The free-for-all, anything-goes nature of anonymous posting to discussions boards is a defining feature of Internet subculture, and arguably nowhere has this practice been more vigorous or virulent than on 4Chan. Now those notorious anonymous posts are available from the SDR.
Launched in 2003 by founder Christopher Poole (aka “moot”), 4Chan is one of the most influential imageboard sites in web history. An imageboard is a forum that operates around circulation of and commentary on images, though 4Chan has gone well beyond that. Imageboard enthusiasts have long understood its significance in web subculture, and recognizing that the stability and permanence of such sites are never assured, have made efforts to archive it independently. One effort was led by Ndubuisi Okeh and the Yotsuba Society. In August 2013, due to constraining circumstances, Yotsuba Society was forced to cease its archiving efforts, yet the impulse to see to the archives' preservation persisted, and Okeh approached curator Henry Lowood, well-known for his efforts to preserve virtual worlds, games, manga, etc., about depositing the collection at Stanford. Lowood accepted the collection containing more than 25,000 discussion threads gathered between 2007 and August 2013. Lowood deposited the files as received from Okeh using the Stanford Digital Repository online deposit application.
As a resource for scholars, the archive documents 4chan’s influence and significance in three areas:
- Shaping Internet cultures and subcultures, both famous and infamous: In addition to anonymous posting, perhaps the biggest impact has been the notion of the "Internet meme," which basically took at 4Chan (lolcats, Rickrolling, etc.)
- Internet activism: Notably the links between 4chan and Anonymous (including, Lowood believes, the origin of the association of Guy Fawkes masks with Anonymous) and Project Chanology, but also a variety of other political issues.
- In its origins, 4Chan also documents the impact of East Asian popular culture, especially anime and manga, which eventually concentrated in the /a board. Many other topics are actively discussed on 4Chan, divided among a number of alphabetically denoted boards, but anime & manga have always been at the core.
It is interesting to consider how we can make this content available for study in the context of Stanford's future web archiving service currently in planning.