I would be willing to bet a large amount of money that adding a map to search results and letting me put an upper limit on the number of bedrooms I'm looking for would not make people less likely to use Craigslist.
The Dutch version of Craigslist (Marktplaats, owned by eBay) is in a similar predicament.
They have a very sucky UI and have experimented with new and improved versions, but every improvement was quickly reverted after large drops in engagement.
It's almost surreal to look at their site (http://marktplaats.nl) and realize that there's tons of highly talented people behind it.
This is not a recipe for success. It's a symptom of measuring the wrong metric, especially when you have a near monopoly on a market due to network effects. If this is really why Craigslist is not improving their UI, they need to hire some analysts that actually know WTF they're doing.
Craigslist is a utility, not a website. They care about keeping it useful not only for users today, but for users in 10 years. That's not something startups care about at all. Startups are looking to amass users and then sell. Craigslist cares not about such goals.
Go ahead, get mad at their inflexibility. But then take a step back and think about what craigslist represents. And then wonder if you yourself would have the cajones to stick to your guns in todays startup market. I for one commend their ability to keep their product strong in the face of all the bells and whistles of web 2.0 or whatever it's called these days.
I certainly don't confuse the two.
I couldn't care less what Craigslist LOOKS like, but its usability is profoundly broken in some areas (Denver Metro, for example).
The problem is that there's a Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, and Fort Collins Craigslist. For those of you in the Bay Area, that would be roughly like having a distinct San Francisco, San Rafael, San Jose, and Santa Cruz Craigslist. If you're in between those places, which one do you look at? You have to look at more than one. Even if you're IN one of those places, which one do you look at? Sometimes three or four, if it's something you're willing to drive an hour to buy.
And if you're POSTING, where do you post? If you post a popular item to Boulder (because, say, you live in Boulder), then people in the next town over who only know about Denver won't see it, so you also have to post to Denver if you want everyone in a reasonable radius to see your item. Which means you have to violate Craigslist policies AND mess with your listing enough to get past its spam filter.
The sad thing is they've fixed it to the 80% level in the Bay Area, where the whole (extended!) Bay Area (even Santa Cruz, which isn't really Bay Area) is on a single Craigslist site with sub-area filters, but they just leave it broken here.
THIS is a usability problem.
And honestly so is the lack of "map these results," for times when you want to see which ones are closest, or which ones you could stop by on your way to work, or whatever.
It's not because it's not shiny or doesn't have gradients or drop shadows. It's because key features that I want from a classified site are sorely lacking.
The only reason they don't have many competitors is because they have an information/platform monopoly. Just like many other tech companies, ebay and facebook come to mind as obvious examples.
Are you really going to argue that the site is more usable without that very basic feature?
If I am searching for a bike, a simple script to show image thumbnails by every listing will let me see which listings interest me. This saves me time, because now I only have to open a few interesting links. I don't have to scour through many of text links, just to see if they interest me.
The rentals section is constantly bombarded by spam and has very few filtering options. There is no way to exclude keywords. Boolean operators would greatly improve the usability of the site.
The problem is that you have to enter some search query before you can use the negation operator.
Also, protip to get past the spam in rentals section (Austin is holy crap bad about this): enter 'google' as your search term. This will only return ads that have an address specified and hence have the 'google maps' links. Plus, since you've entered a search term, you can filter out the locator who keeps spamming and screwing up your search by putting his phone number in the address section.
Here's a query I might have used during my last apartment search.
google downtown | central -"512-555-5555" -"CALL NOW" -"austin apartments NOW"
Oh good, nobody actually told you how they measured but you already know! Bravo.
I think it's unlikely they used a suboptimal performance indicator to judge the site's new design, and would say the same thing about craigslist.
But if I might inject an opposing data point, nobody seems to use the Brazilian version of Craigslist. Check out Sao Paulo:
Can you believe that there are just 5 apartment listings for a metropolitan area of 19.9 million!
It's incomprehensible to me why Craigslist doesn't work there, especially since all the alternatives involve paying some middleman for listing. The same goes for job sites and "things for sale" sites as well. Brazilians prefer to use some scammy-looking sites loaded with graphics and eye candy and often charging a fee, rather than the vanilla Craigslist.
I'm going to venture a guess that this has much more to do with trust (Brazilians want to feel that someone has vetted the data) than with good/bad UI or web design.
As someone who, on many occasions, has rented in Brazil using classifieds sites, it's a mess. 'We' really, really need a CL-type site that everyone knows and uses. As a Californian, and former user of CL, it boggles my mind why CL-Brazil isn't used. It's there (here), it's usable, simple, and in Portuguese.
