Versatile online service coming to Anchorage

Posted: Monday, August 23, 2004

ANCHORAGE - Fifteen years ago, nobody could have dreamed up the social addictions the Internet has spawned.

You couldn't Google your new crush to conduct secret background checks. Nobody sweated over how to cleverly word a Friendster testimonial.

The cheap thrills of instant messaging did not threaten productivity in cubicles from coast to coast.

In the Lower 48 another monkey - - has jumped on the back of Internet users. With more than a billion hits a month, this community bulletin board has evolved from a local online resource in the San Francisco Bay area to a lifestyle service running in 45 cities and three countries.

Recently, eBay announced that it purchased a 25 percent stake in the company.

Soon, Craigslist will feature Anchorage. New residents from Outside already familiar with this service say Alaska's mobile population needs it.

Alaska has a higher rate of migration than any state except the District of Columbia, according to the Alaska Department of Labor and Resource Development. Only 38.1 percent of Alaska's residents were born here, and in 2002, nearly 20 percent of the work force did not live in state.

To top it off, Alaskans have the computer habit. Between 66 and 71 percent of the population uses the Internet, higher than any other state, according to a 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Brandie Theisen, an Anchorage resident, first heard about it from a friend of a friend who was visiting Alaska from San Francisco.

"She started talking about this guy she met on Craigslist, and I was like, 'What are you talking about?"' says Theisen.

"She said, 'Every job I've had, I found through Craigslist. Every apartment I've had, I found through Craigslist.' A lot of the guys she's dated she found through Craigslist."

"Craigslist is kind of the Fred Meyer of the Internet community, but free and without the advertisements," says Gretchen Drew, a resident of Juneau who used the site while living in Washington. "You can find a job, a house, a car and a lover in one stop."

Though Anchorage has been listed as a "speculative" city alongside "active" cities with Craigslist, the state's small population gives it a lower priority than denser cities like Las Vegas and Baltimore, two recent additions. But Drew, Theisen and other members of a small but loud Alaska faction have been clamoring for the classified-ad service to head north.

As a result, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster confirm it will launch in Alaska before the end of this year.

"Bigger tends to be better," says Buckmaster. "In the case of Anchorage, Anchorage is the largest urban area in a vast state. We've gotten a lot of requests, and people that have contacted us feel that it would be very useful."

The site is a forum for trading goods and services. On the Los Angeles Craigslist, somebody wants to trade a bassoon for an aquarium lighting system. In Tampa Bay, somebody is trying to find a home for "Grumpy Old cat," loyal only to the hand that feeds him.

"We have so little to choose from up here," says Suzie Phelps, who moved to Anchorage from upstate New York five years ago. "I don't expect much more out of it, given it's Alaska. But it sucks so much to be charged shipping."

Phelps does most of her shopping online, and though she says she uses services like eBay "constantly," she'd prefer to do her person-to-person business in town.

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