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RottenNeighbor.com Lets You Rat Out the Neighbors

Just outside his sealed bedroom window, beyond the chain-link fence that surrounds his next-door neighbor's yard, sit the reasons David Adams says he can't sleep: two bushy-tailed dogs that bark and howl all night.

The Magnolia, Miss., resident plugged up his ears and even took his neighbor to court alleging a noise violation. But the barking went on.

Finally he discovered a Web site seemingly tailor-made for such suburban woes: www.RottenNeighbor.com.

"Nothing seemed to work. I couldn't get any help from the city," Adams said. "So I figured, let's try public humiliation."

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He posted a video of the troublesome pooches on the site, and other users chimed in on his plight. Some offered sympathy and methods of silencing the mutts. Others berated him for blaming the animals.

The site founded last July is part online therapy, part trashy paperback novel.

It singles out neighbors for offenses ranging from shoddy lawn upkeep ("They have garbage all through their yard") to alleged violence ("He has tried to run us down with his push lawnmower").

"It's kind of like watching a train wreck," admits 51-year-old Maegan Polak, of Flossmoor, Ill. "You know you shouldn't be enjoying it, but you are."

Users are invited to post advice on dealing with neighbors who fight and yell, who let their animals defecate on other people's property, who neglect their septic tanks — even those who cook foul-smelling food.

The site shows how neighborhoods are changing, said Polak, a figure skating instructor who visits RottenNeighbor.com occasionally.

"Most people don't go knocking on the doors of future neighborhoods like they used to," she said. "We always knew who was moving in and how many kids they had, all that stuff. People were a little more outgoing. Now they just don't seem to care."

Using Google Maps, the site zooms in on homes of the accused, represented by structures colored red (for the rotten) and green (for the good) that resemble plastic pieces of a Monopoly board game.

Type in Columbus, Ohio, for instance, and the site brings up a bird's-eye view of the city, a patchwork of trees and rooftops.

Click on one of the houses to see comments from agitated residents, like this one from Runaway Bay Drive complaining about a neighbor who "stomps around at all hours of the day."

"He puts his cigarette butts and packages on my patio," the anonymous user writes without posting the address of the man in question. "He also puts his beer cans and spills beer all over my grill."

Most of the postings are anonymous, which is just fine with site co-founder Brant Walker, 27, who came up with the idea when he moved into a new apartment and noticed a rotten smell coming from his neighbor's door.

Walker, a Web site designer from San Diego, said the site averages several hundred thousand hits per day.

He said it is a good resource for people moving to a new neighborhood because it offers a glimpse behind closed doors — "things that a real estate agent won't tell you."

But he admits the site was forced to add a "flag for removal" option after people complained that they were unfairly targeted as bad neighbors. If a post gets flagged a certain number of times, it is now removed.

Polak believes the online chatter sometimes veers out of control, and she once posted a comment suggesting the site hire a moderator. Someone erased her remark.

The relative freedom of anonymity presents dangers, including a lack of accountability, said Mary Madden, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project who studies privacy issues.

"It can embolden some users to post negative or inflammatory comments that may be true. But it can also inspire others who might be trying to sell their house or increase their property value to post positive reviews," Madden said.

Positive comments can also be found, such as the "Best neighbors ever" posting from Medford, Mass.: "Lived next to these guys for years. Top notch neighbors and excellent parents to boot."

But red houses dominate, especially since Walker added a new feature: Posts showing the homes of registered sex offenders.

Site co-founder Thomas Adams — no relation to David Adams — said RottenNeighbor.com is pitching ideas to major networks for a reality show based on the site.

"The goal would be to find a way to reconcile neighbors' differences," Adams said. "We're trying to showcase the beautiful side of what neighbors can be like when they help each other."

Walker said the site has received numerous e-mails from users who asked to have postings removed because they resolved their conflicts, but he declined to cite an example. He said the postings were removed.

Still, the Web site's name suggests it's not marketed toward good Samaritans who are trying to help their neighbors, said Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard Law School professor and author of "The Future of the Internet — And How to Stop It."

"It doesn't seem to me like, in that sense, it's a serious venture," Zittrain said. "It's already, to me, marketing itself as a tabloid venture."

The dogs are still barking on Regan Drive in Magnolia, but David Adams said the whirring of several box fans in his bedroom has helped drown out the noise.

He has not taken the advice of fellow RottenNeighbor.com users who suggested he buy his neighbor a gift certificate for dog training classes or put peanut butter laced with sedatives over the fence.

Adams' neighbor could not be reached for comment. The phone number listed at the home was disconnected, and no other listing could be found.

Adams has contemplated selling his house but acknowledges he would first have to take his complaint off the site.

"If anybody's looking to buy my house, then that would be awful if they check it out," he said.