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Tom Green: That's a 4chan thing. These kids on the Internet, they have this group of kids and they like to say funny words like "barrel roll." It's a video game move from "Star Fox." "Star Fox 20"? (Assistant: "Star Fox 64.") Tom Green: Yeah. And they've been dogging me for a year. I got to tell you, it's driving me nuts, actually. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I scream, "4chan!"
Christopher Poole: When I was 15, I found this website called Futaba Channel. And it was a Japanese forum and imageboard. That format of forum, at that time, was not well-known outside of Japan. And so what I did is I took it, I translated it into English, and I stuck it up for my friends to use. Now, six and a half years later, over seven million people are using it, contributing over 700,000 posts per day. And we've gone from one board to 48 boards.
This is what it looks like. So, what's unique about the site is that it's anonymous, and it has no memory. There's no archive, there are no barriers, there's no registration. These things that we're used to with forums don't exist on 4chan. And that's led to this discussion that's completely raw, completely unfiltered. What the site's known for, because it has this environment, is it's fostered the creation of a lot of Internet phenomena, viral videos and whatnot, known as "memes."
Two of the largest memes that have come out of this site some of you might be familiar with are these LOLcats -- just silly pictures of cats with text. And this resonates with millions of people, apparently, because there are tens of thousands of these, and there is a whole blogging empire now dedicated to pictures like these. And Rick Astley's kind of rebirth these past two years ... Rickroll was this bait and switch, really simple, classic bait and switch. Somebody says they're linking to something interesting, and you get an '80s pop song. That's all it was. And it got big enough to the point where there was a float last year at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and Rick Astley pops out, and rickrolls millions of people on television. (Laughter)
There are thousands of memes that come out of the site. There are a handful that have escaped into the mainstream, the ones I've just shown you, but every day, every month, people are producing thousands of these.
So does a site like this have rules? We do; they're the codified rules that I've come up with, which are more-or-less ignored by the community. And so they've come up with their own set of rules, the "Rules of the Internet." And so there are three that I want to show you specifically. Rule one is you don't talk about /b/. Two is you do not talk about /b/. And this one's kind of interesting: "If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions." (Laughter) And I will spare you that slide. I assure you, it is very true.
/b/ is the first board we started with, and it is, in many ways, the beating heart of the website. It is where a third of all the traffic is going. And /b/ is known for, more than anything, not just the memes they've created, but the exploits. And Chris just touched on one of those a second ago, and that was the Time 100 poll. So somebody at Time, at the magazine, thought it would be fun to nominate me for this thing they did last year. And so they placed me on it, and the Internet got wind of it. My community decided they wanted me to win it. I didn't instruct them to do it; they just decided that that's what they wanted. And so, you know, 390 percent approval rating ain't so bad. (Laughter) So they broke that poll. And I ended up on top. I ended up at this really fancy party.
But that's not what's interesting about this. It's that they weren't putting me at the top of this list; they were actually -- it got so sophisticated to the point where they gamed all of the top 21 places to spell "mARBLECAKE. ALSO, THE GAME." (Laughter) The amount of time and effort that went into that is absolutely incredible. And "marble cake" is significant because it is the channel that this group called Anonymous organized. Anonymous is this group of people that protested, very famously, Scientology. The story is, Scientology had this embarrassing video of Tom Cruise. It went up online. They got it taken offline and managed to piss off part of the Internet. And so these people, over 7,000 people, less than one month later, organized in a hundred cities around the globe and -- this is L.A. -- protested the Church of Scientology, and they have continued to do so, now, two full years after the fact. They are still protesting. (Laughter) So we've got this activist group that's this grassroots group that's come out of the site.
And last, I'm going to show you the example, the story of Dusty the cat. Dusty is the name that we've given to this cat. This young man posted a video of him abusing his cat on YouTube. And, you know, this didn't sit well with people, and so there was this outpouring of support for people to do something about this. So what they did is they -- I mean, they put CSI to shame here -- the Internet detectives came out. They matched, they found his MySpace. They took the YouTube video and they mashed everything in the video. Within 24 hours, they had his name, and within 48 hours, he was arrested.
And so, what I think is really intriguing about a community like 4chan is just that it's this open place. As I said, it's raw, it's unfiltered. And sites like it are kind of going the way of the dinosaur right now. They're endangered because we're moving towards social networking. We're moving towards persistent identity. We're moving towards, you know, a lack of privacy, really. We're sacrificing a lot of that, and I think in doing so, moving towards those things, we're losing something valuable.
CA: Well, you never know. Some of them -- we've got people in 75 countries out there watching. Don't tell. But seriously, this issue on anonymity is -- I mean, you made the case there. But anonymity basically allows people to say anything, all the rules gone. You've had to wrestle with issues like child pornography. And I'm just curious whether you sometimes lie awake in the night worrying that you've opened Pandora's box.
CP: Yes and no. I mean, for as much good that kind of comes out of this environment, there is plenty of bad. There are plenty of downsides. But I think that the greater good is being served here by just allowing people -- there are very few places, now, where you can go and not have identity, to be completely anonymous and say whatever you'd like. And saying whatever you like, I think, is powerful. Doing whatever you like is now crossing a line. But I think it's important to have these places. When I get emails, people say, "Thank you for giving me this place, this outlet, where I can come after work and be myself."
CA: But words, saying things, you know, can be constructive; it can be really damaging. And if you cut the link between what is said and any attribution back to you, I mean, surely there are huge risks with that.
CP: Yeah, I posted a thread on Sunday. And within 24 hours, it had over 12,000 responses. And the thing is, I didn't make it into that presentation because I can't read to you anything that they said, more or less. (Laughter) 99 percent of it is just, would have been, you know, bleeped out. But there were some good things that came out of that too. (Laughter) Love and peace were mentioned.
CA: Okay, well. Now, I'm not sure I would have necessarily recommended everyone at TED to go and check it out anyway. Chris, you yourself? I mean, you're a figure of some intrigue. You've got this surprising semi-underground influence, but it's not making you a lot of money, yet. What's the commercial picture here?
CP: The commercial picture is that there really isn't much of one, I guess. The site has adult content on it. I mean, obviously, it's got some very offensive, obscene content on it, just in terms of language alone. And when you've got that, you've pretty much sacrificed any hope of making lots of money.
CP: At first, very kind of pained, awkward conversations. The content is not dinner table conversation in the least. But my parents -- I think part of why they kind of are able to appreciate it is because they don't understand it. (Laughter) CA: And they were probably pleased to see you on top of the Time poll.
CP: That's a good question. As I said, I just went back to school, and I am considering majoring in urban studies and then going on to urban planning, kind of taking whatever I've learned from online communities and trying to adapt that to a physical community.
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The founder of 4chan, a controversial, uncensored online imageboard, describes its subculture, some of the Internet "memes" it has launched, and the incident in which its users managed a very public, precision hack of a mainstream media website. The talk raises questions about the power -- and price -- of anonymity.
Christopher "moot" Poole is founder of 4chan, an online imageboard whose anonymous denizens have spawned the web's most bewildering -- and influential -- subculture. Full bio »