WASILLA -- All Mike Baker wanted to do was sell some doghouses that his sons and their friends built in his wood shop. The houses were part of a neighborhood program he had started. He posted ads for them on Craigslist, the free Internet classified site.
At first it worked. But pretty soon his ads wouldn't stay posted -- people kept "flagging" them, or reporting them for not fitting into the Craigslist rules, and they would disappear. Sometimes they were gone minutes after he posted them.
Baker got mad, really mad. He ranted and raved on Craigslist about the vile flaggers and even sent notes to their Internet service providers, threatening to sue them. But the self-taught computer geek also decided to get even.
Baker, a stay-at-home father of three, fired up a Web site, www.alaskaslist.com in January meant to be an alternative to Craigslist, where Alaskans can post guns for sale or sell eggs or saddles without having their ads "flagged" or rendered invisible because they don't fit Craigslist rules.
Baker, who lives in Chugiak, said he hopes his site will be the "antithesis of Craigslist." He provides a spot for people to sell guns, or find a breeder for their English Bulldog, both types of ads that Craigslist prohibits. He also lists things like boats and cars and garage sales, the mainstay of classified advertising sites.
Instead of using the Craigslist method of moderation -- relying on volunteers to monitor ads and flag them if they don't fit the rules -- Baker reads each ad himself before posting it. There are no discussion boards, no personal ads, no profanity and most importantly to him no flaggers.
"I want it to be a family site," Baker said.
After launching the site in January, he posted his 2,500th free ad last month and celebrated by getting a business license. The site hit an all-time high of nearly 6,000 page visits one day in late February, according to traffic counts he posted there. Posters can list ads for free, but Baker makes some money by selling a "featured ad" status that bumps paid ads to the top of whatever category they're in.
A lot of the traffic, Baker said, comes from people who are frustrated with Craigslist and want an alternative, including Valley residents who rely on the Craigslist "Farm & Garden" and "Pets" sections to advertise their wares.
Robin Scheff, a mobile dog trainer in Anchorage, said she turned to Alaskaslist after her ads were repeatedly flagged on Craigslist. Scheff posted ads for in-home dog training, but was told her posts didn't belong in "Pets" because they advertised a business.
"Their whole complaint was, 'You make so much money, you should advertise in the Daily News. Get off,' " she said.
CALLS COME IN
After being repeatedly flagged, she stopped posting. Her business dropped by 20 percent. She and her daughter resorted to slipping business cards under people's windshield wipers in hopes of a call back.
When Baker started Alaskaslist, she jumped on it immediately. Scheff said she's not getting the same two-to-three calls per day that she got with Craigslist postings, but she is getting one or two a week from Alaskaslist.
"It's a smaller site, but it's a fantastic site -- I see it as an opportunity," she said. "Craigslist was a fantastic opportunity that's just lost. I can't go back to it."
Other posters who made the switch include several horse owners, people looking to find new homes for their dogs and even one poster who sold a snake there.
Craigslist media representatives did not respond to several requests for comment on this article. Although Craigslist doesn't get specific about how flagging works or why it happens, users across the nation have identified flagging as a problem for the site.
According to its Web site, Craigslist has a "community moderating" system set up to allow the Craigslist community to police itself. People reading ads can flag them for several reasons: the ad is miscategorized, is spam or it seeks to sell prohibited items. Ads that are flagged too many times are removed.
"Our flagging system allows Craigslist users to mark inappropriate postings for speedy removal, while preserving everyone's ability to express themselves freely and in a timely fashion," states a Craigslist help page about flagging.
But some users think the system is flawed. Blogs and message boards are filled with complaints that groups of people with an agenda band together to remove certain kinds of posts. People in the "Pets" section, for example, frequently blame People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals members for removing ads. The activist group lists on its Web site an ongoing campaign opposing Craigslist's "free-to-good-home" ads.
People can even buy software set up to automatically flag ads. In retaliation, frustrated Craigslist users have launched Web sites that offer tips for keeping ads posted, like www.stopabusivecraigslistflag gers.com. And numerous sites like www.alaskaslist.com have cropped up, including www.freeified.com and www.adcrow.com. Both of those sites have pages that cater to Alaska, but their traffic volume is nowhere near the 12 billion monthly page views Craigslist claims.
People who flagged Baker's ads said the ads did not belong in the "pets" category, which shouldn't be used to list items for sale.
But Baker said the ads would get lost if he posted them elsewhere on Craigslist.
Baker is known on the Alaska Craigslist for a huge name-calling war he got into with the people he believes flagged his ads. One particularly venomous rant he posted in the "Community: Pets" section was voted "Best of Craigslist" by Craigslist users. In the Nov. 30 post, available online at adn.com/matsu, he curses at length the people who he says flagged his ads.
"And may all the vengeance that ever was taken since the world began, for open sins, and all the plagues and pestilence that ever fell on man or beast, fall upon you for your openly evil ways," Baker states in his rant.
Baker said he also sent e-mails to Craigslist operators, but got no response.
Baker's new site is not without its own controversy. Some Craigslist devotees believe Baker is now lurking on Craigslist, trying to "flag" ads so more people will be driven to his site.
Baker scoffed at that claim. He said he's working 12 to 13 hours a day just to keep up with site development and ad postings at Alaskaslist. He also maintains three other Web sites and said the work leaves him no time for flagging.
"If I could flag ads, don't you think I would flag off everything bad about me? I've been libeled there to the hilt," Baker said over coffee recently.
Alaskaslist is a business, although Baker said there's not much profit yet. Last month he made enough to cover his $75 server fee, but said he didn't get paid much for his hours.
Find Daily News reporter Rindi White online at www.adn.com/contact/rwhite or call 352-6709.
By RINDI WHITE
Alaska Dispatch Publishing