At South by Southwest Interactive 2011 in Austin, Texas this week, 4chan founder Christopher Poole (also known as "moot") took the stage to talk about various online issues. One of these was how important anonymity is on the Internet and how Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg doesn't get it.
"Mark Zuckerberg has kind of equated anonymity with a lack of authenticity, almost a cowardice," said Poole. "I would say that's totally wrong. I think anonymity is authenticity. It allows you to share in a completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way. I think that's something that's extremely valuable. In the case of content creation, it just allows you to play in ways that you may not have otherwise. We believe in content over creator."
It makes sense for Poole to be a big backer of anonymity: it has been a key reason for 4chan's success. The message board was started in 2003 as a place online for people interested in Japanese culture, anime, and cartoons. Now it sees 12 million users monthly; many visit the /b/ board, which Poole described as "kind of the dark heart of the Internet."
Poole believes that 4chan has grown so quickly because it requires no registration, anyone can come in to contribute, and there's no archive (posts that are created fall off within minutes). As a result, users can employ what Poole calls "fluid identity," where there's no risk of failure, so experimentation flourishes.
Elsewhere on the Web, however, such as websites that require you to login via Facebook, the cost of failure is really high because you're contributing as yourself. As a result, mistakes are attributed to who you are, Poole argues.
It may thus be a bit surprising that Poole's latest endeavor, Canvas, requires Facebook Connect to sign up (by default Canvas posts are anonymous as on 4Chan, but there is an option to attach your name to whatever you create on the site). It's clear that he's not completely against Facebook, as the social network is useful for "weeding out your more casual trolls"; he just believes that it Zuckerberg's stance on anonymity is incorrect.
Poole's keynote is available in three parts on YouTube, embedded below. You can watch him talk about fluid identity in the first video, starting at the 9 minutes and 15 seconds mark.