(Founder Stories) Moot On The Origin Of 4Chan And The Evolution of Memes

When Christopher Poole (aka Moot) was 15 years old, he founded the 4chan image board on an IRC channel with 20 people. Today, the site attracts about 12 million people a month and is the font of many of the Internet’s most pervasive memes, from Lolcats to Rickrolling. Moot doesn’t like to do video interviews, but after much pestering, Chris Dixon got him to come on Founder Stories for a rare video appearance. We’ll be running the entire conversation throughout the week, including a sneak peek at what he’s doing with his latest startup, Canvas. (Disclosure: Dixon is also an investor in Canvas through Founder Collective).

In this first part, Moot explains the origins of 4Chan in the video above. Both the idea and software was borrowed from a Japanese site called Futaba channel, but 4chan took on a life of its own—a completely anonymous site where community members felt free to express themselves in all sorts of ways.

One of the unique characteristics of the site is that there are no archives. The most popular images, gifs, and comments bubble up to the top, and cascade through the site like a waterfall. Every so often, a meme will develop on the site and be picked up elsewhere.

In the video below, Moot talks about the evolution of memes, how they start as one thing and change over time. For instance Rickrolling (which thankfully is a meme in decline), got it’s start on 4chan as a bait and switch where the word eggroll became filtered into duckroll, and then people started linking the word to a picture of a duck on wooden wheels. Somehow this static image of the duck on wheels got posted to YouTube, where duckroll evolved into Rickroll.

Part of the appeal of 4Chan is to watch these memes as they spring up and influence them. Since everything is so ephemeral on the site, it’s hard to go back later and reconstruct what happened. “It’s hard to find a primary source,” says Moot, “the primary source deletes itself every five minutes.” Which is exactly why we need Know Your Meme, which was just purchased by the Cheezburger Network. According to Moot, the life cycle of a meme is that it starts on 4chan, is studied on Know Your Meme, and then is monetized by Cheezburger.

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