Christopher Poole – moot

06-01-2013

by: admin

Video conference with Marcell Mars

Marcell: Is anyone here who didn’t hear about 4chan? [no one raises their hands] Fuck yeah! So, my introduction is less than a minute…less than ten seconds because I just finished the introduction. [applause] So, Moot, I never dreamed to be a TV host… yeah, I’m sorry. I’ll just try and break the ice, more for me than for you. Can you tell us what was the moment you realized that 4chan is big and here to stay?

MOOT: I think it was probably, if you go back to when I was in college…2006/2007, when  FOX news ran this segment on Anonymous – and this is I think before the Anonymous we know today – and they called 4chan’s Anonymous as hackers on steroids and posted this hilarious clip where there is a yellow van that exploded…which clearly shows that 4chaners blow up vans in their free time… and that was the first time 4chan appeared on mainstream television. That was a kind of wake up call for us.

Marcell: What was the year?

MOOT: I think it was 2007.

Marcell: So can you tell us how big 4chan was at that moment in like any statistics from people, traffic or anything like that…posts…?

MOOT:  The random board is going on 400 000 000 posts right now, and the site is going on actually a billion posts right now…I think it’s about 800 000 000… and maybe a few million visitors a month. For comparison, the past 30 days in 2012 it’s been probably about 20 000 000 visits, and probably about 650 000 000 pageviews. Back then it might’ve been 50 or 60 million pageviews. So, it’s grown to be much larger in the last five years.

Marcell: Yeah, that’s the network effect. Do you remember how people on 4chan remember that and how they commented on that?

MOOT: They said that it was awesome. We never really cared about anything in the way of PR, I guess. I was little bit worried about attracting negative attention from… say the authorities, but nothing really happened. Actually there is another time when there was this instance of cyber-bullying…last year or the year before. There was this girl Jessy Slaughter, and they did this segment on “Good morning America” which is a popular daytime television show that people watch in America. The 4chaners freaked out because they thought that all of a sudden that “normals” from mainstream America would start to use 4chan because they would see this segment, and that there would be a bunch of 40 year-old women and average Americans using the site. So, they decided they were going to span the site with gore, nude photos and all sorts of things to discourage these people. I actually changed it to a welcome banner and said  “Good Morning America” and put up these fake rules that read “Be kind, be nice to your fellow anons” and stuff like that. They actually stuck with that, which was like a baiting switch. They cleaned up /b/ for an entire day and made 4chan seem super friendly, like open to the public. … And then they basically tricked them to stay, and they did the whole gore and nudity thing.

Marcell: Do you remember any records of grandmothers getting on 4chan?

“I don’t understand why nobody wants to advertise on your site. I mean, we had nude photos when I was growing up and there wasn’t a problem with that.”

MOOT: Grandmothers using 4chan? My grandmother actually browsed 4chan. That’s not a joke. I was driving my car back in 2006/7, and she called me and said “I was on your website yesterday.” And was like what? I had a friend sitting next to me at the passenger seat, and responded “Grandma why are you on 4chan?” My friend just looked at me and went like “what the hell is going on with this conversation?” She actually used the site and poked around. And she found nothing wrong with it. She was saying “I don’t understand why nobody wants to advertise on your site. I mean, we had nude photos when I was growing up and there wasn’t a problem with that.”  This, coming from a 75 year-old woman. So yeah…grandmas on 4chan actually exist.

Marcell: Grandma brought up a big question. You were talking about millions of pageviews and posts, so I’m pretty sure that costs. We’re quite big and then you’re also thinking about the dollars, not just the millions of numbers and statistics. Two years ago, there was a panel at Rufflecon about commercialization of Internet phenomena. You were in the same panel people from “I can haz cheezburger” networks, “Fail blog” and “Know your meme” and others. So they basically got pretty nice millions of dollars. How do you feel when people were starting to surf on that phenomenon and making their millions?

