This video caught my interest because in it Poole talks of the community of 4chan, in which users are anonymous and there is no site ‘memory’ or searchability. He suggests that with the proliferation of social networking sites (remembering he is speaking in 2010), and the persistent identities and lack of privacy that comes with them, the Internet is losing something valuable.
It’s at this point that I have to admit to not really understanding 4chan. Admittedly, I have never spent time there, but it just seems so alien and discombobulating to me. From the site’s FAQ I gather: “content is usually available for only a few hours or days before it is removed”. In some ways, it sounds like an event you don’t really want to go to but can’t miss, in case ‘something goes down’ there. In this sense, could the site be said to have ‘eventedness’? Where would it sit in a diagram charting co-presence and eventedness?
Lister et al. suggest that anonymity allows us to “experiment with other parts of ourselves, take risks or express aspects of self that we find impossible to live out in day-to-day meatspace'” (2009, p. 210), but equally Baym (1998, as cited in Lister et al., 2009, p. 215) reminds us that many online community participants seek to integrate their on and offline lives. 4chan users do not seem to be exceptions despite their anonymity, as demonstrated by the Anonymous Scientology protests, among other events.
Poole’s point about the move towards SNSs, persistent identities and privacy concerns correlates with a point made by Lister et al. (2009, p. 216), about the potential for data tracing to enable network mapping by both researchers and (in what they refer to as a “dark” side of Internet use) corporations. In this vein, it’s interesting to note that 4chan has been reported to be in financial trouble (October 2016 – the daily dot, the guardian, etc), and is now accepting donations, which it apparently hasn’t done since 2005 (see images below). Its economic woes, despite an apparent 27 million unique visitors per month and a million new posts per day (Hathaway, 2016) demonstrates the role of commerce in sustainability online, and just one of the ways the virtual is grounded in the material.
The reason 4chan can’t make any money, of course, is that it is the dark, disgusting underbelly of the Internet. For every LOLcat, there’s a dead cat. For every photo of a cute girl in punky clothes, there’s seven of people with no clothes. It’s content no advertiser would ever put its brand near.
— 4chan (@4chan) October 12, 2016