isolationist against the rest of the internet. Almost exactly seven years ago, we were disappointed to see they were shutting down a search tool that made Craigslist easier to use. And, over the years, we’ve seen this same consistent pattern, whereby the company gets upset at anyone who builds on their work — even if it takes no money away from Craigslist and likely drives more traffic to the site. Just last year, for example, we wrote about Craigslist bullying an online aggregator.

Late last week, it went down this same path yet again, but this time it picked on a service that’s really really popular (more so than most of the others it targets): PadMapper. PadMapper is a pretty neat tool if you’re looking for a place to live. It builds on a few different listings sites — including Craigslist — to provide much more value to the listing itself, such as by including an embedded map. It sends all the traffic to the original site, so it’s not taking away any traffic. It’s enhancing Craigslist’s value. When others increase your value, you should applaud. But, here, as in the past, Craigslist sent a legal cease-and-desist.

Craigslist has regularly defended these takedowns, by claiming that it just wants people to come directly to its site, and that’s part of its view of the “community.” But, again, PadMapper was driving more people to the site and making it even more useful to them.

What’s interesting this time, however, is that given how popular PadMapper is, and the fact that the guy behind PadMapper is asking people to (politely) suggest to Craig and Jim that they rethink this policy, I wonder if the company will finally change its mind. It’s been getting a lot of attention in the tech/startup community. Even though Craigslist has done this before many times, this is the first I can remember doing it to a site that is so popular.

As I’ve said in the past, I think Craigslist is making a big mistake in blocking these kinds of things. I recognize their reasoning, but at this point, it’s just silly. The rationale for blocking these other sites just doesn’t add up. There’s simply no reason to not be “neighborly” and allow others to drive more traffic to them. It’s definitely disappointing to see the company keep this policy up for so long.

Filed Under: ,
Companies: craigslist, padmapper

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Comments on “Unfortunate: Craigslist Continues To Be A Walled Garden”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It could have been worded better. Anyway, my point was that just because Craigslist is doing something that (presumably) is losing them potential revenue, that is not justification for others to build out on and utilize their intellectual property without permission. Granted that it is incredibly shortsighted on the part of CL, but they have the right to squander a good opportunity in my judgment. I also think that the longer they resist inclusion, the more likely it is that they’ll be overtaken by a competitor. Until then, I believe that they are myopically correct.

Mike says:

Re: Craigslist

They have the right, but if it drive traffic to their site at “No Cost” to them and it adds value that Craig and Jim don’t want to give their customers, then the new kid on the block will someday steal their business model away with a better one. And, their customers, too.

Facebook killed MySpace didn’t they?

I’d love to see a mapping feature. When I buy something I can see how far I have to drive to pick it up.

Craigslist needs to modernize and keep up with the times to compete or someone else will.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Craigslist

I’d love to see a mapping feature. When I buy something I can see how far I have to drive to pick it up.

It would also be nice to have houses or people you shouldn’t do business with mapped out too. Such as the areas with a large number of reported robberies, scams, etc. Seems like the criminals have latched on to craigslist as a great place to go to work their scams, resulting in robberies and quite a few murders.

Not that Craigslist is to blame, these guys used to use the classifieds for the same purpose.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Craigslist

Facebook killed MySpace didn’t they?

Only want to address this point. NO. myspace killed myspace by not innovating in a fast moving market.

Facebook just happened to have the sheer dumb luck of being the next thing to come along as people were realizing that myspace was nothing more than a cesspool on the internet.

snowburn14 says:

Re: Re: Craigslist

“Facebook killed MySpace didn’t they?”

I think their fear is that if facebook had been able to display information from people’s myspace profile, it would have put the nail in the coffin even faster. Or possibly that if there was a site that put myspace and facebook profiles side-by-side, it would have the same effect when people prefered the facebook presentation – assuming purely for the sake of this argument that facebook is a superior site (I don’t really use either these days).
If they feel confident enough in their (current) market share, they might think that the details pulled from craigslist make up enough of the draw to the 3rd-party site that they can starve it before either of those scenarios occur. I’m not saying this is likely to be a good business strategy, just that there could be *some* logic to what they’re doing, short-sighted though it may be. Then again, if they’ve been using this same guiding principle for at least 7 years as was mentioned, maybe it’s not as bad an idea as it seems… OK, yeah it is, but it’s apparently not enough to kill them.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Does Craigslist have the right to not be neighborly”

They have the right to be neighbourly or not be neighbourly. But, if they fail due to these actions or lose traffic to competitors, they should recognise that it was a lack of neighbourliness that killed them, not a lack of legal protection and enforcement.

“Why should they be obliged to be “neighborly” even if it costs them money?”

Once again, you’re reading things into an article that simply aren’t there. Criticism of their business tactics doesn’t equal a call for them to be forced to change. They just lose the right to whine about it afterwards.

Nobody’s saying they should be forced to do anything. All that’s being noted is that their current tactics seem to be counter-productive and even damaging to their business. If they wish to continue to make bad business decisions, they only have themselves to blame. Nobody’s forcing them to make smarter moves that help both their business and their customers.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Unfortunately people do have the right to be stupid. That seems to be the right that Craigslist is invoking here in refusing to be neighborly.

I have tried using Craigslist a couple of times. I found it awkward and annoying to keep checking what I was looking for. I found a great Android app the second time I was using the site. However, the app got shut down while I was still looking for a car, and I haven’t gone back to Craigslist since.

