Started both around the same time, some 6+ years ago, two social networks emerged on the scene that couldn't be any more different than each other. One devised in a Harvard dorm room, the other in the basement of his parent's basement. One definitively the most popular social network in the land, scaling to 450+ million, while the other barely known outside of geeky circles, only gets 7 million unique visitors a month. While Facebook's Open Graph wants to relinquish privacy, 4chan strives for anonymity.
Christopher 'moot' PooleDescribed by CNN as "one of ten most fascinating people you've never heard of," 4chan founder Christoper Poole aka "moot" has built a reclusive online empire in one of the seedier, darkest corners of the Internet. Anything you've ever heard about Chatroulette pales in comparison to what exists on Poole's social network.
Of recent date, the site's "Anonymous" community and culture has provoked a lot of media attention. While, Gawker.com claimed that "reading "/b/," one of the site's most notorious forum boards would "melt your brain," The Guardian summarized the 4chan community as "lunatic, juvenile…brilliant, ridiculous and alarming."
For anyone that remembers "The Well," or what some still refer to as the "primordial ooze" where the online community movement was born and whereFutaba Channel the term 'virtual community' was first coined, I think Poole owes as much to that influence as he does to the Japanese imageboard "Futaba Channel" that he references as 4chan's antecedent. Of course, since Poole is only 22 years old and "The Well" has been around since 1985, the influence might have seeped into his awareness through online osmosis versus ever actually experiencing the real thing.
In Poole's own words, he defines his site as "a hotbed of feeds and viral activity," and as a community based on anonymity regarding "what one is saying versus who is saying it."
What I find most unique about the site - in light of Facebook's challenges with privacy today - is the foundation upon which 4chan is built. By being anonymous, Poole has made sure his site retains no memory, no archives, no registration or barriers to entry. The conversation in Poole's own words is "raw and unfiltered," and at times pornographic.
Unfortunately, Poole also sees his site becoming an endangered species, going by the way of the dinosaur - as the power of Facebook's critical 'user-base' mass moves the needle more and more towards transparency, submerging honesty and clarity expression below the depths of candid discourse.
Are there dangers in the unfiltered speech Poole is advocating? Absolutely. Just as much as there are risks incurred when giving up our privacy in a world controlled by Facebook's Open Graph. While Poole's and Zuckerberg's worlds exist at both ends of the spectrum, I think it's a good time to allow the 'wisdom of crowds' to analyze where they want to find themselves when they wake up in the next couple of years.
Neither 4chan, nor Facebook is the answer. Perhaps a ecosystem that lies somewhere on middle ground might be where we want to settle as we move our social networking wagons westward. However, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to one brave 15 year-old who had the uncanny foresight to challenge some of the 'Big Brother' tenets of the Facebook mentality - to stand up for his beliefs - announce it to the world - before we slip unknowingly down that slippery slope.
On the flipside, be careful of treading those 4chan waters. You might not come out alive!