Ars reports that Craigslist has sued PadMapper and some other services that operate by scraping data from Craigslist’s horrible 1998-style user interface and turning it into something much more useful.
If CL kills PadMapper, it will be a huge loss for renters in housing markets everywhere in the US. The Craigslist system of listing apartments is probably the most commonly-used forum(*) for private listings of available rental units. The problem with Craigslist is that it is difficult to narrow searches to any geographic region that is more granular than the areas that CL chooses to give its users. That is, there is no useful way to ask CL to give you listings for all apartments in SW Portland (That is, west of the river and south of Burnside) in the quadrant between, say, Market and Salmon, and east of the Rose Garden but West of the 405. You may be able to approximate the search by looking for “Goose Hollow” or some other regional neighborhood name, but this leaves searches open to manipulation by landlords. So in practice, what happens is that apartment hunters must subscribe to an entire city’s worth of listings, and then filter by price range, and then filter again by neighborhood name, and then copy and paste an address (or worse, call the landlord to get the address) into some kind of mapping website, all just to realize that the perfect 2-br/2-ba listing they were considering is in fact physically underneath a freeway.
In contrast, PadMapper takes the same listings and shows the addresses plotted on a Google map. It should immediately be apparent that this mapping feature is INSANELY useful for anyone who is shopping for an apartment. It is so useful that it makes you wonder why Craigslist hasn’t been doing the same thing for, oh, say, the last five or six years at least. But they haven’t.
In fact it is so useful, and so different from the standard Craigslist interface, that it might be worth arguing that PadMapper is making fair use of the Craigslist data, because the PadMapper service takes data that is merely text and adds location information and context in a way that entirely changes the way a user interacts with the data set. Kinda like thumbnail images, if you catch my drift.
Anyhow. I won’t be shopping for an apartment any time soon, but I hate to see functionality removed from the web. Unless CL pairs this suit with some kind of buyout offer that results in (miracle of miracles) new functionality actually being added to the ridiculously outdated Craigslist interface, I can only hope that PadMapper chooses to fight and that they prevail.
(*) I am much too lazy this morning to look for actual data to back up this claim.