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[liberationtech] The Dangers of Users' Relying on Tech Leaders' Good Will

Yosem Companys companys at
Sat Aug 4 11:15:08 PDT 2012

A great example as to why it's dangerous for users to rely on tech leaders'
good will rather than build the right legal frameworks for startups that
will take users' interests into account from the get go.


Craigslist Lurches to Defend its Decrepit

Craigslist, often portrayed as sleeping giant among the Web's most
trafficked sites, has stirred in recent weeks - and it isn't happy.
Everyone's favorite place to hunt down an apartment or unload a musty sofa
hasn't been left in the dust. Rather, it has set up camp there with a
coterie of lawyers and a stubborn streak that punishes the users it claims
to have at heart.

First the online listings king began slinging legal threats at third-party
developers building onto its data. Then it quietly slid out a job posting
looking for UI developers<>.
And now Craigslist hasradically redrafted its terms of
claiming exclusive rights to any content posted on the site. So what the
heck is going on, exactly?

First, a brief history lesson, made all the more brief by the fact that
Craigslist has hardly changed over the past 17 years. Craig Newmark founded
the online listings directory back in 1995. There you have it! Craigslist
is the ninth most visited website in the United States, according to Web
ranking site Alexa <>, and the
only one in the top 10 with a load time classified as “very fast” (.537
seconds) thanks to its skeletal design. In a Web chock full of widgets,
social buttons, popover ads, and other browser confetti, is it such a bad
thing that Craigslist refuses to evolve?
Padmapper's Craigslist Update

Craigslist issued a cease-and-desist order to a small company called
Padmapper <> in June. An
MIT grad named Eric DeMenthon had hacked together a service in 2008 to make
apartment hunting easier for himself and his friends. “A lot of times, we'd
get to the bottom of a listing and see that it was in the wrong place, and
we'd have to give up," he says. "What became Padmapper was to help us sift
through things" by scooping up listings from Craigslist’s considerable
database and draping them over Google Maps.

"I think [Craigslist] is really good for a lot of things. I think they made
a lot of good decisions in terms of finding other stuff, when location is
not the most important thing. By keeping it so simple, they've made it easy
to make it extremely fast - it's one of the fastest sites on the Web,
probably, " DeMenthon says. "It's just a trade-off. But for certain things
like apartments, it's not so good.”

Padmapper is how Craigslist housing listings *should* work. But as it
stands, Craigslist's housing listings are just like its other
painful-to-navigate sections: a bare wall of links with a general location
in parentheses on the index page. if you’re lucky, the listings are
accompanied by images, but you have to click through to see them. There's
no Ajax or Javascript magic - this is the vestigial Web circa 1995.
Padmapper effectively wrestles Craigslist into a time machine, adding the
kind of UI features, like filters and bookmarking, that Web users have come
to expect. In doing so, DeMenthon's service makes Craigslist practical for
millions of users, who are driven back to Craigslist through Padmapper's
geo-search interface.
Padmapper Rises Again, Thanks to 3taps

Padmapper is a high-profile target of Craigslist’s curmudgeonly ire, but it
isn’t the first to suffer such a
Over the years, the creaky classified-ad elder has crushed a number of
would-be innovators<>
to improve on its interface or put its vast trove of data to better, more
user-friendly use. Craigslist claims that its defensive action prevents
third parties from putting a strain on its servers.

After the cease-and-desist, in a June 22 blog post, DeMenthon announced
that he would yank all Craigslist data from Padmapper - and effectively
cripple his own service - until he could cook up a workaround. Then, on
July 9, he announced that Craigslist data would trickle back into
this time powered by 3taps <>, a service that accesses
Craigslist data indirectly through search and therefore dodges Craigslist’s
terms of use.
Craigslist's Radical New Terms of Use

The center of 3taps' loophole is that Craigslist can’t copyright the
details found in an apartment listing, such as the price, location and
specifics of a property. But Craigslist is back on the attack, tweaking its
terms of use<>
head off this strategy at the pass - though it remains to be seen if such
an all-encompassing copyright claim can stand. Now, before posting any
listing, users must agree to the following:

*“Clicking “Continue” confirms that craigslist is the exclusive licensee of
this content, with the exclusive right to enforce copyrights against anyone
copying, republishing, distributing or preparing derivative works without
its consent.”*

3taps founder Greg Kidd stands by his guns in the face of Craigslist’s
parry. “No Terms of Use can ride roughshod over the fact that there is no
copyright in facts,” Kidd says. “Padmapper's use of exchange posting is *not
* infringing use. It is fair use or free use... of public facts."

Kidd finds the implications of Craigslist's claim as disturbing as they are
far-reaching. “We think PadMapper is just one (obviously very visible case)
of a whole class of use case conflicts if this stands,” he says. “As we
read it, a posting retweeted via Twitter is going to be just as problematic
as one through PadMapper.”
The Future of Craigslist: Reading the Tea Leaves

"Innovate or die" is the rule for businesses on the Web - well, for
businesses that aren’t Craigslist. The site has a fierce commitment to what
it describes as an “unusually philanthropic company mission and
philosophy,” but its users pay the price of its resistance to change.
Craigslist provides a free service to people the world over, but if the
site truly had users at heart, it would focus on improving the experience,
not just maintaining a stagnant monopoly. A 2009 profile on Newmark in *
Craigslist as a stubborn thought experiment that "scorns advertising,
refuses investment, ignores design, and does not innovate," in which
the "ambiance of neglect is not a way to extract more profit but the
expression of a worldview." Three years later, that portrayal still

Craigslist may have the sparse, mid-1990s look of a wiki or a forum, but
its attitude is exactly counter to the spirit of the open Web. Just
agreeing to open a dialogue with comparatively microscopic third parties
like Padmapper would be a step forward. As it stands, stonewalling small
developers and flinging legal threats makes it clearer than ever that
Craigslist needs to evolve. The site's intentions might be pure, but
inferring that is getting harder than ever.

Craigslist is tight-lipped when it comes to commenting on its recent legal
action. (The company refused our request for comment.) But a help-wanted
listing for programmers and front-end/UI/UX developers that Craigslist
posted on its own site might offer clues to the company's plans - and maybe
even a glimmer of hope. According to the call out, posted July
the company is seeking new talent to "imagine, design, code, and release
next generation features," "integrate new technologies wherever
appropriate" and - can I hear an amen? - "improve the craigslist user
experience." The effort might be too little, too late, but it sounds like
the Web's best-trafficked separatist community might be ready to lay down
arms and join the 21st century.
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