4Chan, founded in 2003 by Chris Poole (better known as “moot”), is one of the few corners of the Web that still celebrate faceless commentary and action. Poole’s commitment to anonymity has helped 4Chan acquire more than 12 million active users; it boasts 600 million page views a month.
The 4Chan discussion boards have given rise to Internet memes that have helped shape popular culture, such as the continuing vogue for abruptly inserting Rick Astley’s 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” into an online video (or live event). Less frivolously, the site was the birthplace of Anonymous, a collective of activist hackers who have targeted Scientology and companies that shunned WikiLeaks for publicizing government and corporate secrets.
When Poole built 4Chan, he did so with the concept of anonymity at its center, seeking to create a place where people have their mistakes forgotten rather than being haunted by everything they’ve ever posted. There is no registration system, and users can post anonymously under whatever pseudonym they choose, even one associated with another user. There is no archive: content uploaded to the site by users disappears as new images and commentary are added.
Poole hopes to apply the lessons he has learned from 4Chan to a recent startup called Canv.as, which will allow users to share and edit images collaboratively using a built-in editor—anonymously, of course. —Nick Bilton