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Rex Sorgatz

The side-benefit of dating Jewish girls in this silly city: my Words With Friends gameplay has become much better!

feb 18
2009

Macroanonymous Is The New Microfamous

An Interview With The Founder of 4chan

moot A month ago on the eve of ROFLcon, I interviewed the founder of 4chan for a magazine story that never ended up running. He chatted about everything from the techincal complexities of keeping 4chan alive to the anxieties of operating the most controversial site on the internet. By the end of the interview, I was thinking "This kid has seen stuff that would make my eyes burn, but he seems so smart and sweet about it all." (He started the site when he was 15; he just turned 21.) It seemed like insightful stuff that should run somewhere, so here it is....

Like many successful internet phenomena, 4chan is a shockingly simple idea: an online bulletin board where anyone can post pictures.

This simplicity is deceptive.

4chan is actually one of the most robust, complex, annoying, disgusting, illuminating, perverse, fascinating online communities ever created. It is the direct or indirect source for many of the strangest internet memes: RickRolling, LOLcats, Sarah Palin's email hack, Anonymous, Chocolate Rain, and many other minor and major feats of esoterica (i.e., fucked up weird porn). Most of these viral specimens arose from the site's most popular image board, /b/, which can be the source of considerable hand-wringing and fist-clenching for anyone who has dared navigate its murky, anonymous waters.

Scariest moment?

"Probably the first time I was contacted by law enforcement. At the time I was 16 and I was living with my mother. That was shocking."
4chan's founder is a 21-year-old New Yorker named Christopher Poole. Known as "moot" to the site's devotees, Poole is disarmingly well-spoken and pragmatic about what he has created. "It's my belief that the community should dictate its norms, standards, and rules," he says. "I've left /b/ to its own devices, with very little intervention."

Of all the memes spawned from 4chan, is there one you feel most attached to?

At the last ROFLcon [in Cambridge last April], someone asked "Do you like RickRolling?" I said something to the effect of "Screw RickRolling!" Everyone gasped because that was the cool thing at the time.

But now they'd probably agree.

Yeah, once Nancy Pelosi does a RickRolling video with her cat on YouTube, you know it's done.

But then I remembered that my favorite was something called Weegee, and only two people in the crowd were like "Yeah, Weegee!" That's a good sign -- that no one knows what it is.

What is it?

weegee Weegee is just a vectored photo of Luigi from Mario Brothers placed in completely random situations.

Sounds harmless. Does it bother you that most people think of 4chan as only being the most controversial board, /b/?

We have 44 image boards at this point, so in that sense it's a small part of the site. But /b/ accounts for 30 percent of our traffic. That's where the attention is, that's where the headlines are coming from. That's also where a lot of the rowdiness and lawlessness goes on.

What do you think of that lawlessness?

Some of it can be healthy, as long as it remains within certain boundaries.

What boundaries?

Like that we don't actually break that law. Because of the lack of rules, 4chan has fostered an environment where there's a lot of creativity and good things coming out of it. But at the same time, when people go out and do crazy things...

Which kinds of things?

The best example is when Jake Brahm was arrested for posting a bomb hoax. [In October 2006, Brahm was arrested for threatening to blow up multiple NFL stadiums. He was sentenced to six months in prison.] And after that we saw a lot of copycat stuff. People were getting arrested for saying they were going to do the same thing. Law enforcement was coming every week and asking for our help.

When you started the site, did you expect any of that?

Strangest thing you've seen?

"I'd be happy to email you something. I've seen some horrible shit."
Absolutely not. Its popularity has been entirely an accident. I was 15 years old and into anime. I threw up one image board, which was the original /b/. At first it was all anime. As people started posting other things, I added more boards and /b/ remained the random board.

4chan has blown up over the past five years. It's gone from 100 people to 4.75 million per month. And /b/ is pushing 100 million pageviews.

What makes it so big?

At the time, it was very unique. Image boards and anonymous BBS had been big in Japan, but not in the West, where we were used to bulletin boards and blogs. When 4chan started, the format was new. And it was unique because of the anonymity aspect.

What was your scariest moment running the site?

Probably the first time I was contacted by law enforcement. At the time I was 16 and I was living with my mother. That was shocking.

Given your user base, are you worried about your own identity theft?

Yeah, I originally hid behind the moniker because I was 15. It was not appropriate to use my real name at the time. My friends didn't know, my parents didn't know, my educators didn't know. Back then, people didn't appreciate the site so much, but now I can point to good things like LOLcats. Back then, they would have just seen porn.

When did your family find out?

Only when those articles came out last year. I kept it a secret from almost all of my friends and family until 2008. It was five full years of living a double life.

