Follow-up #2: And Then There’s 4chanCory Panshin on August 10, 2010
It often appears that once your attention is drawn to something, you start to see it everywhere. No sooner had I finished writing about the rat brain story earlier today than I found myself reading a Washington Post story about the notorious message board 4chan — which turns out to reflect many of the same organizational principles.
Created seven years ago by a 15-year-old, 4chan is a vast web of anonymous, uncensored message boards. No one’s in charge, but the site’s users have managed to pull off some of the highest-profile collective actions in the history of the Internet. …
The 4chan “hive mind” has been credited with — or blamed for, depending on your perspective — urging tween idol Justin Bieber to head for North Korea as part of his upcoming world tour (as part of an online poll allowing fans to select which country he should visit), spreading a story that Steve Jobs had a heart attack (which caused Apple’s stock to fall precipitously) and starting a rumor that there was a bomb at New York’s JFK airport (triggering an evacuation). …
How 4chan — a site built for fun by a teenager that barely ekes out a profit from online ads — manages over and over again to outwit the systems that multibillion-dollar corporations use to make money on the Internet is one of the great mysteries of the capricious online world.
“The community self-organizes, decides on goals and achieves them in an ad hoc, undirected manner,” said [Joshua] Schachter, who invented the social bookmarking tool called Delicious. “I see it like the financial markets — sort of chaotic. It’s hard to understand, but incredibly vital to understanding out how people operate together on very, very large scales.” …
Why people would decide to spend their time following suggestions by 4chan is what’s unclear in this chain of events.
“There’s a lot of energy in the system from people who have nothing to do, no outlet for their goofing off,” Schachter surmised.
There are enough different explanations in this article for the success of 4chan that I could spend a week just trying to sort them out — the holistic notion of self-organization, the multiculturalism-based ideal of a community where “no one’s in charge,” the Internet meme of the “hivemind,” and even a hint of the ideas about creative collaboration laid out in Clay Shirky’s latest book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.
I’m not going to deal with all of that right here and now, of course. But these are themes that I already had in my notes and I expect to grapple with them over the course of the next few entries as I try to bring the story of holism, multiculturalism, and creative imagination up to the present moment.
So once again — stay tuned.
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