SXSW Keynote: 4chan’s Chris Poole Discusses Canvas, ‘Fluid Identity’

By Kiran Aditham Comment

One of the more amusing keynotes, and fittingly so, at SXSWi this weekend was Chris “moot” Poole’s dissertation on his meme-happy, image-based BBS knows as 4chan. AT&T’s favorite site has some significant presence during this event, as there is also a conversation this afternoon called Haters Gonna Hate: Lessons for Advertisers from 4chan (so maybe SapientNitro did get its wish after all).

Anyhow, Poole went into great detail discussing his eight-year-old site, including its goal of reimagining what a message board could be, leaving the archives and registration aside for instance. One of his more profound statements: “It’s not the product that’s fascinating but the process in which you arrive at the product.” A fundamental idea behind 4chan is to create what Poole calls “fluid identity,” in which contributing anonymously gives you flexibility–though this is what also gives comment threads (ahem) and 4chan itself notoriety. Poole went on to say that he disputes Mark Zuckerberg’s notion that anonymity equals cowardice, adding that it is “totally wrong” and in his world, it’s “content over creator.” 4chan and its 12 million unique users thrive on what the founder calls an “ephemeral” structure and “creative mutation,” where there’s “riffing” back and forth on a massive scale–usually through something as basic as MS Paint. During the talking points, Poole garnered some chuckles from the audience with a slideshow of popular 4chan memes and images, as well as showing how its users have had fun manipulating things such as the spam-fighting tool recaptcha and playing games like “refrigerator magnet,” which he says reiterates 4chan’s ephemeral message.

After pointing out that 4chan’s peak time is somewhere around 9pm on a Sunday, Poole teased his new beta program called Canvas, which is perhaps the former IRC geek’s attempt at legitimacy. The concept seems simple on paper: build a better place to share, play, collaborate and hang out. Unlike 4chan, though, Poole & Co. are looking to weed out who they deem are “casual trolls” by requiring simple registration through Facebook Connect. By doing this, he hopes that it discourages people from “mucking stuff up.”

There are already more artistic activities taking place in beta on Canvas, including “Finish the Drawing,” but Poole says that he and his staff are being a bit more deliberate and are pacing themselves with the site. Right now, he says using Canvas en mass might “dilute the experience.” According to Poole, the “issue is not scaling, but building a community worth scaling, nurturing…nice and slow.” Perhaps this more nurtured web experience can usher in actual brand advertisers (or advertisers, period), which Poole says have been ruled out because of 4chan’s adult content among other things.