MOOT:  You know, cheezurger started out as just a blog right? It was a guy and a girl in Hawaii who started a blog for cats and now Ben Huh is the CEO of that cheezburger network.  You saw the potential in this cat blog. And this is before there was like a flavor of the day, tumblr blog, texts from Hillary clinton… there’s a tumblr for everything now. So this is 4 years before that all happened. So, he raised 20 million dollars and started a real venture company around commercializing internet memes. And now, I think he raised an additional $20 millions a year or two ago. The thing that really shocks me is that  years ago we all felt like weirdos. Like we were  this niche piece of the market… like we were weird nerds talking about our internet injokes and whatnot. Now those jokes are mainstream culture. Obviously like rickroll and lolcats and other examples of mainstream memes. But meme culture in general… like if I am on Facebook or Twitter in general, my feed and my wall is full of memes. Obviously, now that that’s become a part of mainstream culture there are dollars there and people looking to exploit that. The problem I have with Ben’s model is, and I’ve said this to him two years ago, that I feel like hes an oil tower and all he does is basically profit down these properties online and extract value from the web. Tim O’Reilly from O’Reilly Media has a nice quote from native american culture, which is that they try to create more value from what they capture. And they make a lot of money. But for all the dollars and knowledge and wealth that they extract from that ecosystem they try to return as much of that value as possible. And I feel like most of these, including “I can has Cheezburger”, are doing the opposite – they don’t return any value. Maybe it’s a little bit about attribution. But more or less they don’t actually help the meme or internet culture ecosystem – they’re just making lots of dollars off of it.

Marcell: I could realize on that panel that you care about the community. That’s why the community is still there – moot cares about the community and doesn’t want to sell it. When you were going with your own startup, what were the values that you wanted to save, keep and how did you do that knowing that people will know there is a moot starting his own startup “Canvas”, which would be all about the meme culture? How did you see Canvas different to the I can has cheezburger, and in which ways is it similar to that? That would be my last question and while moot answers that please, please come up with your hands and then you can ask moot whatever you want, because I just ran out of my questions and I’ll retire after this.

MOOT: The decision to do canvas as a venture-backed company was really art and took a lot of thought because, on one hand I had this really wonderful experience running a bootstrapped… well 4chan is barely a company, I mean there’s just me and a volunteer programmer and a bunch of volunteer moderators. It’s never been a company, and never really made much money. Maybe it made a small profit but that gets reinvested into new servers and bandwidth and whatnot. Venture capitalists would probably call it a lifestyle business because the goal of 4chan is not to make money but to provide the best site that I can for free to millions of people. And I think because it started as a hobby I never started it with a business plan, I started it with just throwing something up with 20 friends in a chat room and everything came from there. So I think of it as a hobby. So Canvas is totally different in one sense. I’ve taken money and capital from investors to build it and so obviously they expect a return of their investment and that’s why they gave me money… it’s not free money… there’s always a kind of a catch. I think that you can still have a business that, say venture-backed or makes money, but you can do that in a way that’s socially responsible.We have company principals. We actually have them here, you can’t see them but I’m pointing for no reason, but they’re hanging up in our work are. The #1 thing on that list is “Do good by our users.” It’s similar to Google’s original “Do no evil.” Our users are really important to us and I think that the way we want to  try to make money at some point is not to… basically we want to add value and then at some point extract value from that. Instead of plastering ads and pop-ups everywhere which give the user no value, we’ll actually try to buy the user value and if you choose to… you know, maybe they want to pay for something like that. One example in terms of feature we did that… watermarks are really, really annoying, we hate them, right? And e-bombs like I can haz cheezburger and 9GAG put watermarks on their images because that’s how they get traffic. And so we added this optional footer which is a footer, not a watermark and you know, all of the things that people hate about watermarks are basically, like, it’s kind of being put there without your permission and it’s just not valuable – it’s advertising. What we did in our website footer, is we give credit to the person who uploaded or remixed the image, we get the url, we theme it to be consistent, we skimmed it to look like a footer or a sticker on our website. We tried to solve the main points of attribution and distribution, like providing context around the image and try to drive traffic to that user’s image that they’ve remixed, instead of just slapping our logo on it and being parasitic in a sense. I think there are ways to find balance a business’s interests and actually cultivating and caring about your community.

