Craigslist has taken another baby step forward to improve the usability of its retro-tastic web interface — adding a photo grid view to certain types of listings that allows site users to visually browse categories so they can quickly scan listings for items of interest.
The new grid view feature (seen below) lets users toggle the view to see a grid of photos, rather than a list of text links. The grid view update was spotted by TC reader Matt Inouye after Craigslist engineer Jeremy Zawodny tweeted about the addition late last month.
Craigslist’s new feature is still a far cry from the hyper slick design of sites like Pinterest but that’s only in keeping with the CL’s utilitarian mission — grid view is evidently about making the process of searching easier, not turning listings into eyecandy:
Craigslist has famously stood firm against the vagaries of online design trends, taking a puritanical view of the ‘Pinterestification’ of the web to remain a minimalist island in a brash and noisy sea of perpetually iterating web services. Minimalist island — or wasteland of hyperlinks (as Wired memorably put it), depending on your perspective.
Site changes are driven by its community of users, according to Craigslist founder, Craig Newmark. Responding a question posed on Quora asking why Craigslist has innovated so little with its product, Newmark said: “We’re a community driven site, and innovate in response to that.” Presumably, then, the CL community has been clamouring for searching on Craigslist to be a bit more (P)interesting.
Grid view is not the only recent usability-focused tweak to Craigslist’s feature set. Earlier this year it started adding a map view to certain sales listings — allowing users to view potential purchases on a map, upping its game in these location-obsessed times. Grid view is another small but telling step for the site, suggesting the spartan online classifieds service is feature-creeping its way forward, usability-adding inch by inch (its map view feature still isn’t being offered outside the U.S. and Canada, as far as I can tell).
But when considering why CL is adding grid view, another c-word is important: not community — but competition. CL has been trying to shrink opportunities for third party services to piggyback on its its data and shift eyeballs elsewhere.
For example, in June last year, it sent a cease-and-desist letter to PadMapper, a third party service that mashed up Craigslist apartment data with Google Maps — subsequently adding its map view feature to make third party offerings less necessary. Other third party developers involved in CL data scraping, including API developer 3Taps, also found themselves on the receiving end of lawyers’ letters last year. By adding its own grid view feature, Craigslist is pulling a good portion of the rug out from under third party visual search services — services which it has been unhappy about for years.
Since 2008, “at least three dozen” CL data scraping services — such as MapsKreig, Craiglook and CraigsFish — have been served with cease-and-desist letters by CL, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “most for building websites that presented Craigslist listings in ways they considered to be more dynamic, visually appealing and helpful”. So the Craigslist competitive modus operandi appears to be ‘litigate first, innovate late’.
Currently grid view only appears to be live in the U.S. and Canadian sections of the site — and is only available for certain categories including ‘housing’ and ‘for sale’. The ‘missed connections’ category under ‘personals’ also includes the feature. Users searching these sections are now offered four buttons to toggle the view between list view (for plain text listings); pic view (for text plus a thumbnail); grid view (for the new photo-heavy view); and map view (to view listing locations plotted on a map).
It’s unclear when or whether Craigslist plans to roll out grid view (or map view) to other geographies. We’ve reached out to the company to ask about its plans and will update this story with any response. The grid view rollout appears to mirror the map view rollout — as if CL views grid view as complementary to map view and sees them forming a new, richer feature-set for site users.