Was your mom shocked?

I don't think anyone was put-off. Four years ago, it was just a porn site. It's matured a lot into something a little more presentable. Now I think they can appreciate it as more than that.

4chan

One of the most interesting things about 4chan is that nothing gets archived. Threads disappear within an hour. It's a contradiction -- 4chan is known for creating memes, yet it's designed for them to die so quickly.

The lack of retention lends itself to having fresh content. The joke is that 4chan post is a repost of a repost of a repost. There was a guy who was downloading every image from /b/. He calculated that 80 percent of what's posted has been posted before. So it's survival of the fittest. Ideas that are carried over to the next day are worth repeating. The things that are genuinely funny get carried over.

The reason we're seen as a meme generation factory is because of the unique qualities of the image board and the lack of retention. On other bulletin boards, threads are archived indefinitely. All the big threads have been around for months or years. But with 4chan, something has to be really good to keep getting posted.

How involved are you with Anonymous?

I'm not involved at all.

What do you think about it?

I think it's interesting. When Scientology tried to make the Tom Cruise video disappear, there was this instant mobilization of thousands of people who banded together overnight. They had plans to stage a worldwide protest. I thought that was pretty incredible. I was fascinated by it.

Are there situations where they go too far?

I would say so. Submitting bomb threats -- stuff like that is going too far. You need to be smart about it. You can't just throw it all away with threats, you have to be proactive and productive.

Because there's no membership policy, it seems like anything can get attributed to being an act of Anonymous.

Yeah, now it's become more of a buzzword for the media. Now anytime something happens, it gets labeled as "an act of international hate group Anonymous."

The future?

"I've been asking myself, what have I learned about the internet, what have I learned about myself?"
That's why I always personally felt that the movement was destined to fail. You've got two types of people: You have the Anonymous members who are genuinely passionate about dismantling Scientology, but then you have the casual hangers-on who are just there to troll. Because you can't filter it and because the membership is open, Anonymous will always be held back by the bottom rung who are pelting Scientology with eggs and bomb threats and these mischievous juvenile acts. They are holding back the people who take it more seriously. For every step forward Anonymous makes, they can go 10 steps back with one negative headline.

You must feel something similar. 4chan has a mixed public image too.

4chan certainly has a stigma.

And Anonymous seemed to emerge out of 4chan.

Yeah, I would say that's definitely the case. Anonymous culture emerged out of image boards. The rules of these communities spawned some of the original thinking behind the group. But once the Scientology protests started, people outside of 4chan joined. At that point it diverged into its own thing.

How much does it cost to run the site?

About $6,000 per month. That's actually not too bad for a site that is all rich media and has 300 million pageviews. I don't have any overhead past that. I don't have any employees. I don't have an office.

Are you making your money back?

Just barely. We're trying to convince advertisers that our community is worth their ad dollars. That's been a really uphill battle because of our content. Advertisers will Google us and see that we're huge, but they'll also see all these threats and hacks. It scares them away. Overcoming that stigma is difficult.

Have you thought about dropping the controversial board?

People have suggested dropping /b/, but that's the life force of the site. I can't do that. It was the first board, and it will be the last board to go.

I imagine you've seen so many strange things doing this site. What's the most demented thing you've seen?

I'd be happy to email you something. [Laughs.] I've seen some horrible shit. I like to think that I've grown as a person, but at the same time I think a little piece of me continues to die every year.

What have you learned from all this?

I'm still trying to figure that out. I need to start thinking about getting a job. I don't have a resume. I've been asking myself, what have I learned about the internet, what have I learned about myself? At this point, I've been unable to articulate that.

66 comments

Great interview. I can't help but feel bad that moot's ownership of the site has placed him $20k in debt as mentioned in his Washington Post profile. He operates a site that literally invents the culture of the Internet and hasn't found a way to cash in yet. On the otherhand, if he can find a way to convince advertisers to buy space around content on /b/, well, he just solved the biggest problem facing all user-generated sites.

posted by Kiyoshi Martinez at 2:31 PM on February 18, 2009

People often use the internet to express aspects of themselves that they're ashamed of in real life, and 4chan seems to be accidentally structured in a way that facilitates that kind of release more than any other website. From the perspective of the "real world", it's like this black hole of shame, but it's actually kind of nice that such a shame-free place exists. It's just kind of sad how much of it rides on one person's back. The fact that he's still pushing that boulder up the hill is admirable.

posted by BradOF at 2:33 PM on February 18, 2009

The unvoiced stream of primitive flotsam comprising the human brain's inner monologue is, perversely, from whence comes our ability to structure our daily lives, and give voice and deed to inventive thinking. (We just throw the rest out.)

