4chan founder talks Web entrepreneurship

“When I started 4chan, I had no idea it would become so big,” said 4chan creator Christopher Poole, 22, at a Calhoun Master’s Tea on Friday. “I was just 15 and liked anime.”
“When I started 4chan, I had no idea it would become so big,” said 4chan creator Christopher Poole, 22, at a Calhoun Master’s Tea on Friday. “I was just 15 and liked anime.” Photo by Claudia Martinez.

He may not have flown into Yale in a helicopter as he would have liked, but Christopher Poole — the founder of the popular website 4chan, which allows users to post images for others to see — was still able to draw roughly 100 students to his Calhoun Master’s Tea on Friday.

At the talk, the 22-year-old Poole, known primarily as “moot,” discussed the creation, development and eventual success of 4chan as one of the Internet’s most trafficked imageboards. He said that while 4chan has received negative media attention for racy content and user activities such as cyber bullying and violent threats, the site still remains hugely popular. And though Poole receives no paycheck for running 4chan — he does odd jobs to keep money in his pocket — he said he is committed to offering users a forum where they can post and discuss without being moderated.

The site, based on the Japanese “2chan” imageboard, was born in 2003, straight from the bedroom of a teenage Poole, who now refers to the site’s creation as an “accident.”

“When I started 4chan, I had no idea it would become so big,” he said. “I was just 15 and liked anime.”

Now, the site that was originally intended as a place to discuss Japanese comics attracts 100 million views to its main page each day from people across the world.

“[It’s like] people sit and refresh the page all day, every day,” Poole said.

Perhaps the site’s most distinctive feature, Poole said, is the anonymity it offers its users, allowing anyone to post anything without having to provide personal details. The site has no archive and posts disappear throughout the day, encouraging a competitive environment where only the best material reappears on the site day after day. It is “survival of the fittest,” he said.

There are 48 different topics represented on the site, ranging from Japanese culture to “adult material.” The site’s “Random” board, which is home to the most eclectic material and is responsible for 30 percent of site traffic, does not separate content — there is no distinction between the “cute” and the “gory,” Poole said. This section of the site, he said, upholds the Internet adage: “If it exists, there is porn of it.”

Poole said press attention is not what attracts the 4chan “demographic,” which he said is not composed of people who read the newspaper.

“Back in the day, people actually spoke in full sentences on 4chan,” Poole said. “Now, I dare you to find something more than five words long and with less than one misspelling.”

Still, 4chan has received negative media attention for threats of violence, “cyber bullying” and Internet attacks, Poole said. For example, members of 4chan posted pornographic videos to YouTube in May 2009 and January 2010. Similarly, during the 2008 United States Presidential Elections, vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s Yahoo! Mail account was hacked by a 4chan user attempting to skew the results of the election. Numerous bomb threats have been made on the site as well, including a 9/11 hoax where a 4chan user threatened to blow up his high school in Pflugerville, Texas.

Still, Poole said he refuses to control his users’ posting behavior. He said he thinks the community should “self-moderate,” and that the random dynamic is what keeps the site crazy and interesting.

“People deserve a place to be wrong,” he said.

After Poole spoke, he opened the floor for questions. When asked what his proudest 4chan moment was, he said the site had once saved a cat named Dusty from domestic abuse. After a boy posted a video of himself abusing his cat, 4chan members notified the authorities and found the cat a safe home.

Rachel Fishkis ’13 said she thought Poole was knowledgeable and interesting.

“He definitely knows how to engage an audience,” she said. “He had me hooked.”

Another audience member expressed surprise at Poole’s speaking abilities.

“He didn’t fit in with the mob of less-than-keen people who were present and surprised me with his eloquence and charisma,” said James Benkowski ’13.

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