Maybe having third-party apps drive traffic to them does cost money. But site visits are what makes CL money, so it seems pretty silly to block things that are driving traffic.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

If you step back and look at this from the consumers point of view it follows the old song and dance…
Someone #1 creates something and rests on their laurels.
Someone #2 else comes along and builds upon the first thing and makes it more valuable/useful/user friendly.
Someone #1 instead of being happy their system is now much better and looking for new ways to improve, want to kill the innovation and force everything to be like it always was.

This is what IP “rights” have bred into the system, what you made is perfect and you no longer have to try. If someone wants to built and add more features you have the complete right to stop them and screw the consumer.

Where could we be today if every new innovation wasn’t crushed and allowed to develop and lead us to new places?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Craigslist

Experiences vary.

Finding the scam ads may not be trivial for most, but for the reasonably web-savvy, it should be a non-issue.

I found my current job on CL, and it’s the best one I’ve ever had, hands down.

I agree CL is acting the petulant child, but that petulant child had a part in my current employment, so my perspective is coloured.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

I’ll restate what’s already been said here, what Craigslist is doing makes no sense much less being neighbourly. As it stands many people find Craigslist hard to use and to actually find the things they’re looking for. Kijii, on the other hand, is well organized and it’s easy to find things there which results in more sales for the person selling things.

I know this from personal experience as a seller. Stuff I list on Kijii gets a response in, at most, a day and is usually sold before the week is out. It takes, at least, three times as long on Craigslist because people just can’t find it unless they’re Craigslist veterans.

Closing down apps or sites that make Craigslist easier to use and actually drives traffic to them is just plain dumb. Then again they have the right to be stupid. As with Kijii others are already moving onto their turf simply by being easier for the buyer and seller to use.

Andrew F (profile) says:


I don’t think that Craigslist is isolationist so much as they don’t like aggregation. When you aggregate, the end user’s relationship with the Craigslist becomes purely transactional — i.e. Craigslist is just a data source at the end of the pipe. Sure, Padmapper ultimately drives users to Craigslist, but those users aren’t loyal to Craigslist. They’re loyal to Padmapper.

It’s similar to the debate for news aggregators. One position is that news sites should welcome Google News because it ultimately drives more traffic. But the news sites aren’t interested in just traffic. They want loyalty. When I click on a Google News link, I focus immediately on the linked content. The only time I care what site the content is hosted on is if that site is really bad (like CBS’s awful mobile site).

By contrast, if I come to your site directly, I’m more likely to, at a minimum, take note of the site’s domain name because I have to type it in. And I’m also more likely to take note of the site’s branding, hang around, create a user account, comment, etc. I’m more likely to become a fan the site can connect with and give a reason to buy. The site can differentiate by offering cool new features, and as a frequent repeat user, I’m more likely to notice and appreciate those features.

That’s not to say what Craigslist is doing here makes sense. Cutting off useful services pisses off your fans. The way to respond to aggregation is to offer unique content. That’s why I hang around Techdirt — it offers unique articles and has a unique community.

The real tragedy isn’t just that Craigslist is cutting off Padmapper. It’s that despite Craigslist’s claims of “community”, it hasn’t added very many features over the years that make its users want to hang around and be a part of that community. For starters, they might want to add a map.

Adrian Lopez says:

How is Padmapper's conduct illegal?

Given the use of a robots.txt file is the industry-standard mechanism for preventing unauthorized automated access to a website, and that Craigslist’s robots.txt file doesn’t block the majority of its pages, and that it isn’t illegal to link to pages discovered by mechanical means (see Google), under what legal theory does Craigslist have a legitimate case against Padmapper?

Andrew F (profile) says:

Re: How is Padmapper's conduct illegal?

Industry standards don’t really matter here. Craigslist is probably working off one of two theories here:

(1) Trespass (or some equivalent involving unauthorized access to a computer). Under this theory, Padmapper’s previous conduct wasn’t illegal, but any continued integration would be. Basically, property owners have the right to keep people off of their property. If you’re a business and open to the public, we assume that you’ve given permission for people to enter onto your property. But you still have the right to revoke access for certain individuals by giving them notice that they’re not welcome — e.g. with a cease and desist.

(2) Contract. At some point, Padmapper’s employees agreed to the Craigslist terms of use, which says you can’t do stuff like this. Craigslist has a right to tell people to stop breaching contracts.

None of this actually means Craigslist would succeed in a lawsuit. They’d probably have to show some actual economic harm, but those are the underlying theories supporting the cease & desist. There are probably also theories involving copyright and protecting privacy interests of Craigslist users.

Adrian Lopez says:

Craigslist's Terms of Service

Gotta love Craigslist’s definition of “actual damages” under its Terms of Service:

“Pursuant to ?? 11 and 12 of the TOU, you acknowledge and agree that CL incurs actual damages as aresult of the TOU violations detailed below. You further acknowledge and agree that actual damages causedby such violations are extremely difficult, impossible or impractical to determine or quantify. Consequently,you agree it is fair and reasonable for CL to obtain injunctive relief to prohibit future violations of these TOU and recover liquidated damages for past violations of these TOU, and you acknowledge that the amounts set forth below reflect reasonable estimates of CL’s actual damages from each such violation and that such estimates are reasonably related to the actual damages caused to CL by each such violation.”

In Craigslist’s own little world, totally made-up damages are apparently the same as actual damages.

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