Marcell: How do you see the whole project so far? Satisfied?
MOOT: One of the other reasons I decided to do a company was that I wanted to learn something new. I wanted to do something real. 4chan is a real thing but it’s not run like a business. I was excited just to be able to hire people and have resources. 4chan very famously, back in 2003/2005, went down all the time because I couldn’t pay the bills and the servers crashing it was just horrible. I kept thinking, if I do this with real backing, I can hire really amazing people to work with and we can get a better user experience. I learned a lot, it’s been a really good experience. The site is not as large as 4chan but it’s very different and we have a large dedicated community. It’s focused more on the remix culture, the idea that people want to co-create and remix images together. Taking a little piece of what makes 4chan really special but doing it as a different destination community.

Marcell: We have some questions from the audience.

AUDIENCE: Hi Moot!

MOOT: Hi, I can see ya’!

AUDIENCE: Yeah, Hi. First of all, I took the mic just so I can tell my friends I asked moot anything and talked to him. This whole time I’ve been thinking which questions could I ask to be interesting. First, I don’t know how interesting it is, how are the new threads or new boards born? Who decides about new boards? That’s one question, and the other is, do you have another project that’s also like 4chan? Do you have any plans other than 4chan?

MOOT: The new boards? It’s always been kind of editorial in the sense that users can’t create new boards, it has to be added by me. Most of them have been born out of a need – basically we just watch a board, say “random”, and at some point watching random (or /b/) people will post a lot of GIFs, animated images. So, we decided to make a GIFs board. Once in the photography board we saw a lot of people posting automobiles and so we decided to add an “auto” board. The trick has been to, especially because we didn’t have many users when we started, to keep people centralized as possible. But then, when one board was overflowing with content that was tangentially related but not quite, like it should be somewhere else, to actually splinter that off. And then we start getting feedback from the users. Every now and then I’ll just post a message and say “Hey, what do you guys want to see?” and I get a thousand emails and mentally tally them up in my head to see what should be added. In terms of project beside 4chan, Canvas is something I’ve been working on in the past year. You know, like a community for remixing images and whatnot. I’m involved with a group called Batlab, hopefully there’s some battings there, but it’s like a technology lab, and it’s open source art and technology stuff and… that’s about it. It’s really just 4chan and Canvas and using what little free time I have to relax.

Marcell: We have another question.

AUDIENCE: Hi, I’m a big fan of yours. You just lost the game! [this is a game played on 4chan] Always wanted to tell you that. [Moot chuckles, audience too]. I have a question: two years ago you were the first one on the Times 100 People poll and 4chan gained the whole poll. Are you ever scared that you opened a Pandora’s box or something like that? That they will use the force that they are to fuck something up?

MOOT: Well they already have, right? [audience laughs] You look at Anonymous now, which is something totally separate, but something that was really born out of an image of pop culture on 4chan and had such a large impact on the world. The seed of that started on 4chan. At what point did I go “wow, 4chan is huge“… I’d say that. It was pretty incredible. An organized effort of hundreds of people to gain that [Time Magazine] poll. I was on that list- the most controversial person – as a proxy to the 4chan community, so by voting me to the top they were essentially voting themselves to the top. And to actually gain with that precision where it’s spelled out also the game which was incredible. There are very, very few communities that have the willpower to do something like that. That was really incredible.

AUDIENCE: OK, I have a very simple question for you moot, do you love ponies? And if you do, can you say it outloud so I can create some original content?

MOOT: I’ve never actually seen that show. It’s incredible how such a harmless children’s show, or animated cartoon,  can be such a divisive… you know, it’s caused such a rift in the 4chan community… you’d think that something like world issues or politics could divide people as much as my little pony has… but, you know. The ponies created almost a civil war between the community.
I’ve never seen the show. I don’t mind them at all, like generally. Sometimes it’s annoying because we gave the pony a place on 4chan – we gave them their own board – which is something that they asked me for, and we said no… and then we kind of said yes. People are persistent about not posting on that board which kind of upsets the rest of the communities. That’s frustrating but otherwise the furry anthropomorphic images were basically the same thing, but eight years ago. Again, people are fans of in their own time and that’s something that doesn’t bother me at all but it’s incredible how something as harmless as a TV show will rile people up.

AUDIENCE: Hi, moot. About the news from last night, CISPA. What are your comments on it, and what it will do to 4chan? And a short second question:  what kind of ice cream do you like?