4Chan is this weird sort of "best attempt so far" to emulate that process in a collective-exterior way. Accidentally, of course.

Most of it is junk. Most of it is forgotten. But occasionally the right neurons fire and "something replicable replicates". For good or for ill.

posted by Remiel at 2:53 PM on February 18, 2009

>I like to think that I've grown as a person, but at the same time I think a little piece of me continues to die every year.

oh how true.

posted by sage at 3:43 PM on February 18, 2009

Like Kiyoshi stated, it's sad he took such a financial hit to sustain possibly the best amalgamation of genius and insanity on the web. He's literally a martyr. I'm not saying we should worship him or anything but it's essentially true.

posted by JNorm at 3:47 PM on February 18, 2009

MOAR!

posted by Trump at 4:48 PM on February 18, 2009

excellent.

posted by todd at 4:54 PM on February 18, 2009

I see 4chan as being that last stage of the life cycle of a Star, right before it goes supernova...at least in terms of online communities. It will go supernova, or maybe it already did...and now it's a black hole.

posted by taulpaul at 4:57 PM on February 18, 2009

that's great rex, but where's the sauce?!

posted by moneyries at 5:08 PM on February 18, 2009

hey Moot I heard you like mudkipz?

posted by fuckothemonkey at 6:31 PM on February 18, 2009

Wow moot is sure a fag

posted by DSFARGEG at 6:47 PM on February 18, 2009

wat

posted by wat at 6:57 PM on February 18, 2009

moot, its a really great site 4 chan its just he shame you cant make money from it.

posted by anonymous at 7:01 PM on February 18, 2009

11 comments
5 trolls

excellent sauce

people would donate if you asked them to.
seeking pseudo-intellectuals' dollars plox kthxbai (<-i hate that so much that had to use it here)

gl w/ all that poolio

posted by japancakes at 7:03 PM on February 18, 2009

fuck moot that fucking fag

posted by Anon at 7:07 PM on February 18, 2009

hurrr i murr the hurrr

posted by hurrr at 7:12 PM on February 18, 2009

eww! I can't fap to this!

posted by anon at 7:16 PM on February 18, 2009

well moot sounds like a cool guy and i like the fact he hates the "trolls"
and if moot does see this...

come back to us... please

posted by anon (hey what else?) at 7:32 PM on February 18, 2009

So, I hear you leik mudkips

posted by Anon at 7:35 PM on February 18, 2009

tl;dr

posted by affsg at 7:50 PM on February 18, 2009

It's interesting he'd say "I've been asking myself, what have I learned about the internet, what have I learned about myself? At this point, I've been unable to articulate that."

4Chan is basically the biggest and easiest to study psychological profile on humanity. I've learned a lot from 4chan.

And I haven't like one bit of it...

posted by 4chan at 8:11 PM on February 18, 2009

tits or gtfo

posted by balls at 8:33 PM on February 18, 2009

poast moar

posted by Anon at 8:40 PM on February 18, 2009

What hurrr said.

posted by Rachel Sklar at 8:55 PM on February 18, 2009

As much as I love 4chan, I still give the most dire of warnings when people want to go there, 4chan is the asshole of the internet. But in a good way.

posted by Anon at 8:56 PM on February 18, 2009

moot is a cool guy. Does interviews and isn't afraid of anything.

posted by anon at 9:42 PM on February 18, 2009

>>Posted by Anon at 8:56 PM on February 18, 2009

Stileproject was and is the original asshole of the internet. 4chan was just an anime board at that time.

posted by Anon at 9:44 PM on February 18, 2009

I bet on the inside he's raging because those were some stupid questions.

posted by Anon at 9:54 PM on February 18, 2009

wrong chat!!!

posted by chan at 9:58 PM on February 18, 2009

He could sell the site to someone willing to buy for lots and lots of money..but he wont.

posted by Anonymous at 10:00 PM on February 18, 2009

Row row fight teh powah!

posted by Moot at 10:16 PM on February 18, 2009

Hey moot I just want to say it's a honor to meet you. I visit your site everyday.

posted by Anon at 10:18 PM on February 18, 2009

What about Milhouse

posted by Anon at 10:55 PM on February 18, 2009

This interview is of interest to me.

We love you moot... If you asked us for donations, we'd give it to you.

I pay Blizzard NZ$25 a month for my WoW subscription. I spend more time on /b/ poasting in delivery threads than I do playing WoW...

Gold Membership... You should think about it.

posted by Cumdumpster at 11:24 PM on February 18, 2009

moot is a genious by making so much money off a site filled with absolute faggots.

posted by hudi at 11:49 PM on February 18, 2009

That dude is way smarter than I ever would have thought.

