Interview with moot, founder of 4chan (Part 1)

At the third day of the re:publica 09 conference, I did meet moot of 4chan fame for an interview. Here is the first part, as audio (Vorbis) and also transcribed. Wherever I have removed something ([…]), it was either unintelligible (due to the used cell phone microphone and the abysmal quality of AMR) or insignificant (e.g. fillers like you know, which moot used really often). Everyone wanting to help with transcribing the second part (or just being curious) is advised to check the original (AMR) file.

erlehmann
Lets go ! Hello moot. […] So, yeah, the first thing is — I think everyone who will hear this, knows 4chan — how the fuck did 4chan get so famous ?
moot
That's a good question actually …
e
… I mean, you were at Something Awful
m
Well, the way that that started was that I was a user of Something Awful and they have an anime subforum […] and in that subforum, there was a DirectConnect Hub and it had its own IRC channel — tangularly related, but not directly related — and these people were users of a web site in Japan called Futaba channel, so I was introduced to it through them and it's an imageboard and at that time imageboards weren't really well known outside of Japan, so I took their code — which is freely available — threw it up on my hosting and shared it with these people on the IRC channel and everything kind of went from there; it's grown orcanically from that. It's all been […] word of mouth and … I think one of the ways it spread very quickly, to start with, was: People loved sharing images and so people would just paste links — usually on the random board — tell their friends and then … they looked at the image and they were just […] like Chop of the /source/origin.jpeg ! and they said Oh, it's a forum ! and started it using that way. So …
e
Okay, so there's no major event … because many bloggers at this event had major events, like Spreeblick for example — Johnny [Häusler] — […] one time they were blogging about Jamba, a company that sells ringtones and they got many hits at this article alone and many readers stayed. So there is no major event or something like that ?
m
None […] More recently — over the past year — we've gotten more press; I'm always curious, if we, when we get press … [what it] does to our bandwith: Does the bandwith spike ? Does Google Analytics show any sort of spike ? And what it does for […] page impressions … And we don't often see that, actually — it's rare to see any sort of spike, even after […] being linked on the Wall Street Journal or something — even after we were featured on the front page of Wikipedia for … I believe it was January 14th … So there were more referrals from Wikipedia, when we tracked that, but still the page impressions didn't really spike, so …
e
Is that because you have so many users that it didn't really count ?
m
I think that's what it is, […] it's a drop in the ocean kind of thing …
e
… like pissing into a sea of piss. So, the next thing: The meaning of 4chan to society, how do you see it ? I mean it's obviously a meme hub and used to foster and spread memes — so how do you see it ? And do you think it's in any way needed […], from a cultural point of view ?
m
[…] I don't wanna get to deep here, but I think 4chan is … maybe not 4chan, but anonymous BBSes in general, are an important thing to thing to have around. I think they provide a really healthy outlet for people. And […] I get a lot of emails, and some emails are negative and some emails are positive — and the kind of common themes in those emails are people are writing me for providing another place where they can go and share … things on 4chan, that they might not share with their friends, their family and their collie — it's a healthy tool for […] certain things like that. But I don't think … I don't know if 4chan really has any sort of societal relevance past just being a big community […]
e
… I didn't mean relevance, I mean Is it necessary ?. I think it's probably necessary because […] if it wasn't it wouldn't have been such a hit and people wouldn't try to make imageboards, 4chan style.
m
Yeah, […] I agree with you on that thought — I think it matches the need of a lot of people and that's why it spread.
e
Okay, so … Do you still spend time browsing on 4chan when you're not active in the sense of moderating or messing with people's heads ?
m
So outside of administration …
e
… yeah, in your free time …
m
Yeah. Now, I mean whenever I'm on my computer again — I've always got Firefox open and I've always got a tab of 4chan open. […] I don't sit around usually, actively refreshing for hours on it, but I've always got something open — […] between emails and between […] reading the news it's often I click over and I refresh and read it quickly and I go for a thread, maybe one or two pages and come back to it in an hour. So over the course of the day, I would say, I at least spend a few hours on my site and […] that's just browsing — in addition to that […] moderating […]
e
So, is there any favourite board you have ?
m
[…] The most comfortable is random. […] Some people don't expect that, but […] I don't know how this rumour got started or why people should believe it, but the odd claim is that I don't use the boards anymore which […] couldn't be further from the truth. or they say that I […] I guess some journalist said that I'm quick to dis […] the content, so I don't associate with our … I don't find the content to be interesting and that's not true either. I try to distance the site from some of the extremes that people see on /b/ because […] those are few and far in between and I don't want people to get the impression that it's all about extremes. But […] I still identify with a lot of it […] und I enjoy browsing the board and that's why I'm on it for at least an hour every day. […] /b/ — random — is kind of the life force of the site and kind of … it's a gateway for us to the site […] I think a lot of people come in through random … they're like junkies, die-hards — and then they finally … it is like there is one day, they just go Oh wow, there's other stuff on this web site ! and they […] go to the other boards and start using those, but …
e
So how much time do you spend, working — administrating, programming — in a week on 4chan ?
m
In a week ?
e
Yeah — maybe if you can break it down to a day, but I usually can't […]
m
[…] It's really tough to say, because it changes constantly — now, when i first started the website, […] I was 15, I was in highschool and I was spending … I was up every night until five A.M., six A.M. and so I was spending at least six, seven hours a day … […] writing stuff for the site or playing with the code or moderating and also browsing and […] as years […] turn by, […] I've gone through a cycle, where […] I'll start doing a lot of work and I'll spend eight hours, nine hours a day working on things — and then I go through a […] period, where […] it's an every other day and not as often; the most recent […] I flew my programmer up from his home, to stay with me in New York and we did a two week — you ain't infamiliar with Google Summer of Code ? […]
