Will 4chan still be seen as an innovator under new owner?

4chan, the anarchic website dubbed 'the id of the internet', looks set to stay true to its ethos under its new owner, Hiroyuki Nishimura, says the co-chief executive at TMW Unlimited.

Hiroyuki Nishimura: co-chief executive at TMW Unlimited
Hiroyuki Nishimura: co-chief executive at TMW Unlimited

"Would a cell phone carrier feel responsible when somebody receives a threatening phone call?": The words of Hiroyuki Nishimura, the founder of 2channel, explaining in an interview why he has no intention of paying the millions of dollars in penalties he’s received over the content on his site.

2channel, one of the earliest anonymous online message boards, inspired a host of copycat sites after its launch in 1999 and eventually led to the creation of 4chan by Christopher Poole.

Poole described his decision to sell 4chan to Nishimura this week as "coming full circle", calling Nishimura the "great-grandfather of 4chan".

4chan, the anarchic website dubbed ‘the id of the internet’, looks set to stay true to its ethos under Nishimura. The move could even mark a return to the early days of the social web where everything was about serving the needs of a given community, with advertising seen as an anathema to the spirit of building and serving that community.

Whether brands or creative agencies would still look to 4chan as an innovator or creator of future web culture is debatable however.

The site’s subconscious imitators, not least BuzzFeed and Snapchat, have taken its essence and surpassed it with a far superior user experience and a more "brand friendly" community.

It is doubtful whether 4chan, which Poole has run as a hobby rather than a business, would ever be capable of monetising its audience in the same way as Facebook or Twitter. Arguably it is its lack of commerciality, as well as its anonymity, that its millions of users value most.

There is no real sense that Nishimura is interested in meeting brands’ needs over the needs of his users, which puts a question mark over any opportunities for brands the change in ownership will bring.

Currently advertising display is a blunt instrument on 4chan. There is little control over what content your ad will appear alongside and hardly any tracking of user behaviour.

Ultimately, the negative cultural baggage that the site carries from its association with hacker communities, misogynistic attacks, whistle blowers and hardcore porn is enough to give most brand managers a few sleepless nights.

Chris Pearce is the joint chief executive at TMW Unlimited

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