When Chris Poole created 4chan, an image-centric forum site, he was just 15 years old. Today, he's 25--and admits he's already out of touch with what young people are doing online these days.
In recent years, while 4chan became a birthplace for popular memes that draws 25 million unique monthly views, Poole has become a prominent free-speech advocate, founded a different venture-backed drawing-and-image site, and taken on a role at a New York-based VC firm--all very grown up occupations. On Friday he shed perhaps his last vestige of the enfant terrible years: He claimed to be out of touch with kids these days.
Here's what happened when The Next Web's Harrison Weber asked Pool during the Northside Festival in Brooklyn where teenagers go online these days:
Poole: I don't fucking know!
Weber: [Laughs] My sister knew about Snapchat before me. I bring her up because she's 16, in high school, and a pretty typical teenager. And I write about technology professionally.
Poole: Dude, tell your parents.
At this point Weber mumbled something mock-defensively about his little sister not sexting (obviously), and the conversation diverted into the significance of privacy via anonymity online--and whether that's even possible anymore.
Poole's indoctrination into the Internet was in the '90s, when you dialed up on modems, and "browsing" was the trickiest part of navigating what was unironically dubbed the information superhighway.
"For a lot of people, myself included, AOL was the training wheels for the Internet. It was structured around keywords and chat rooms, and buddy lists," Poole said.
It's that chat-room style of interactive anonymity that helped inspire 4chan. Built on a series of continuous message boards, the site is filled with user-generated content that's ephemeral, and never becomes a permanent record. Most boards are limited to roughly a dozen pages, so content is usually available for only a few hours or days before it is removed. Also, 4chan's users are anonymous with un-verified identities: Poole was known on 4chan as "moot," and the most popular identity there is "Anonymous".
That's one way Poole may still understand young people.
"Being able to put yourself out there and take risks and be vulnerable without it coming back to haunt you is really powerful," Poole said.