Like your daughter bringing home an ex-convict for dinner and saying that he's actually a "really good guy," Christopher "moot" Poole explained how the virtue of 4Chan—instantaneous collaborative creativity—could overshadow its darker, dirtier proclivities by gaining new life in a project called Canvas.
Canvas is a modernized, re-thought message board that deals mostly in images and short comments, not text posts, and feels less like a sleazy Internet saloon than 4Chan does. Poole called 4Chan a "barebones website" that, like most forums, was built on antiquated ideas using antiquated software. Unlike older message boards, Canvas will prioritize pictures, games, social networking, and other nowadays tech instead of long text posts. The shocker: iIt's built on the Facebook API.
What's Up With Facebook Integration?
Poole and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have historically had an antagonistic relationship, and Poole made a point of saying that hasn't changed. "Mark Zuckerberg has said that anonymity represents a lack of authenticity," he said during his speech's opening, countering that "anonymity is authenticity."
But with his plug for anonymity complete, Poole explained that Canvas needs Facebook Connect largely because it wants the kind of people who use Facebook within its walls. Facebook login is a "first pass at weeding out your more casual trolls," he said, referring to 4Channers or other pranksters who might want to go in and spoil normal netizens' good time. Users on Canvas have the opportunity to attach their real names to whatever they say or create on the site, but by default Canvas posts are anonymous as on 4Chan.
A Billion Jokes Served
This is Poole's shot to take his genius for community-building and come out with something that is less than pornographic, something that most people would have fun using. A PG-rated version of 4Chan fun could scale to far beyond that site's 12 million monthly uniques; with Facebook it could even mimic the symbiotic relationship between social news site Reddit and its most popular image host, Imgur.
Poole's ambitions for growing Canvas to mega scale weren't explicit—in fact, the site has only soft-launched in a limited private beta. However, he spoke at length about features of the site intended to turn occasional users into heavier ones. Frequent participation is key to what Poole calls "the waterfall," or the constant arrival of fresh, new, evolving threads and memes. Fun little tools like virtual stickers "will help things bubble up, or fall off the site," he said.
The waterfall is Poole's core product, and he says that on 4Chan it has encouraged highly charged, fleeting, and passionate interactions between users. Comparing the site to improv comedy, Poole said the power of 4Chan lies in what is said, done, created and discussed in the specific window of time you're there, "hanging out" with other people on the site. On both of Poole's sites, the stream of conversations and images isn't archived, saved, or otherwise preserved, so Poole says the "cost of failure" (or the opportunity for your words to come back and bite you) is much lower than on a site like Facebook. The result: People are frank, off the cuff, and funny.
Not 4Chan 2.0. Waterfall 2.0
Canvas will fundamentally change the "waterfall" idea by giving users the ability to pluck their favorite images or text out of the waterfall and preserve them on Facebook wall or in a message. People have long dragged images from 4Chan and collected them on sites like Tumblr, but by making curation easier on Canvas, Poole has made it more appealing for casual Web users. He also showed off Canvas's online image editor, which he said will enable normal folks to "riff" off of other people's images and jokes with out needing a copy of Adobe's thousand-dollar Creative Suite. (Facebook integration won't come to 4Chan, which is full of images that are frankly better off siloed.)
The success of Canvas will depend on whether it gets the right kind of people "hanging out." That might be one reason for doing a limited beta of Canvas—to stem the tide of crossover traffic from 4Chan. "We're not being elitist," Poole assured the audience, but his closing advice to other companies at SXSW was more telling. "Your issue isn't scaling. It's helping to build a community worth scaling."
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