It occurred to me recently that I was in serious withdrawal from one of the most entertaining and insane places on the internet. For those of us unwilling to cross the final frontier of 4chan, Craigslist is basically the best website ever. It is the seedy underbelly of your city fully exposed on a free, anonymous, public, interactive online forum, where you can troll around for hours on end reading about all the crazy things being sold, services being offered, roommates wanted, one-night-stand requests and, best of all, the missed connections. It’s sad, twisted and hilarious. But no one uses it here.
Since Craigslist Iceland hit the web under a year ago, the site has gotten a paltry 125 postings—TOTAL. Most of them are in the housing section and none of them are funny. I asked myself, and my friends, “Why is no one using this!?” Well, it turns out that there already is a crazy-ass local classified site. It’s called Barnaland, and it’s kind of a shitstorm.
No Babysitters Allowed
So is it just like Craigslist? No, not exactly. Barnaland (‘Babyland’) was originally started in 2000 by a couple whose infant son fell terribly ill and they turned to the internet for advice and help from other parents. The site quickly gained popularity, being the only of its kind at the time in Iceland, and sprung up a huge message board where families and parents could share advice, experiences and time-honoured gossip. The site also became a marketplace for people looking to buy or sell everything from baby food to recreational fishing gear, to look for employment or a new home.
Since Barnaland is only in Icelandic, I spoke with Hildur Lilliendahl, mother of two and avid user of the site, to find out more. She says it is used primarily by women aged 25-45 from all over the country and from all walks of life. It seems that the message boards, which started off as a well-intentioned and wholesome concept, quickly degenerated into a dumping ground for bored housewives. “One reason is that basically no one monitors the board in real time,” Hildur tells me. “A relatively high number of users have to report a thread before it disappears and that takes a while. So it’s an unmonitored message board updated every few seconds with thousands of women online. You do the math.”
Child’s Play and Tax Evasion
Of course this lack of supervision and moderation generated the time-old tradition of trolling. Some women who logged on in distress to seek genuine advice have found themselves the butt of ridicule. “In 2007 a mortified young mother sought the help of the admittedly nasty population of Barnaland after her teacher mocked her baby for resembling Chucky,” Hildur recalls. “Her signature contained a link to her blog which contained pictures of the baby, and the teacher had been right. Her three year old daughter did resemble Chucky. Quite a lot. So everybody LOLed and ROFL-ed and told the poor girl they agreed with the teacher. Someone was even kind enough to Photoshop the kid’s face onto Chucky’s body and posted it.” This thread has now become a recurring hit on the board with 16.000 hits, getting bumped to the top every time a user gets bored.
Other friendly services have been offered up on the board, such as evading taxes on imported online purchases via mail-laundering them through an Icelandic woman living in Dallas, Texas. “They did this by having items shipped to her house where she would re-wrap and make them look like presents to send back to them,” our expert explains. “Perfectly illegal as it is, it did work for a while. Predictably, she started keeping the items for herself and stopped returning phone calls or emails.” Unable to report this woman to the authorities for helping them circumvent the law, the Barna-ladies absolutely lost their shit, much to the amusement of non-participants like Hildur. A poorly written letter was sent by a user as a joke to the Dallas Police Department, urging them to imprison and impose the death penalty on her. The police did not respond.
There’s A Light in the Darkness
On the other hand, Hildur stresses, there are many positive aspects to the site that shouldn’t be forgotten. Some of the message board threads have been quite touching and cute, such as one that urged users to write a letter to their younger selves, prompting responses such as: “Dear 15 year old me. Please get on the pill and put that retainer back in your mouth. Also: the person you’ll meet in an alley in Akureyri in the summer of 1996 will bring backup, beat the crap out of you and kick you repeatedly in the head. So bring a baseball bat and beat her to the punch.” A great concept for an adolescent advice book, in Hildur’s opinion.
The users of the site also rally together each December to organise donations for families and individuals who are struggling during the holidays, offering up their excess belongings to those in need. “The hardcore users really do step up and support each other when it’s needed,” says Hildur. “When people are troubled and ask for help, even though they are complete beginners and even if they don’t even speak Icelandic, the users of Barnaland help. That’s what we do. In between bitch fights and gossiping.”
Go to www.er.is for your Barnaland fix