MOOT: I fucking love ice-cream, that’s a very good question. So I’ll start with ice-cream. I love coffee ice-cream. I hate coffee. I’ve had one cup of coffee in my entire life…by accident. Cause they gave it to me when I asked for tea, and I just said “what the hell?” Anyway, coffee ice-cream is amazing. Ben&Jerry’s also awesome. As far as CISPA goes, I honestly don’t fully understand how it will effect me as a service provider. I’ve only read the abstracts of it where it has to do with information sharing between intelligence agencies and stuff like that. It’s certainly scary. I mean, going back to a talk at CCC, I think that the unfortunate thing is a first in the volley of many. I mean, look ACTA – passed in Europe. There all these horrible legislations on the horizon. I almost feel like it’s, not a waste of time but, almost a waste of energy. This is the first battle of a very, very, long war. We should be strategic about how we go about protesting and whatnot. And it’s such a bummer follow right after people and SOPA. I wonder if the internet community will become too fatigued. Everybody’s either rallied behind SOPA because it’s one of the first pieces of terrible legislation we’ve seen so it’s really easy to gather round and fight it. But we see one bill like this every year, every six months, can you really expect the entire internet to protest with the same amount of energy that it did. Probably not. I think it sucks. I think that it’s unfortunate if we don’t have bureaucrats and people who understand technology in government… if anything we might as well try to cultivate the US party system, something like Fire Party or Green Party that are actually Internet educated members of congress about into all of this they’re talking about, trying to stop these bills.

AUDIENCE: Did you ever think about using the power of so many people concentrated on one place for a greater good or anything of that sort?

MOOT: Somebody asked me this question a few years ago. They walked into a talk, had no idea what 4chan is and said “what if you added GE at the end of it and made it 4change? Would that work?” And I shot him down and said “No.” Clearly he did not know the 4chan community. The irony is that 4chan’s community is amazing, but it’s also very fickle. It’s almost like the movie inception – at any time they think that an idea is being presented to them… going back to the Time 100 poll where they voted me to the top, at no point did I tell them that I wanted to be on that list. The truth is I didn’t know it was happening until days after doing it. But if I had said “Hey guys, there’s this list for influential people. I want you to vote me to the top” they would’ve said “Great, we’re gonna make sure you’re at the bottom of that list.” They hate being told what to do. There’s that kind of a rebellious nature. It’s almost hard to see 4chan as a platform for social good as far as me, or anybody else, directing it. I think the community is open to ideas, especially to ideas that come from within. That’s why it’s almost like an Inception sort of thing where, in order to make them leave and do something, you have to make them think it was their idea, not an idea from an outsider. So, I don’t think it’s impossible but again, if I said “Hey, let’s raise money charity.” They’d probably find ten different ways to do the opposite. So, it’s only tricky.

AUDIENCE: Hey moot. Since you said you don’t want to sell 4chan, would you like to change it for something, like 4peace or something? Like, ok I will give you 4chan and you give me this.

Marcell: To exchange 4chan for something else.

MOOT: I don’t know what I would ever trade it away for. I’m definitely not interested in selling it. I’m 24 years old and 4chan is over 8 years old. So I’ve been working on 4chan for a third of my entire life, and it’s completely defined who I am as a person. So, I think the thought of not having it, in terms of it not existing… when the site goes down people get upset with me. You know “you jerk why aren’t you fixing the site?!” “Site’s down, I don’t know what to do with myself.” And I think to myself “I’m from the same position, I don’t know what I should be doing right now either.” So we have this vested interest. I don’t think I would ever trade it for anything. Yes, if the world overnight would be cured of all ills and be peaceful and all that, and all I had to do was give up 4chan, then, maybe. It’s a pretty hard bargain. It would do a lot of good. But I can’t think of anything tangible, be it money, or object, that I would really trade it for.

AUDIENCE: Do you pay rent or do you still live at your mother’s place

MOOT: When I was 18 I went to college and moved out. And then, the economy exploded in 2008 and so I moved back home. i was back home for a little bit. All of these articles that were written, like Moot lives with his mom in her basement were true at the time. But I’ve been on my own for the past 3.5 or 4 years now. Very, very tiny shoebox apartment in New York, but….it’s mine. Well it’s not mine, I rent it.

AUDIENCE: In 4chan sprit, can you explain in detail the most disgusting thing you have seen on 4chan? [audience laughs, moot moans] And then, second one.:

MOOT: I don’t know what the most disgusting thing on 4chan is. That’s just… my brain can only hold so much. But i think the first time I was ever really truly shocked by an image, and I’m so glad this is the case, was goatse. My preverbial cherry popped out of being grossed out by something. Goatse was the pinnacle of things to be grossed out by. I must’ve been ten or something. Eleven or twelve? But somebody on IM linked me to goatse and I remember just retoiling in my seat, like “OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS” And now… I can look at that shit all day. You could take my eyes open and show me a goatse montage wouldn’t bother me. So maybe that’s more interestng that growing up with 4chan has desnsitized me to anything that’s probably considered offensive for most people. But goatse and topgirl were pretty awesome back then. I wonder what the modern equivalent of goatse is?

Marcell: I would say this would be the last question, or two. I would like to ask later about you coming here next year, so I would rather keep some of the questions for next year. So let’s say two more questions… that’s my proposal.

AUDIENCE: Hi moot. Here’s one question for you. Is CP a problem for admins who are always sleeping or freedom of speech? The Second is the rules number 1 and 2.

MOOT: Rules #1 and 2 I’m breaking right now for being here, unfortunately. It’s actually incredible how those rules even came into being. There’s a codified set of rules that I brought in that nobody pays attention to, and the rules of the Internet that /b/ wrote that are strictly adhered to. Unless you’re breaking them like I am now. So, CP is a problem, and it has been for a very long time. The main thing that separates 4chan from other user generated content sites is that… actually, going back to another FBI story… back in 2006 or 2007 there is this person who posted these bomb threats at NFL stadiums. He was arrested I was subpoenaed and had to go meet with a US attorney, FBI agent, to interview before the trial. At one point they asked me, “why would somebody do this? Why would somebody use 4chan to post a bomb threat?” I just looked at them and said, “why would you yell a choir in an empty theatre? Why would you do something to get a reaction if there’s nobody there?” 4chan represents this incredible bank of users. There’s no registration, anything that prevents uploading a comment, a name, an image, whatever of their choosing. We can’t do anything about that until after the fact it goes up and we see it and then we can deal with it. There aren’t any more similar websites on the internet I think that give you that same level of distribution. Everyone on 4chan is given the same giant microphone with which they can reach tens of thousands of people in seconds. So obviously it’s a problem for CP. Every post goes positioned on page 0. You don’t have to dig around to find it, like on YouTube or Flickr. If somebody breaks the law on Flickr, you’re probably never going to see it, unless they IM you that link. On 4chan, it’s the total difference, everybody sees the same thing, it’s puts everyone on the same level. And so, as far as what we do as admins, we work with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and we report it to law enforcement, because that’s the law, and we comply with the law, and we always have. So, breaking the law on 4chan is a really bad idea. It’s anonymous, but that doesn’t mean that you can get away with breaking the law.
That’s actually another point to talk about. Anonymity, too, is something that’s often misunderstood, as far as the way it exists on the Internet. There’s something like Tor that makes you anonymous in the sense that you can browse sites and your IP address is not online. But 4chan has, from Day 1, always had IP addresses, that’s how our band system works, that’s how our rating limiting works, flood detection and all that stuff. What they offer you is the ability to be anonymous, but on the front end. You’re anonymous, relatively, to the other users, so that allows you to speak in a way that you may not be comfortable speaking with, say, a name or a face next to your post. But that doesn’t make you anonymous with no repercussions for your actions. And so, we have a number of instances where people have been arrested for posting child porn, or in one case, posting a bomb threat -well actually they caught him- that was interesting to see over the years, how there are different levels of anonymity, and how we do half of it, and how something like Tor does the other half of it. That was a very long answer, sorry about that.

Marcell: Next question?

AUDIENCE: Hi, Moot! One question only. Have you ever thought about making a board for dubs and trips only? Dubs and trips threads only.
MOOT: Some people e-mailed me this request recently, so maybe it isn’t as bad an idea as I originally thought. I was thinking of making a thread gamesboard. Dubs are really freaking annoying because they were essentially like spam. But, people used the last post ending for dubs and tricks like games like Risk. The unfortunate casualty of removing them is not only to get rid of really annoying spam, but it would get rid of all these thread games people really enjoyed playing. I’d definitely be open to the idea of adding a board for thread games. The whole point of the board would be to support dubs and trips and create games using the post numbering system and other things like that. And I think it’s actually a good idea and I’d considered it when we removed them months ago but only recently did the people start emailing me about it so maybe it’s a useful idea afterall.

