Yesterday, 4chan founder Christopher "moot" Poole announced he was selling the infamous anonymous message board to Hiroyuki Nishimura, the man whose 2channel message board had inspired 4chan's creation. Over the past 12 years, 4chan has fostered many of the central groups and images of web culture, alongside damaging harassment campaigns and pockets of neo-Nazism. We talked with Poole about what he'll do after 4chan, and where the site will go without him.
Russell Brandom: So what's next for you? Is there another startup idea waiting in the wings?
Poole: Honestly, no. I don't really have any plans. A friend of mine has a kind of mantra, "one life change at a time." In his case, it's starting a company, having a kid, or moving. But in my case, ending a 12-year chapter is a pretty big life change, and so I'm trying to take it one step at a time.
I've spent the past 12 to 18 months trying to avoid technology like the plague
Do you think it will be focused on community, along the lines of Drawquest or Canvas?
Honestly, I've spent the past 12 to 18 months trying to avoid technology like the plague. I still had a responsibility to manage 4chan, but I tried to sort of wind down my obligation to everything else and take a breather from the wonderful world of startups and tech. I spent a lot more time outdoors last year and this year and picked up a lot more offline hobbies like bicycling and cooking. As somebody who pretty much spent 12 to 16 hours a day glued to a computer for the past decade, that's where most of my hobbies used to lie; I did try to take a big step back from that.
That said, I think I've kind of reached a point where I've gotten healthy. I've taken that time. And I am looking forward to doing something with computers and the internet. Community has really been bread and butter for the past 10 years so I expect it will be something at least adjacent to it.
Why now? Is it just that you'd lined up a worthy successor?
Yeah, that's really what it comes down to. Hiroyuki Nishimura is truly one of the only people in the world with as much if not more experience managing an online community with millions of members for longer than a decade.
In January, I had announced my retirement, which has been in the works for almost two years. I had begun thinking about that prior to 4chan's 10th birthday, so I had spent the better part of two years announcing that I would be taking that step back. [With Nishimura,] things just fell into place. I almost wish we had been able to drag it out an extra 10 days, because in 10 days is the 12th birthday of 4chan, so that would have been sort of cute to have the announcement on the birthday.
I'm curious whether Gamergate and other community controversies changed the way you look at sites like 4chan. Is this a challenge people will have to deal with from here on out, or is it just one more cycle?
It's hard to say. That's part of what I saw with the tomfoolery days of /b/ which I think were its best days in terms of the creative output of the community [that] later gave way to really legit trolling. And I think you still see elements to this day affecting larger communities like Reddit. Is it an arc in terms of the community or is it a transition in terms of broader youth culture? It's hard to say. Everything changes, and so it will change in the coming years, but it remains to be seen whether this is a phase in communities or whether this is something that's here to stay.
When you hit 10 years, your scale changes
When you first announced you were stepping away from the site, many took it as a response to Gamergate. Is that true? Or was this a long time coming?
It's definitely been a long time coming. My march toward making the site independent really began in late 2012, early 2013, in the run-up to the 10th anniversary. Every year up until 10, I had been thinking one year out. Then when you hit 10 years, your scale changes. You think, shit, if I made [it to] 10, then it's not inconceivable that you might hit 15 or 20. And in my case, I started to really evaluate what needed to change in order to do that.
I will also say that September of last year was exhausting. I won't dispute that. And it wasn't so much Gamergate as it was a lot of different things coming together in a short period of time. You had the Fappening, you had the Emma Watson hoax, you had Gamergate, you had the Ebola-chan thing. It was just so much so quickly. And I think any one of those controversies alone wouldn't have been that bad. But it was just like — wham bam — week after week, it was something new. I was 11 years in at that point and just exhausted. It was an exhausting month.
What effect do you think this will have on 4chan as a community?
4chan has gone through different arcs in its lifetime. I think maybe, with a Japanese owner, it'll go back to its roots. When it started, in the first two or three years, it was very much steeped in Japanese culture and anime and video games and people who were hobbyists with a keen interest of Japan. And that gave way to what we think of as the golden age of the /b/ random board where it became this progenitor, this wellspring of internet culture and memes and whatnot. I don't even know what I would call the third or most recent arc. It's settled into being a broad image-centric discussion site. But I wouldn't be surprised if 4chan goes back to its roots and doubles down on just being very nerdy and some of the activist tinge moves on to communities that are better suited to that.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.