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Craigslist is like few other companies on the internet. A relative senior citizen by age, Craigslist's most unique trait may be that it has managed to succeed and thrive with an interface that hasn't been significantly changed in well over a decade.

On a consumer internet where the only constant is change, Craigslist is a rare example of a company that has managed to stick by a "If it isn't broken, don't fix it" approach to its product and thrive.

But what if Craigslist's product is broken?

Some are suggesting just that following the news that Craigslist has filed a lawsuit against PadMapper, a site that aggregates apartment rental listings from multiple sites, including Craigslist. According to Craigslist's complaint, PadMapper and a company called 3Taps are violating its copyrights and trademarks by "unlawfully and unabashedly mass-harvesting and redistributing postings entrusted by craigslist users to their local craigslist sites."

On the surface, it would appear that Craigslist has a leg to stand on. But many are still upset at the company because they believe Craigslist's offering simply isn't good enough, making services like PadMapper a necessity. One such user, Molly McHugh, says that Craigslist's "interface is an exercise in torture":

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.

She concludes with a suggestion for Craigslist:

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.

Craigslist, of course, is free to do what it wants. That includes ignoring this advice. But if it does that, Craigslist will be ignoring the fact that PadMapper has become popular because enough consumers are apparently finding it to be a preferable way of searching for apartment rentals listed on Craigslist. That, arguably, isn't a smart approach, and it isn't the type of approach you'd expect from a company whose founder still famously handles customer support.

All this serves as a good reminder for all brands: if your product isn't broken, you probably shouldn't fix it. But if you naively come to believe that your product will never break, you're likely to manage it no better than a company that constantly fixes what isn't broken.

Patricio Robles

Published 25 July, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2394 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

Lawrence Ladomery

Lawrence Ladomery, Founder at automatico

"Craigslist, of course, is free to do what it wants."

And that is exactly right.

Craigslist poor UX doesn't justify anyone stealing content.

With Pinterest doing a similar thing, the likes of YouTube continuing to host ripped off videos and a gazillion bloggers re-gurgitating the same ripped off content... have the IP rules changed?

about 4 years ago

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jax

craigslist is actually VERY smart for not changing! think about it - its simple display easy to navigate. there is none of this flashy JUNK and running scripts that do nothing but piss your users/readers off and slow down their computer AND your website!

thats the whole problem with the web. Its become so cluttered with USELESS GARBAGE on every persons website now. Not too mention all the spyware and tracking cookies that these third party ads and scripts give off.

craigslist is smart - very smart. They are laughing at the rest of the web right now

even your website right now look how many third party scripts run on it.

i count at least 9 from my noscript.

i bet half of this website is useless to someone who has javascript turned off and everything blocked with noscript.

there is the webs entire problem in a nutshell.

about 4 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Jax,

When your users complain that they have to turn to external services to make use of your data because your interface is substantially lacking, ignoring them isn't a wise strategic move.

That certainly doesn't mean that Craigslist should throw caution to the wind and build an entirely different user experience, but the idea that it shouldn't ever change in the face of meaningful feedback is, frankly, a foolish notion.

As for third-party JavaScript: the vast majority of the web is useless if you turn JavaScript off. Do some sites use JavaScript more than they should? Of course. But it is absolutely possible to use JavaScript to create a better user experience and do so in a performant manner.

about 4 years ago

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