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Extending Craigslist

In 1996, I had just moved back to San Francisco. I was starting to get deeply into web design, and found myself at Brainwash with a bunch of like minded folks, shooting the breeze about HTML, GIFs, navigation design, and the like. Toward the end of the meeting, one of the people at the table said that we should all get on this great mailing list about what’s happening in San Francisco. It was pretty big — almost 2,000 subscribers — and covered all sorts of events.

That night, I joined Craigslist.

Not long after that, I met Craig (through the NoEnd mailing list), and kept tabs on the evolution of the mailing list. Well, nearly 10 years later, and Craigslist is a force to be reckoned with. Craig himself is everywhere, a symbol of everything from the power of online community to the humanity of a non-greedy entrepreneur to Public Enemy Number One of newspapers’ classified ads.

I unsubscribed from the mailing list long long ago — too many messages to keep up with. Like many, I use the service via its website, when particular needs arise.

As an information architect, Craigslist has always bugged me. A home page crammed with links, sloppy search interfaces for managing information, and little ability to truly empower the user with this information, instead choosing to overwhelm them with data.

As someone watching the develop of information technologies, I’ve wondered why Craigslist hasn’t been better leveraged. Folks utilize the data and APIs of eBay, Amazon, and Google, building whole businesses on them. Or see the amazing tools built on Flickr (Mappr, Spell with Flickr, Flickr Related Tag Browser).

Craigs Google

One thing currently making its way around the Blogosphere is Paul Rademacher’s Google Maps + Craigslist Housing mashup, where you use the former to visualize the latter.

I recently worked on the design of an RSS aggregator (a la Bloglines), and one of the things that becomes clear when you look at such aggregators is that they’re optimized for blog posts and news feeds. But all kinds of stuff is getting RSS-ified, including every single area within Craigslist. If someone designed an aggregator that focused on Craigslist’s feeds, and their particular kind of information presentation, you could have yourself a little business.

I wonder what else you could build on top of craigslist. Clearly, almost everything with an address (garage sale, car sale, etc.) could be mapped like the housing stuff above. Imagine a map showing all the locations of “missed connections” and see if you were there!

Or attach “consumer reviews” to the people offering their services.

Or simply provide a better interface to all this amazing information. Anyway, I think we’re going to increasingly see Craigslist data utilized the same way we’re seeing with Flickr, Amazon, eBay, and Google.

  1. Missed connections is an excellent idea! But so many other things aren’t “location, location, location” like real estate is.

    While it’s nice to know where garage sales are, especially if I want to hit a few in the same morning, it’s unlikely that I’d avoid going to any based solely on where they are.

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