He really should toss up some sort of "premium membership." Even if it does essentially nothing but advertise that certain people are paying users, he'd get a couple bucks.

posted by Guffin Mopes at 12:15 AM on February 19, 2009

moot broke the first rule

posted by lawl at 12:42 AM on February 19, 2009

No donate button? No t-shirts. This is basic stuff.

posted by Kut at 12:51 AM on February 19, 2009

WTF no way moot is so incompetent that he loses money on 4chan when he's the only fucking employee we all know you took all the money and ran away to mootxico and now you're trying to throw us off the trail come clean faggot

posted by fag at 1:17 AM on February 19, 2009

Disregard that, I suck cocks.

posted by mo.8pE! to,pui.# 2wV8,# A.imd,n at 1:23 AM on February 19, 2009

moot,

Your lecture tour (what I've heard of it) sounds a very good idea, it'll help you bulid your resume and bring income (lots) for the site. Internet community builders are interested in you, and you should be able sustain yourself without selling ads. Your goals are modest and your support is strong.

Your people will help you but you have to make donating anonymous. I suggest setting up the business somewhere like Aruba.

-a9

posted by anonymous at 2:29 AM on February 19, 2009

<3 thunder

posted by anon at 5:29 AM on February 19, 2009

Thanks for whatever asshole submitted this to stumble. Downvote this bullshit, our newfag quota has already hit max.

posted by anon at 5:55 AM on February 19, 2009

how did this get here I don't even

posted by anonymous at 6:14 AM on February 19, 2009

anon... calm the fuck down. We get it, you don't like moot. Great! Now go to a different site you fukin loser

posted by adam at 12:39 PM on February 19, 2009

HURRRR undo my permaban moot you faggot, I know you're reading this.

70.162.171.110

posted by hungnegro at 2:40 PM on February 19, 2009

Good interview.

posted by anonymous at 2:52 PM on February 19, 2009

wow what a terrible interview. you're a faggot moot

posted by asno'fi at 3:23 PM on February 19, 2009

pretty sweet!

posted by ajm at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2009

i feel that if society were to fall that the internet in some ways would continue on.


picture a post apocalyptic /b/

posted by anon at 6:15 PM on February 19, 2009

Great interview, enjoyed reading this.

posted by CoCo at 6:40 PM on February 19, 2009

I LIEK CHOCOLATE MILK!!!!!!

posted by EFG at 8:33 PM on February 19, 2009

aahahaha... christopher poole
what a bunch of shit xD
lets see.. chris hanson, pools closed, CP.. those are right off the top of my head when i look at that.. no way its real haha

posted by Anonymous at 8:58 PM on February 19, 2009

/b/'s closed due to cancer.

posted by anonymous at 9:42 PM on February 19, 2009

MOAR

posted by anonymous at 11:43 PM on February 19, 2009

/b/ was never any good

posted by anonymous at 10:59 AM on February 20, 2009

Weegee did not originate in 4Chan. It was from LUElinks

posted by Edd at 11:09 AM on February 20, 2009

"Weegee" came from LUElinks, and was created by the user MonkeyInCloset. Why 4chan takes credit for this is beyond me.

posted by LUEshi at 11:13 AM on February 20, 2009

Weegee did not originate in 4Chan. It was from LUElinks

This. We finally have something we create and they still try to take credit. They don't even know about MonkeyInCloset...

posted by out of my mind at 11:14 AM on February 20, 2009

Weegee was created by luelinks. It was made famous by 4chan because we don't exist.

learn your facts

posted by LL at 1:04 PM on February 20, 2009

Curse you, moot - you've destroyed my faith in humanity. I used to think that furries were just a few bizarre pedos, but now I know they're all over. I sit on the metro and wonder if I'm sitting next to one of those weirdos.

posted by Ann On at 5:12 PM on February 20, 2009

Thread needs more Battletoads.

posted by Anonymous at 4:48 PM on February 21, 2009

moot clearly doesn't afraid of anytALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD

posted by anonymilhouse at 9:50 AM on February 22, 2009

/salute

Moot is a great man. he has facilitated, through his own sweat, blood, feces and tears, the birth of an entire culture. and more than that, a place that is nearly as free as free can get. so thank you, Moot. I doubt you'll ever see this, but thank you.

posted by Sox at 4:35 AM on February 23, 2009

420 > 4
fucking 4ailfags

posted by fhfh at 8:41 AM on February 24, 2009

Also, the fact that you have 4chan users THANKING moot has shown how far it has fallen.

posted by fhfh at 8:42 AM on February 24, 2009




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