As I mentioned on Twitter a while back, I got a cease and desist request from craigslist a couple of weeks ago for Mapskrieg (my craigslist + Google Maps mashup for web and iOS). This request came at a pretty bad time (right before I was to move from Chicago to Ann Arbor). I quickly agreed to it and removed the app (I didn’t really have time or money to fight a lawsuit). I also added a passive-aggressive note on mapskrieg.com that you can still read if you’d like. I contacted a reporter at PandoDaily since I had seen a few other tweets about C&Ds from craigslist. He proceeded to write a pretty badly researched article (he originally was going to post that I made housingmaps.com) that got very little attention.
Fast forward to Friday and I got a tweet that Mapskrieg’s competitor, Padmapper, also got a C&D. The internet erupts in anger and I realize that I forgot to write a eulogy for Mapskrieg! While I won’t get too deep into the politics of the current situation (I kinda think it’s like complaining about getting a speeding ticket after successfully speeding for 5 years without being caught), I will write a bit about Mapskrieg since it’s kind of a nostalgic topic for me.
The success of Mapskrieg was largely an accident. It wasn’t born out of a desire to build a business or anything like that. I built it because 1) I had just been rejected for a job at Google and wanted to prove to them that I was a false negative and 2) I accepted an offer to go to Michigan for my Master’s degree and I needed to find a place to live. Mapskrieg killed two birds with one stone.
While I had intended for Mapskrieg to simply show me apartment listings in Ann Arbor (something that housingmaps.com didn’t and still doesn’t do), I found that the scraper I wrote could just as easily apply to any of the other craigslist areas in the US and Canada. I decided to go large scale and slap some Google Adsense ads on there to help pay for the server. I sent a message to Mashable and they were nice enough to do a writeup of the service. This led to other stories from Lifehacker and other cool blogs. Apparently this bootstrapped Mapskrieg to the point where it had enough Google juice to show up in a lot of search engine results pages. I learned quite a lot about SEO and advertising from running Mapskrieg as a result. I won’t go too far in detail about how much it ended up making, but at one point it made enough to pay for my rent, which was pretty sweet.
During grad school, I was too busy to add any improvements to Mapskrieg. After my first semester I realized that the page loads were getting slower and slower. Mapskrieg was slowly losing visitors. This was because I foolishly kept all listings in the database and pretty much never cleaned up or deleted old ones. The database got to millions and millions of rows or something equally ridiculous. I wrote a script that automated the process of pruning listings. Aside from a few random modifications (including porting Mapskrieg to Google App Engine, then reverting it), that was the last update I made to Mapskrieg. While Mapskrieg started to show its age (using technology from 2007 that I wrote when I was a noob), a new competitor came along that made it even more crappy looking: Padmapper.
(This is starting to sound like some kind of History Channel documentary).
While I could’ve attempted to go head on with Padmapper, I was instead having fun doing other projects like Troubadour Mobile and working at random places like Microsoft and Threadless. Mapskrieg was a really good source of passive income but I always figured that craigslist would contact me to have it taken down some day. I didn’t really want to put a lot of work into something that I had a feeling would eventually be sued. My hunch was correct as I got that cease and desist request last May.
I’m sad to see craigslist taking this kind of action against Mapskrieg, Padmapper and other sites, but I can’t say it’s too surprising. Probably the most surprising part is how long it took them to actually do it. I don’t think these sites ever operated in some kind of legal gray area; they had always been violating terms. My personal defense is that Mapskrieg was always a search engine. If craigslist wants to order Mapskrieg to cease and desist, they should also order Google to do the same. Actually, maybe Google should take the initiative and remove craigslist from their search index preemptively.
Mapskrieg holds a special place in my heart, partly because it was the one my biggest successes (so far). Also partly because the name is ridiculous. I have a feeling that putting Mapskrieg on my resume opened up doors that would’ve been closed to me otherwise. Mapskrieg did what it was supposed to do and never really evolved, but I never expected it to. If we can find a way to remember Mapskrieg in our hearts, then it will never truly be dead (plus I have a backup of it somewhere on another server).
Mapskrieg: rest in peace.
Born: May 6th, 2007.
Died: May 21st, 2012.
(P.S. If you’re interested in reading about how I made Mapskrieg, read this series of blog posts. It’s kind of an interesting look into the work ethic of 5-years-ago Hung):