Partial transcript: Moot on 4chan and why it works as a meme factory
Sadly, TED talks still haven’t Finally, after five months managed to put Christopher Poole aka Moot‘s TED talk online . H for which he had a slot on the TED conference as part of the ‘Provocation Panel‘, but no recording has been published so far. There was one on YouTube, which TED were quick to have deleted, and the one that’s left is almost inaudible. Way to contain the distribution of information, TED!
am still working on just completed the written version of my 4chan article (in German), and to be able to do Moot’s views justice, I transcribed parts of the talk that he gave here in Vienna on Sep 12, 2009. The video of the talk is still available over there on ustream if you want to watch it yourself. If you want to expand (or correct, where applicable) the transcript, please go ahead and build on what I’ve done so far. Here it is:
Transcript of talk, “Meme factory”, by Christopher Poole a.k.a Moot, founder of 4chan, given on Sep 12, 2009, 4pm at the Paraflows 09 Festival and Symposium in Vienna, Austria:
“The demographic is basically young and nerdy, and it’s mostly male, pretty much mostly just … primarily English-speaking countries as it is an English image board, and the interests are kind of again, like, young, male, nerdy interests, anime, games, tech, TV, stuff like that.”
“There’s no barred entry, there’s no registration or anything, not captcha, which is something I think we’re all very used to these days. Pretty much every site on the net now wants a piece of information from you, an email address, a name, an age, something like that, and we don’t require you to submit any of that. It is an emphasis on anonymity. You can actually, you can provide a name, but kind of the culture of the site, the community encourages posting anonymously and so the default name is Anonymous.”
“And there’s no archiving, there’s no retention on the site. The boards are limited to a set number of pages and so, for example if we had a board with ten pages, ten threads a page, you can only have a hundred threads at any given time, so if somebody posts a new thread, at least one thread is being bumped off, so there’s just no retention on the site. Most of the boards only… content only will last on them for hours. On the Random board you can post something and it can fall off within fifteen minutes, which is unlike 99.9 percent of other forums out there where [incomprehensible] threads, they have an infinite memory. You can go back and find something from five years ago and bump it back up. And on 4chan, you don’t have the option of that.”
“And so why are we pro to anonymous, why do we want this anonymous system? With user IDs, discussion tends to become a criticizing game, and the long time users wield unchecked authority, so you got this type of old guard. And my two favorite examples of this, in the US at least, we have two forums, one is Something Awful forums which I was a member of when I started 4chan and one is General Mayhem. And on Something Awful, Something Awful is, I think the forums are at least nine years old now, and so you got these users who have registration dates, so when you post, it has your name and registration date. And these users who registered back in 2001 just are like Gods on the site. If they post anything, they could post something that’s just patently false, and people will gobble it up, because they just bandwagon around these longterm, old users. And on General Mayhem, they do the same thing but with user IDs. It’s kind of like, if you’re a new user and you have a high user ID in the tens of thousands and somebody responds with a lower user ID, you just, you essentially have no say in the discussion, because nobody will pay attention to what you’re saying, because of how long you’ve been with the site. With the anonymous system, you can’t single out users, it’s very honest because obviously if you don’t have a reputation to tarnish, if you don’t have a name that’s linked to what you’re saying, then you can really say what ever you want. And the most important thing about it is because all information is treated equally, you are judged not by who you are, but by what you are saying which is the way it should be.”
“/b/ is responsible for pretty much… Anything that comes out of 4chan that makes it into the public that people become familiar with has come from the Random board. It’s the most notorious board, it has essentially no rules, you can post anything illegal, technically, and it pretty much produces all of the culture that is exported from the site. It alone receives 400,000 posts per day, over that, which is, you know, way more than half of the total number of posts so that’s, it’s you know, really all skewed towards the Random. And pretty much everybody posts anonymously.”
“And so, 4chan has this reputation of being a meme factory. And, so why is that? [Well, I'm describing why the site's] [?] unique.
And so at the time the site was started, it was new and refreshing as compared to kind of the [bbulletin] [?]. What we were used to with forums were very different from this image board format. I don’t know of any other examples of a straight-up image board in [kind of what] [?] outside of Japan as far back as 2003. It’s a large dynamic user base, again, we have 7.3, something around that million people using the site, very large. And when I say dynamic I say, I mean that the site kind of will fall into favor and out of favor. People come and go very rapidly. Somebody will kind of use the site and leave within a few years, they leave within a few months and so just having a lot of kind of fresh people coming in and old people coming out keeps it really lively. One of the problems I think a lot of other forums have where, Something Awful is an example again, they basically have the same people using the site for the past eight years. And when you’ve got the same people on the site who kind of control the discussion you’ve really got kind of the same stuff, there’s no … it’s like there’s no vigor there anymore, there aren’t any new ideas being brought into the community or expressed because you’ve just got the same people talking to one another and they’ve been doing so for almost a decade.
The emphasis on anonymity is a large factor in it because again it allows you to express things that normally you wouldn’t if you had an identity.
The lack of retention is also important because, on a site where you can just bump up all content, the way kind of threads work on 4chan is that if you post something and it’s crap, it’s washed away. The site has no memory and it’s just washed away by all of these new posts. And if it’s a genuinely good idea or something that people identify with then either somebody will save it and repost it and that’s how we get memes, and we’ll get into that in just a second.”
“The users are very young, the nerdy demographic, I describe them as “savvy”, kind of the reason, the metric I use for determining savviness is, our, when you look at the breakdown of what browsers people are using, it’s something like 95% are using alternative browsers, so everybody is using Firefox, and I think that, now, a lot of people are using Firefox, I think my mom is using Firefox, so it’s not kind of the best metric for it. But again, it’s this younger demographic, it’s kids, so they’re savvy, they’re using not only 4chan but tons of communities, tons of forums, in addition to kind of the standard, the Facebook, the Myspace, and [what not?] as well.
“The genesis of a 4chan meme is pretty straight forward. Post something remotely funny, repost ad nauseam, because again, if you don’t repost it, and this is known as meme-forcing on 4chan, if you don’t repost it, nobody will see. So it has to either be remotely funny, where people aren’t going to repost it so you have to do it yourself, or genuinely funny. And, pretty much, get lucky! There’s essentially, it’s a lottery. And kind of if you post something genuinely funny, you kind of skip the repost thing, go straight to three, you still have to get lucky. There’s a timing and a luck factor to producing a meme.”
“Don’t stifle creativity, I’ve learned that when a lot of people start websites, they have a very kind of clear way of how they think people should use their website. And when I started the site, I had no really… idea of what I wanted it to be and I had no thinking on how people should be using it. And so it started with no rules and I didn’t really give the users guidance, I said: Here’s this thing, you can post pictures, you can post text. Have fun. And the site has become what it is today through that. I think if I started with say 40 different boards, and we only started with this one board, the Random board, and so, imagine if I had started with say, ten boards, each having forty different rules per board, nobody would have used the site. That’s just, how can you be creative on a site where you’ve got all these restrictions in place, especially from the outset. And the way that 4chan has grown has been organically, it’s been about, kind of, letting users use the site, and addressing their needs [indecipherable] come along. I haven’t really, I didn’t overbuild the site from the outset because I didn’t know what I wanted it to be and I’ve only ever responded to what the users have kind of demanded over the time or I identified what they, what could benefit them and added it that way.”