March 14, 2011 at 6:02 PM ET
Facebook and other Web entities continue to push true identity as the norm, but 4chan founder Chris Poole is still in favor of being anonymous … up to a point, anyway.
As a keynote speaker at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Poole — known by the 4chan handle 'moot' — was also here to promote his new meme-generating venture, Canvas, still in beta testing. Still, the 20-something lamented the Internet of yore, sometimes speaking like a misty-eyed middle-ager.
Losing the ability to be anonymous on the Internet is, "a kind of loss of the innocence of youth," Poole said, crediting 4chan’s culture-infiltrating creativity to anonymity. "You can’t make mistakes," and then leave them behind, like the olds did pre-Facebook. If your mistakes ever made it to the Internet, they’re with you wherever you go.
If you’re unfamiliar with 4chan, you’ve most certainly experienced its influence on Internet culture.
Launched for anime enthusiasts in 2003, 4chan is one of the most popular image-sharing bulletin boards on the Internet, with most of that traffic hitting 4chan’s notorious "random" image board, the /b/ board.
It’s known as "the Internet hate machine," its participants described by one SXSW marketing panel as "racist, homophobic, sexist," yet the /b/board is responsible for countless Internet memes that infiltrated popular culture — Rickrolling, LOLcats and Chocolate Rain to name a few. (It also spawned Anonymous, the collective making headlines for its Internet attacks of a pro-WikiLeaks nature.)
As Poole pointed out, if there’s a Tumblr blog dedicated to it, it most likely started on 4chan.
Identities are not required to post on 4chan, which critics say allows for bad behavior. But no names also allow for creativity, Poole contends.
Unsurprisingly, Poole’s view on privacy differs from that of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He called that out early in his talk, referencing this Zuckerberg quote from David Kirkpatrick’s book "The Facebook Effect": "Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity."
"Anonymity is authenticity; it allows you to share in a completely unfiltered way," Poole countered. "It allows you to play in ways," you might not if people knew who you are.”
Memes such as LOLcats or Rickrolling emerge when someone throws up an image or idea, and countless other community members riff, inspiring a creativity that marketers are still trying to wrap their heads around.
Since 4chan doesn’t maintain profiles or records, only the memes that resonate survive. For every meme that makes it out of 4chan, countless others are offered up, ignored or ridiculed, and quickly forgotten.
Nobody remembers your fails a day, or even an hour later, so you don’t have the burden of failure keeping you from trying again, Poole said.
For all his cheerleading for the unknown Internet experience, Poole did add that his new venture, Canvas, is currently using Facebook Connect, though Facebook profiles are not shared with other Canvas users. The new venture is using Facebook to encourage a level of user interaction far and above what happens on 4chan.
True enough, you’re less likely to act like the obnoxious trolls common on sites such as 4chan if site administrators know who you are.
This was pretty much the closest Poole came to getting into the thorny Internet issue of "accountability," the thing you don't get with anonymity. Accountability is something that doesn't happen on 4chan, where pranks, such as gaming Google to make "Justin Bieber syphyllis" trend, or good deeds, such as finding the woman in England who put that cat in the bin, can't be tracked back to the specific 4chan members who made them happen.
Yeah, Canvas isn't going to be that kind of community.
Poole’s toe-dip into true identity will no doubt disappoint his 4chan followers, but as Poole said, Canvas isn’t 4chan.
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