PadMapper

History
In the summer of 2008, Eric DeMenthon was struggling with a challenge that many of us are quite familiar with--trying to find an apartment in New York City. The painful experience of clicking through thousands of Craigslist ads inspired him to create the site PadMapper, which has the tag line “Making Apartment Hunting Suck Less.” He admitted to ValleyLoop last month that he was inspired by Paul Rademacher’s HousingMaps, but that its lack of listings didn’t help him and left room for something new.

Description
The web-based application (also available on the iPhone) maps apartment rental listings from Craigslist, Apartments.com, ForRent, and “Others” on GoogleMaps. The listings can then be filtered by multiple variables including price, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, price per room, age of listings, keywords, if the listings have pictures, if the landloard allow cats, if the listing has an accurate location, plus others.

The great part of the application is its simplicity. It is only taking advantage of existing databases and making them relational. DeMenthon has been slowly adding more and more layers to his map using services from other websites. In addition to using Craigslist and the like for listings, PadMapper uses Zillow for neighborhood names and Google Street View to give the user an on-the-ground look. Under “Super-Secret Advanced Features”, the user can also add a commute time overlay (which DeMenthon admits to be only sometimes accurate), a SpotCrime overlay to show the density of crime occurrences (which is only available in a few cities), Yelp-reviewed businesses, and a walkability rating powered by Walk Score based on the proximity to various amenities.

Critique
In general I really like PadMapper and I wish I had known about it the last time I was apartment hunting since text databases like Craigslist can be hard to navigate. Additionally, the exact locations combined with the neighborhood overlay would be very useful to people who are new to a city and counteracts the embellishments of real estate agents. No more guessing. (“That doesn’t look like it’s in Willamsburg...”)

The user interface is intuitive and the there is practically no learning curve. A user can just jump right in and start searching. For this reason, even though GoogleMaps is an easy default, I think that using a familiar basemap worked in DeMenthon’s favor. Users can quickly see both roads and transit stops near a listing in a way they are used to seeing them.

I also like the clarity of the filter box. It’s also slightly transparent and can be maximized or minimized making the most important part of the tool--the map--easy to see.

The best part about PadMapper is the wealth of information you can see at a glance. When you click on a marker it tells you the price, the price compared to the median cost of a similar apartment in that area, if there’s a broker fee, and the age of the listing. Then you just need to click on the other tabs of the bubble to get the walk score and see the street view. It also makes it clear that other databases could easily be added. I remember seeing a database on bed bug infestations recently that would be useful for apartment hunters.

There are a couple problems with relying on other databases.  I also don’t know if he harvests the data or if he calls upon the external services, but I would expect the information to be up to date. According to the Yelp “Bars” filter, there is only one bar in my neighborhood. That might have been true a few years ago, but several have opened and are definitely reviewed on Yelp. Taking information from other databases also means that you rely on their sources. Most of the information on the site is clearly sourced, but I couldn’t find any information about where these statistics were coming from for the SpotCrime layer. Additionally, some of these databases don’t work for every city. For instance, the SpotCrime layer isn’t available in New York. One more problem is that you might end up linking to dead links--a frequent problem with Craigslist.

Another issue  I have with the application is that it limits listings to about 100 listings on the screen at a time. I realize it would be too much to expect the server to return all the of the listings when I’m looking at all of New York City, but it would be nice if I had a better idea of the density of the listings in a certain area without having to zoom all the way in.

I would also like it if there was more visual difference between the listing markers. The listing mapping site hobbmap.org color codes the markers by price range and makes the older listings more transparent. I think PadMapper would benefit from a similar system.

Application
I’ve become spoiled. I want everything to be mapped. I would like to take concept of mapping text databases to show how safe neighborhoods are (or aren't) by using local police blotters to map crimes. I frequently read the “week in crime” round-up on The New York Times' Clinton Hill-Fort Greene blog. It would be pretty simple to make a program that would map the locations, but you would want to encourage your sources to included specific locations. I would also make sure the keep the source of the information clear and make the data filterable in the the style of PadMapper but would add in the color-coding system of hobbmap.org.

prototype map