I’m writing this post, not as a commentator, but as a 4chan user. Sad as it may be to say it, 4chan does and always will hold a special place in my heart. For all the good and bad the site has wrought I remain convinced that the existence of 4chan was a net positive for people and for the internet as a whole. But I also think that 4chan was a net positive for me.
I was 13 in 2003 when Moot, only a couple of years older, started 4chan. He took borrowed, babelfish-translated code from a Japanese image board and created as space online for himself and his friends. It would not be until around 2004 when I would first hear murmurs of the site’s existence. And not till 2005 that I would first visit the site properly, only to promptly conclude that it was: 1. confusing 2. poorly built 3. weird and 4. boring. I mean there were no usernames!?! How would people know who I was?! And who was this “anonymous” anyway?
But, I was a geek (the “social isolation and good grades”-kind, not the “Primark t-shirt”-kind). Being part of that crowd meant that you were exposed to geek culture which meant video games, comics, anime, manga and the ever expanding internet culture. At the time internet culture was still connected to geek culture and the early hacker who pioneered much of the earlier days of the Web. As such, it was only a matter of time before I would return to 4chan.
With a heavy focus on Japanese culture during it’s inception, 4chan made an obvious congregation point for anime and manga fans like myself. This was my motivation for learning how the site worked, how content moved, and how to interact with others on the site. As I branched out and tried more of the boards I found plenty of reasons to stay. The paper craft board, for instance, inciting a short, but ultimately rewarding, fling with the art.
Browsing 4chan made me feel sane. People were raw and unfiltered when they had no identity. They would say things that they could never utter in the physical world. Maybe they were just making it up. Maybe it was all just and experiment in creative writing. It didn’t matter. The fact that peoples’ brains could produce this content was proof that I wasn’t really the “weird” geek. Just look at all these people!
The image board style appealed to the hoarder in me and I began archiving content. Now it seems pointless. There are myriad websites dedicated to organising and maintaining massive databases of images, memes and online content. But back then there was nothing aside from maybe a few buggy 4chanarchive sites. So I collected. All in all I have around 35,862 images categorised and subcategorised across some 539 folders. I don’t have the heart to delete them despite the certainty that there are better services out there right now that hold copies too, organised better and with much better backup protocols.
It seems silly looking back but I had fun. I enjoyed my time spent there even if some would call it wasted.
For me, Moot leaving 4chan doesn’t really mean much in terms of my experience of 4chan the website. I hardly use the site any more, aside from the occasional foray back to interest and creative boards. Moot always tended to operate behind the scenes anyway, merely maintaining, and only occasionally tweaking the site’s functionality.
What Moot leaving 4chan represents to me is a milestone. I know in my heart that the Web has changed. I remember a time when people would, with a straight face, describe the internet as the wild west, and 4chan as the wild west of the internet, and /b/ as the wild west of 4chan, and part of me liked that Web. It gave people a sense of freedom they had never felt: that they were all equal, that they could be themselves, that they could act without consequence, that they could talk without identity and that they could be anonymous.
I think that freedom is gone now. But I suppose I’ve been waiting for some more major event to really solidify that conclusion. On a personal level, Moot’s departure from 4chan grounded my memories of the Web of my teenage years, and his retirement has grounded that this time has ended. Perhaps this has been true for a while but without a more monumental event to point to, I pick a personal one instead, if perhaps somewhat late. For me, 1st January 2015 is where I draw my personal line under the Web I used to know.
I am not pessimistic about the 4chan’s future or the future of the Web in general. Nor am I optimistic either. I am merely excited to see what happens next.