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Craigslist please open up like Twitter

Twitter’s attitude to other companies using their data is a very agnostic one. It can almost be summed up in: If what you are doing increases Twitter adoption, and is not taxing our systems too much, we are fine. They are only a bit over two years old and it is amazing the little cottage industry that sprung up around them that is accessing their data and enhancing the experience.

One early example was Summize a search engine that Twitter acquired and is now part of Twitter.

Yesterday it hit me thinking about how different the world would be if Craigslist had the same attitude to third party hacking.

Yes, there is the famous HousingMaps mashup of rent and real-estate listings with Google maps, but not a lot more. Craigslist doesn’t have an API (that I was able to find), so the mashups are done using screen scraping tools.

I posted my thought on Twitter and Craig Newmark the founder of Craigslist responded:

finnern: @craignewmark Where could we be if Craigslist would be as open as Twitter with APIs and use of data. Way beyond

craignewmark: @finnern maybe, what do you have in mind? anyone in general community

finnern: @craignewmark the beauty of Twitter attitude is: We don’t know all the things that the general community is asking for: Surprise us.
about 6 hours ago from TwitterFox · Reply · View Tweet

I have met Craig a couple of times at events in the Bay Area, but I don’tthink he remembers which I totally understand, he can’t remember all his admirers ;-). He isn’t after the big pot of gold, just look at his Twitter bio: Customer service rep & founder for Craigslist.That is what he is first and foremost a customer service rep. Love it. He has the benefit of the general community in mind and is cautious toprotect the simplicity of his service.

After Craig challenged me to tell him what I have in mind, I did a little research and found ListPic a visual classified browser. Let’s say you want to adopt a dog. If there would be one page to go to, where all these cute pairs of dog eyes lock back at you waiting to be rescued, the adoption rate from animal shelters would shoot through the roof.

Craigslist banned ListPic from using their service citing bandwidth problems, which I am certain there were. Of course it also doesn’t help that 2/3 of the ListPic front page is a monster Google ad. (Twitpic has also intrusive ads running on their service, I am actually using itless because of that. How can one selectively send pictures to Flickr and only these get forwarded to Twitter? As soon as I figured that out I am off Twitpic.) The sad thing regarding ListPic is, that in theQ&A Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster is hinting that they are working on a visual browser too. That was in 2007 and it is still not available. 

What else would be great to see?

  • View into sale statistics including history: Craigslist Index is one solution working in that space. What is the going rate for an iPhone 3g right now: $400. There is room for so much more.
  • What concert, theater tickets are available close to me. Two data points: Close to me regarding venue and close to me regarding pick up of the ticket. Now if you mash thatup with Facebook or Upcoming to show me the ones first that my friends are going to, that would be golden.
  • Matching books for sale with the reviews on Amazon, or any      product with product reviews.

I thought it was funny, that Craig would ask me via Twitter: anyone in general community asking for that?On one hand he is right, to wonder whether this is just the geek echo-chamber wishing for more mashup playground. Is the general public that Craigslist is serving really interested or benefiting? On the other hand, Tom O’Reilly has built his empire on following the alpha geeks,the ones that tinker take things beyond the original boundaries and create something new and interesting. Most of that tinkering leads to nothing and you may even have to ban some that are hogging your bandwidth, but out of the thousands of ideas comes one, like a visual classified browser, that is really beneficial and game changing.

We don’t know what is in the long tale of Craigslist mashups, some may only be useful to a handful of people, but by creating an API with a generous cap on bandwidth whole new applications can blossom and create the oh so needed new jobs and livelihoods for people with ideas.

I also posted this on and am open for a debate whether that is O.K. or not. It is the first time that I am doing it, but it is is interesting enough for both audiences. Thinking about it, we on SCN can learn from Twitter too regarding enabling more third party access to our information. The big stumbling block is often privacy concerns and the privacy of our members comes first. 

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  • hi mark —

    “We don’t know all the things that the general community is asking for: Surprise us. ” — nice point.

    the other key to Twitter is that it started so purposely small — both in idea and in interface — and then the Twitterfolks listened in to all the data collected and evolved based on that.

    is Craigslist potentially too “mature” — even ‘large’ — for that kind of evolution?

    food for thought.

    • Hi Moya,
      Good point. The fascinating thing is, that Craigslist stayed away from things that would drag them down: Pure text, plus some pictures.
      Therefore great raw material to sculp into something new, with a different twist.

      Volume is of course very big, but one can carve out a good niche, that only needs a small percentage of the data. No problem for Craigslist, as long as they keep a cap on the API calls.

      If I where them, I would put the data on a cloud and after you reached the free API call limit, charge for the additional usage. Great way to let the market decide whether there is value or not. (For a change free market capitalism works 😉

      All the best, Mark.

      • what’s for sure — and this conversation underscores — is that craigslist is as strong as ever — even *without* evolving so much.  that’s a nice success story
        • Hi Moya,

          Doug Engelbart once got asked, whether he doesn’t feel good that his invention the mouse is on every office desk now.

          He paused and said: “Not if I think where we could be.”

          That is my sentiment regarding Craigslist too, Mark.

  • Hi Mark,

    your blog is very interesting and it is completly ok to post such a blog on SCN from my point of view.

    Your blog also points to a task for all of us. A lot of material can be found on the SAP community networks how to integrate Web 2.0 applications with SAP and so on. But what is missing is to discuss the real use and business cases for it. As SAP is the data backbone for many companies and organizations we should contribute to the discussion what are the business cases for Web 2.0 applications in the future.

    It is not only the question: How could we make SAP applications cool? The more decisive one is: How could we create value for the customers and how can they create real revenue with a combination of Web 2.0 applications and the SAP plattform.

    It would be great if you could continue to improve our discussions about these questions with your view from the bay area.

    Best regards,

  • Hi SCNers,

    Craig Newmark has responded to this blog post:
    @finnern thanks! will share with team, but remember, top priority is what the general community requests, like better spam fighting.

    Sweet. Let’s cross our fingers, that there will be a Craigslist API accompanied with some simple straight forward Terms of Use. It would be perfect, if folks with ideas then can create a livelihood around it.

    All the best, Mark.