In a keynote address at SXSWi on Sunday, 24-year-old 4chan founder Christopher Poole discussed anonymity and advocated the Internet as a place for people to simply “hang out.”
Poole touched on hot topics like privacy and identity, but presented contrarian views that distanced him from the widely-accepted Facebook social graph and the concept that a user should have one identity and single sign-on for the web.
Poole said 4chan has fostered creativity largely due to anonymity. No registration is required on the message board, which ranges from pornography to the “random” board /b/, which Poole admitted was the “dark part of the Internet… Notorious for its memes, notorious for its exploits.”
4chan, which Poole founded in 2003, has grown from a 20-person chat room into a formidable web presence that sees 12 million visitors a month. The site does not archive content, which Poole says helps keep ideas and collaboration moving very quickly.
Poole compared the collaborative process of 4chan’s memes to the way music is created. “People will seed an idea and have other people take that and manipulate and modify it,” he said.
With lessons learned from 4chan, Poole is now launching Canvas, which has venture capital backing. Poole said message boards have hardly changed in 10 years, adding that he and his team wanted to improve form, functionality and aesthetic with the new site. While users will still be able to post anonymously on Canvas, synching a Facebook profile through Facebook Connect will be required at login.
The discrepancy between his own stance on anonymity and his new site, which uses Facebook’s identity engine, is not lost on Poole. In the keynote, he admitted that better policing would be necessary in order to take the chat room beyond its current state. But, Poole also hopes to retain an environment where users can experiment and collaborate without creative hindrance.
“Anonymity is authenticity,” said Poole. “It allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way.”