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.