Over the weekend members of the notorious internet board 4chan shut down the websites of the MPAA and RIAA. New media was sticking it to the olds. Today it was announced that the founder of the influential internet message board 4chan, Christopher “Moot” Poole, would be a keynote speaker at this year’s SXSW interactive.
What’s the big deal? Well, this is the same guy who won Time Magazine’s man of the year in 2009 and turned the rest of the votes into an anagram for a disturbing sexual act. Of course Poole didn’t actually win fair and square. 4chan’s legion of users scammed Time with an automated voting program.
But when it comes to 4chan and its enormous influence, breaking the rules is kind of the point.
Born and raised in NYC, Poole founded 4chan at age 15. He wanted to create a space where he and his friends could talk about anime. He found a Japanese site called 2chan that was based primarily around posting images. The site was different from most American boards in two important ways. There were no barriers to entry like registration or user names. And the 4chan had no archive, or as Poole put it, “No memory.” It created a space with a unique metabolism, even for the web.
Pretty quickly 4chan became a teeming carnival of internet culture, where only child pornography was off limits. It spawned viral memes like LOLcats and went from 20 of Poole’s friends to 12 million unique users a month, mostly men aged 18-34, becoming the second largest message board in the world.
Just because the community backed Poole once doesn’t mean he can command them from on high. “For example, I didn’t know about the Time magazine stunt until it was well under way,” Poole told Nick Bilton in the NYT. “If I asked the community to do this, they would have done everything in their power to make sure that I was at the bottom of that list – that’s just the way they work. I like to leave them to their own devices.”
Poole recently decided to try his hand at business, raising capital for a new startup called Canvas. No word yet on what he’ll talk about at SXSW, but he’s certainly a man who’s journeyed close to the dark heart of the web, even if he never mastered it. In a way, that lack of control is what makes Poole so important. As the recent fiasco at Digg has demonstrated, dealing with a community of powerful users can be an online company’s greatest challenge.
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