e
4chan is at Google … ?
m
No, no, no ! […]
e
I'm familiar with that.
m
… so I called it, I […] referred to it as […] not Summer of Code — we can do the same thing, we just called it Winter of Pain.
e
That would be a very cool thing — to attract developers.
m
Yeah, […] so the first … the inaugural Winter of Pain was just me and my developer and we spend like twelve hours — more than twelve hours — a day just working on the site I rearranged seven servers, or six — I rearranged six servers […], he did a lot of programming, we got a lot of work done. So that's an example of where, that week, I spent literally over a hundred hours working on the site, but maybe the week before that it would be like […] five. So it really […] varies, changes rapidly.
e
So what features came up with the Winter of Pain ?
m
I have to think — […] we switched over …
e
No end user things ?
m
No, I actually […] don't think it was many front-facing changes, mostly backend stuff … I'm trying to think of something that you might have noticed: We changed the way pages rebuild and so … that coupled with the operating system improvement — we went from FreeBSD 5.5 to 7.1 release, I think it was RC2 at that time, it really came out like halfway through … So going from actually FreeBSD 5.5 to 7.1 they made so many improvements that our server that runs cgi.4chan[.org], which does a lot of the adult stuff, went from 200 megabit peak to — after the reinstall — 400 megabit peak, within the next day, 24 hours. So that was really the major change and that was only the operating system, that alone doubled its throughput. […] We were able to drop latency on page load and also speed up page rendering time; we did a lot […] we ran […] Firebug and it's just been a lot of little things, so I think maybe, overall browsing experience, it's faster, it's better now — but there really wasn't much in terms of frontend changes.
e
Are there any frontend changes planned ? […]
m
[…] I would have to look at the to-do lists — there are a lot of things on the to-do list and there are certainly things that we wanna do; one thing that I have been thinking of recently has been creating a new kind of page view — a way to browse the board — because on the high-volume boards — high traffic boards like /b/ and now actually the anime board /a/, videogames /v/ are gaining quite fast, maybe 30 posts per minute. Now you have a post every other second, so they are about as fast as /b/ was maybe two or three years ago, which is … They're attracting substantial traffic on their own now, […] almost like mini-/b/s, so it's becoming increasingly frustrating for myself — and I'm sure for everybody else — that […] it's very hard to track content over time and although it's great […] at the same time it's annoying, that it's very hard to follow threads unless you're opening them in a dedicated tab and refreshing constantly. And one thing […] I talked about this yesterday, the firefox extension: […] There's a thread watcher where you can flag a thread and keep it in […] view of the board — maybe building some sort of functionality like that into the site, with a native functionality where you can maybe flag a thread and have it without actually installing the firefox extension. So I mean there are a lot of things we could do, in terms of […] features like that, but it's just a matter of prioritizing them and finding enough time to implement them, which is a constant struggle.
e
[…] As a website owner you do have experience with authorities and bomb threats and child pornography — what do you think of the censorship plans that are surfacing in Germany, in Australia […] ? Do you fear that 4chan will be on the lists, too ? I mean, dentists are on the lists — […] there's a dentist on the list because crackers cracked his site, put child pornography on it, several years ago, and he got it back in three days or something and now he's been on some censorship list — so what do you think about that ?
m
[…] I'm familiar with what's happening in Australia — I wasn't […] really aware of what was happening in Germany until […] I came to the conference and I heard about it from Markus [Beckedahl] […] and it's scary and I think I'm more afraid of it not as a website owner, but as a user […] like everybody else, as a user of the internet — I think it's terryfying that governments are talking about implementing […] nation-wide filters. […] Now the questions of Are we on the list ?, Are we afraid of being put on the list ? … we are on the list in Australia, actually, according to the one that was leaked […]
e
Only subforums like /b/ or the whole site ?
m
I believe its the whole site and […] another list that we're on is […] one maintained by the Internet Watch Foundation — actually, I don't believe we're still on it; so the Internet Watch Foundation is a[n] organization — I think its based in the UK — […] they add sites, that they think make you a child abuser …
e
… sites they don't like …
m
… pretty much. […] But the ISPs in the UK, like BT — I think it's one of the biggest — and there's another one that I'm forgetting …
e
… they subscribe to this ?
m
They do. And so, at one point, they were blocking /b/ — and not only that: They petitioned Google, […] basicly, they sent the list to Google and Google omits random still, for years now …
e
Wat.
m
… from the search ranking: If you search for "/b/ random" and you scroll to the bottom of the page …
e
… you get ED ?
m
Yeah, you don't get 4chan. And at the bottom of the page […], there's something like like Two or three […] results omitted. Click here, find out more. and it sends you to Chilling Effects, which is a Berkman web site …
e
… and there you can search in different languages and in some countries they censor and in some they don't …
m
Yeah, and so it links you to the IWF complaint and they still … And I actually appealed this twice now […], saying Look, we're not on this list anymore, it was a misunderstanding […]. They agree that we shouldn't be on that list, that we're not on that list and we like for you to reinclude our site here.
e
… and the don't because they don't care or because they do care and don't like [it] ?
m
I think it might be either — […] it's hard to say with such a large company …
e
Yeah, but did they answer ?
m
No, they'd never answered. […] So it's like falling into the black hole of Google
e
… it's like submitting bug reports to Apple
m
Yeah.
e
Okay, […] but other things you've appealed — […] the British Telecom did set you free …
m
Yeah, once we were taken off that list […]
e
[…] Maybe Finnish providers have [4chan on] any […] blacklists, or Swedish ?
m
[…] I can't really answer that, but I'm certain that we're not on the block[list] on BT anymore.

Thanks to Geoffrey Sneddon for several minor corrections in the transcript.