Marcell: Next question

AUDIENCE: Hi. Do you play video games and what’s your favourite one?

MOOT: So I stopped playing video games five or six years ago. I don’t watch any television either. I’m pretty boring if you were able to tell it yourself. I haven’t played games for a really long time but I recently built a PC to play Battlefield and Diablo. Diablo III is coming out soon, and I’ve been really looking forward to it {applause}. Yeah. That was 12 years ago, it basically stole all of middle school away from me. I’m surprised I even graduated. That consumed me. So I’m looking forward to that, you will find me there. Otherwise, I haven’t been playing very many games. I’ve played a game for PlayStation recently, called Journey. It’s in the PlayStation network store, I don’t know if you guys have seen it. And it’s really amazing, it’s beautiful, like 2 hours to play through it. It’s more like an art piece than anything, but it’s just a gorgeous, really touching game. Then FEZ just came around. So, maybe I’ll see you in one of those games.

Marcell: Next question?

AUDIENCE: My girlfriend and I would like to know what you’re doing for the rest of your life.

MOOT: Wait, you just… wait what?

AUDIENCE: OK, at least what are you doing next Friday? Are you free?

MOOT: What do I even do on Friday? It’s like nothing, I sit at home, on the Internet all night!

Marcell: OK, any more questions? Yes? OK, up there. So, I would like to give applause for the woman running with the microphone. She just did like a couple of kilometers here! So yeah, it’s up there.

AUDIENCE: [a man holding a microphone] My boyfriend and I would like to know what are you doing for the next Friday… oh, thank you, cheers guys! And another question, sorry. Thank you guys, but this is very important, so please. Do you prefer Batman over Robin- oh, over Superman? Or perhaps something else? Think twice, please.

MOOT: I think I like Batman more.

AUDIENCE: BATMAN?!

MOOT: Yeah, I think the Christian Bale portrayal in the recent movie is like {deep voice} “just because he talks like this” is… I don’t know. I’m in love with his ridiculous, gruff voice, and, like, jacked physical thing, I don’t know. Superman is… Superman’s OK, but then it’s… Batman’s kind of this ragtag-well not ragtag, but I feel like he came from a- maybe there’s something I can relate to.

Marcell: I would go for this one as the last one from the audience. I’m just taking a lot of power here, so…

MOOT: Oh and also again, if you guys don’t have the opportunity to ask a question, feel free to email me at moot@4chan.org. I actually read my email all the time, and have forever and all.

Marcell: OK, we have time for one more question.

AUDIENCE: What is the thing that came out of 4chan that you are most proud of?

MOOT: I don’t know, honestly. There have been times when I -Anonymous is something that I have never really been involved with personally, I’ve never been to a protest, but I think it’s been really fascinating and incredible to see how thousands upon thousands of people could organize themselves in 30 days, and show up and protest in a hundred different cities across the globe. That’s incredible. I mean, up until that point, I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like that, in terms of the Internet. It’s kind of a mobilizing and totally an ad hoc, leaderless format. I’m not saying I’m part of it. It was fascinating to watch, even though I wasn’t a participant in it. Just to see a community that really cherished Anonymous culture and image board culture, and whatnot could really go and do something like that, become something that transcended just an image board for anime and cat pictures and become a real political movement, and separate and graduate from its upbringing and become something else. It’s pretty fascinating.

Marcell: I will try to end this up, so… Peter told you, he’s a great ambassador of this conference, that it’s a great atmosphere here, and I think that I was little bit worried because I had this responsibility, but I think that this audience has proved that it can work in a fortunate way, it can work even in this kind of a strange set up, we can have a great discussion. Yeah, I’m just blackmailing you for promising to come next year here, and see if you can do this next year in person?

MOOT: Absolutely!

Marcell: So, let’s have a big applause okay yes… {applause} I’m asking you to press that button, “stop”, otherwise I will be responsible for this. You do this.

MOOT: All right, thanks everybody, it’s great! See you all next year, and feel free to send me an e-mail! And thanks Marcel! Bye!