Instead, people use OLX (free) a little, Vivastreet (free) a little, EasyQuarto (paid) a little, and a few other sites that are either less popular or only work sometimes. Couchsurfing city-specific groups usually each have a sub-group for renting but a strange occurrence takes place there, almost no one puts the price-point. It's called doing business, paying money for a product or service, yet there's a real aversion to giving up the rental price in one's ad. Luckily, the more popular sites I mentioned make it so one has to list their rental price.
And my final two gripes are that very few people respond to inquiries into any particular ad (I think this is universal though) and a good 60% of ads here in Brazil only want women renters.
It's tough, I tell you...
The (pretty recent) equivalent would be http://leboncoin.fr, I guess.
I've seen padmapper slow wayyyy down on my i7 macbook with 8GB ram, I can't imagine what it'd be like on grandma's 5 year old budget PC.
Each individual search has a low probability of success, but occasionally you'll succeed.
I suppose network effects (and the posting model) make up a large part of their popularity, but there's something to be said for a reliable and functional interface that works well and doesn't change on a whim.
It's constant in hn discourse to put great UI up there and to give advice on it.
Yet if anyone here has sat on a Bloomberg terminal, used Craigslist, or even games like net hack or dwarf fort, it's pretty clear that interface can be damned.
Not in all cases perhaps, agreed. But in these cases, after a while of using it people get faster and develop the muscle memory to become efficient on the site, so the UI fades into the background anyway.
Jared Spool has said that when you change the user interface - fairly dramatically - you frustrate your regular users because they are now unfamiliar with it and have to restart their learning/experience curve.
"At eBay, they learned the hard way that their users don't like dramatic change. One day, the folks at eBay decided they no longer liked the bright yellow background on many of their pages, so they just changed it to a white background.
Instantly, they started receiving emails from customers, bemoaning the change. So many people complained, that they felt forced to change it back."
Honestly thinking about other sites, digg died because of content, reddit survives because of content; even if someone could improve the interface, its not really going to matter.
Google is definitely content over interface (most of the time). Facebook... not so much - millions of people join protest petitions against every minor interface change - but the value of having all your friends together is still so much greater than the alternative of changing service, whereas reddit was a short step away for digg users.
4chan definitely remains popular because of content - canv.as, a similar project by the same owner, has nowhere near the traction despite being more demographically targeted for mass-market appeal.
I think the lesson is, if you have a close-enough competitor and a fickle userbase, one screwup is all it takes to push critical mass over the edge. If i ran a large website i would study the Digg-v4 case very carefully. Going back to Craigslist, i don't think they have to worry too much about losing their top spot just yet.
So when can we expect to see your show HN: Craiglist done right?
Craigslist does not avoid disruption because it has the best product, it avoids disruption because it has a huge marketplace with a lot of buyers and sellers.
I berated Craig over on Quora about this a while back - to say that he doesn't want to break it is bullshit - he is scared and lazy to better the site through even the smallest of updates.
The fact that "this posting has been deleted by its author" and "this post has been flagged for removal" still show up in results is down right infuriating.
Providing simply no way to browse items by picture is also laughable.
The content on CL is what is valuable, and Craig has been rumored to make 25 million per year off the site, and he doesn't want to muck with it because he doesn't want to hurt that income - but while doing so, he is keeping the content locked up in an abhorrent UX.
I'd be the same. Why mess with a goose that's already laying more gold eggs than you can use? For public service reasons maybe, but I'm confident CL is a (highly profitable) business foremost.
People keep building things using Craigslist data that users LOVE and Craigslist keeps shutting them down.
Craigslist is one of the great squandered opportunities for awesomeness on the internet.
I also don't understand why classifieds content is proprietary? Aren't they just facts? Please can someone explain?
Craigslist is unwilling to let Padmapper buy a license to use their content. This isn't as black and white as "stealing content".
Seriously, I think I am the only person who doesn't think it is OK to torrent Game of Thrones. :)
Am I still stealing it?
In craigslist's case, he could include a link on the old site that allows users to upgrade to a more modern version, and have the modern site basically consume an api/scrape the old CL till it gained momentum.
It also sends traffic back to CL. It shows the summary of the listing, and then when the user is interested, they can click through the pin to the actual Craigslist listing.
CL is deliberately making its service less useful both to its paying customers and the public at large. And the sole justification for this is fear that Padmapper could grow to be a bigger, better competitor someday in the distant future.
Leveraging a monopoly to destroy technological progress for fear of future competition is irksome.
It's almost certainly not illegal, and maybe not even morally wrong. But it still sucks.
Yet for all that, I'm moving on July 15th, and I think there's about a 95% chance I'll find the place through CL. That's where the market is.
This is all theorycraft though. If anyone had hard numbers on CL's market share for rentals I'd love to see them!
It's just pure laziness and I'm sure the right talented team could make a product that beats Craig's list