Keynote: Christopher Poole of 4chan

Loose notes from the SXSW 2011 session: Christopher Poole of 4chan

Christopher “moot” Poole is the founder of, a simple image-based bulletin board, which has grown from a niche site targeting anime fans to one of the most influential communities on the ‘Net. With over 12 million unique visitors per month, many popular viral videos, Internet phenomena, and memes get their start on 4chan. In 2010 Poole was a featured speaker at the TED Conference, and he has been profiled by TIME, CNN, The Washington Post, and Technology Review. Recently he started a new project called Canvas, which is working on new and better ways for people to hang out and collaborate online. In addition to 4chan and Canvas, Chris advises Lerer Ventures, a seed stage venture capital fund, and hackNY, a non-profit dedicated to strengthening the New York student hacker scene. He is also a member of the Free Art and Technology Lab.

I seriously questioned the wisdom of the SXSW organizers for giving Poole his own keynote. Yes, 4chan is the origin point for many internet memes. But Poole was not a good speaker, and the site is, in my opinion, a low point of the internet. If our goal is to lower the noise and increase the signal in our lives, then 4chan is the opposite of that – a vast pool of low-quality content that really doesn’t deserve our time or attention. But that’s just me.

Founded 2003 as an image sharing community, mostly for anime/manga sharing. Many memes are born here. /b is the random board. Site is anonymous – no registration, no structural barriers. Site is ephemeral – there is no archive. Posts on the random board fall off within minutes, which leads to a survival of the fittest culture.

12,000,000 uniques / month. Founded 10/2003

To start a topic you need to provide an image. 50 topics on the site, from origami to adult stuff.

phpBB hasn’t evolved in a decade.

Four things learned from 4chan:

1) Fluid identity. This is an age of persistent identity. It used to be that when you move, you could start over – people only knew about you what you told them. That’s no longer true. Because 4chan is anonymous, it restores that “experimentation of youth.” Zuckerberg says anonymity is a form of cowardice, Poole disagrees (I agree with Zuckerberg)

2) Riffing on a massive scale.

3) Creative permutation/riffing.

4) ???

A lot of the memes and media tools built into 4chan are going into Canvas, which some people are calling 4chan 2.0 (but that’s not really the point). Canvas won’t be completely anonymous – they’ll require registration, though you’ll still be able to post anonymously.

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