The Craigslist crackdown on usage of its listings data by third parties has had some fairly strong fallout. Some have shut down operations after getting cease & desist orders; some, like 3Taps and PadMapper, are now in court defending themselves on copyright infringement allegations. But here’s news of another taking a third way: Lovely, a site based around a map interface that helps people find apartments, created to aggregate Craigslist and other sources of apartment rental data, is today launching nationwide.
The expansion comes after a successful mini-launch in late 2011 in San Francisco and other select regions, where up to 100,000 people use the service each month.
Blake Pierson, the co-founder of Lovely, likens the service to an Orbitz or a Kayak, because of how it aggregates data from a number of other services. That aggregation list is now 12 sources strong and growing. To that end, it competes against the likes of Trulia and Zillow, he says.
Pierson doesn’t want name the full name of suppliers — “We prefer to keep them confidential so competitors don’t just try to replicate our data acquisition strategy,” he tells me — but a few of the bigger names include Apartments.com and regional brokerage aggregators like VLSHomes in the northeast. This is just the starting point for a wider push into the rentals space, he notes.
But also: that expansion doesn’t mean that Lovely is cutting out Craigslist altogether: it is still sourcing CL data via 3Taps — which also happens to be an investor in Lovely. 3Taps’ API is also the conduit for other data it should be noted. Pierson says that 3Taps currently provides about one-third of all the listings on its site, and that proportion is expected to go down to one-quarter in the next couple of months.
Like other services such as PadMapper, Lovely was borne out of the fact that Craigslist was lacking when it came to useful ways of interacting with the listings.
Lovely creates what it calls a “renter’s resume” letting users contact landlords directly from the site, offering real-time inventory availability, and giving users the option to create email alerts based on specific parameters and locations, including specific streets.
Craigslist, of course, is not standing idly by. It is trying to incorporate some features like maps into its service. “We’d be silly not to consider Craigslist a threat,” says Pierson. “They have a ton of money and a ton of users. You don’t become a product company overnight, however, so we have that on our side.” He also points out that CL has to worry about a dozen different verticals, while Lovely is “laser focused” on rentals. “Finally, we’re obsessed with data and using technology to better understand that data. I’m not sure that’s the business they consider themselves in.” On a more charitable note, he says he’s “glad to see them innovating. Their users deserve it.”
Indeed, while Lovely on the surface is a useful way for finding flats, behind the scenes the company is also something of a big data play: Pierson notes that the company has algorithms to sort through and delete duplicates from different data providers, and it’s also working on a form of visual search as another way of house hunting — “and even to remove photos automatically, like those pesky realtor faces they always put in their ads.”
And a nationwide rollout is more than just turning on the switch to work everywhere, he says. “We’ve taken a very market by market approach to understanding what the data limitations are,” he tells me. “Data issues in NYC and Boston where brokers control the market are very much different than markets like SF where they don’t.”
He says this is not unlike Uber — not just in its ad hoc approach to specific markets but also in how it uses data at the back end to create the best front-end experience it can for consumers. (This is something also highlighted earlier today by HouseTrip, another company looking to leverage data behind the scenes to create what otherwise looks like a simple service for finding places to stay.)
“Ultimately, a rental listing is a collection of facts and attributes, and by pulling from a variety of data sources and having technology to understand and parse through all this data, we can piece together the most accurate listing for our users,” Pierson notes.
Pierson says the current business model for Lovely is a straight, per-lease commission that it has with several of its data providers. But in future, Lovely will also expand to professional services for landlords. It is currently beta testing some of these with landlords in San Francisco and plans to launch them publicly in the next few months, along with other service expansions, including a new mobile app.
To date, Lovely has raised just under $2 million in seed funding from Keith Rabois, Aydin Senkut, Benjamin Ling, Walter Kortschak, 3Taps and others. The plan is to start the Series A process in the next couple of months.