Craigslist hasn't changed much in the 16 years it's become the go-to destination for those in search of living spaces, lost items, and even love. The swarming sea of white, blue, gray, and purple remains as much a comfort as it does a navigating nuisance to the modern Internet user.
Which is why when Craigslist last week began rolling out a new maps feature for the site's popular apartment listings section, it came as a somewhat unexpected (but welcome) update. With Map View, you can now see the exact location of apartment listings in various cities with the help of OpenStreetMap. The new feature comes a few months after Craigslist first blocked, then later sued, PadMapper, the popular Google-Maps-meets-Craigslist-listings apartment hunting site.
PadMapper isn't the first time Craigslist has taken action against an upstart trying to harvest its data. In fact, Craigslist has a history of crushing these startups before they can become a permanent threat, creating a paper trail mountain of cease-and-desist letters in the process--Oodle, the search engine for classifieds, and used-car listings site Carsabi are two others that felt Craigslist's wrath. (Craigslist declined to comment for this story.)
However, PadMapper is the first of these to have possibly sparked real reverse innovation that led Craigslist to add its new feature. It's entirely possible, of course, that Craigslist had been working on a similar feature all along. But considering an early version of Map View was first spotted on Craigslist just a month after it sued PadMapper, it's almost certain that PadMapper if not inspired the creation of Map View, then at least sped up its time to market. Map View still has a few kinks to work out, but it's a promising resource for the site's highly active apartment-hunting community.
Map View also opens up an obvious question: What if Craigslist started integrating maps into other sections of the site? Apartment listings are hardly the only area of Craigslist that could benefit from such a feature. Imagine a fully mapped version of Craigslist that could help you quickly and easily locate a nearby dog walker, or let you see exactly how far you'd have to lug that couch back to your home. It would essentially turn Craigslist into a formidable competitor of young, local-marketplace startups such as Zaarly or Ubokia, neither of which comes close to matching Craigslist's brand power or user base.
As long as Craigslist continues to keep a stronghold on its data against third-party developers, its dilemma moving forward will not be about how to hang onto its community. It will be about whether or not it's going to rise to meet our increasingly geolocation-centric needs.
[Image: Flickr user qnr]