Google(goog) has made a surprising and fascinating hire: Christopher Poole, better known to many as “moot”, the founder of infamous meme mine and troll haven 4chan.
“I can’t wait to contribute my own experience from a dozen years of building online communities, and to begin the next chapter of my career at such an incredible company,” Poole wrote on Tumblr.
Bradley Horowitz, Google’s vice president of “streams, photos and sharing,” confirmed the news on his Google+ page.
Poole founded 4chan in 2003, originally as an image-sharing hub for fans of Japanese anime. However, the service’s embrace of anonymity and rejection of censorship made it a risqué place, to put it beyond mildly. The more family-friendly memes to have emerged from 4chan include lolcats and rickrolling — others were outright racist, homophobic and anti-women. The hacktivist group Anonymous was born there.
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He quit the site at the start of 2015, in the wake of two notorious incidents that thrust the site into the public eye: the enthusiastic and repeated sharing of the hacked nude photos of celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence, and the “Gamergate” clash over sexism in video games.
When Poole tried to clamp down on illegal activities such as the dissemination of those photos, and the release of Gamergate targets’ personal information, 4chan users pushed back hard. He left, handing over the reins to some of the site’s volunteer administrators, and later in 2015 he sold 4chan to the Japanese creator of the site’s inspiration, 2channel.
Apart from 4chan, Poole also founded an imageboard website called Canvas in 2010, picking up Andreessen Horowitz funding. Canvas folded at the end of 2014 after failing to catch on.
Google, meanwhile, was pretty unsuccessful with its big social-networking effort, Google+.
For more on Anonymous watch our video.
In November, the company pulled back on its long-running attempt to make the Google+ the social glue that links all of Google’s disparate services, deciding instead to focus on interest-based communities and topic-based collections of posts. It had already split off the photo-sharing aspect of Google+ into a separate app earlier in the year.
What does Google want with Poole? Well, the company is surely aware of 4chan’s largely negative reputation, but there’s no denying that the site was successful at spawning memes that broke into the consciousness of regular web users and the media. Under Poole’s light-touch stewardship, 4chan was at its best a conduit for crowdsourced creativity. At its worst, it attracted attention for all the wrong reasons.
Google+ failed to divert many people’s attention at all, and probably didn’t cause many sleepless nights at its big rival, Facebook(fb). Perhaps whatever Google is planning as its next social move will benefit from Poole’s expertise. The question is: will he bring his trademark mischievousness with him, or is it time for moot to settle down?
Here he is giving a TED talk back in 2011: