Craigslist: blocking a leech, or a feature?

An interesting development at craigslist — in light of the debate that Tony “Deep Jive Interests” Hung and I have been having over the value of the site, and whether Craig and CEO Jim Buckmaster are making the most of the service — is a move by Craig to block a photo service called Listpic, which has apparently been piggybacking on craigslist by adding an easy way to seach images on the classified site. Some users have said that the service got them to use craigslist a lot more than they would have otherwise.

snipshot_e41jf568ktcc.jpgThere is a discussion of the blockage on craigslist itself (naturally), which includes a response from Craig himself (there’s another one here). Jim Buckmaster, the CEO — who was a keynote at mesh last week — also responded in an interview with Download Squad. He says that there were several issues with what Listpic was doing, including “mass harvesting of content for re-display,” and that each page from listpic “was consuming at least 20x more craigslist server resources than the same page would if it were efficiently implemented in-house.” He also says that he didn’t contact the site prior to the blockage because there was no way it could offer the same service and comply with craigslist’s terms of use, “so there wasn’t a lot to talk about, other than ‘please stop.’”

I’m probably not the only one that sees this as similar in many ways to the way that MySpace blocked Photobucket for embedding video — in part because of ad-related concerns (Listpic was carrying ads next to the content from craigslist). Photobucket saw a huge amount of its traffic disappear as a result of the move, and likely saw its market value decline as well (it was looking to be acquired at the time) and the company was ultimately bought by MySpace.

There are some harsh comments on the craigslist forum about the service (at least one criticizes Craig and the company for a “holier-than-thou” attitude), and it’s obvious that people really liked Listpic. In his comment, Craig says he likes the idea of image-based browsing, and Buckmaster says craigslist is looking at providing an image-based interface to its ads.

Will they find a way to work with Listpic or just create their own? Listpic founder Ryan Sit says that he wasn’t aware the bandwidth issue would be a big problem, and that he would be happy to host the images and work with craigslist on co-operating. But is leeching a site’s images and hosting the best way to start such a relationship? Probably not. There’s some good discussion in the comments at Consumerist.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.