As the creator of one of the Internet's most base, vile and creative websites, 4chan founder Chris Poole knows a little bit about the effects of user identity on user behavior. 4chan, a completely anonymous, real-time message forum, is the birthplace of many an Internet meme and user identity, or the lack thereof, can play a big part in this.
Poole spoke about the collaborative, creative process today in his keynote address at SXSW in Austin, Texas, spending some time on the topic of identity and authenticity. In this horserace, Poole unsurprisingly comes out on the side of anonymity.
The topic of authenticity has been in the news as of late, with the introduction of Facebook-powered comments on the Web and on sites like TechCrunch. The issue at hand is whether or not forcing users to connect their comments with their real identity will stifle expression. Will users be as honest, as authentic, if they have to connect their real name to what they say?
Some, such as blogger Robert Scoble, argue that linking comments to Facebook identity increases authenticity, not only by adding context to what people say, but also that people cannot anonymously pose as other people. Poole, at least when speaking of authenticity in terms of creativity, appears to take quite the opposite position.
"Anonymity is authenticity," said Poole. "It allows you to share in an unvarnished, unfiltered, raw and real way. We believe in content over creator."
Of course, when we speak of 4chan, we're talking about a collection of memes and creations that few bloggers or publishers would want to grace their comments section.
Poole argued that identity can stifle content creators (whether commenters or otherwise) because of what's at stake.
"The cost of failure is really high when you're contributing as yourself," said Poole. "To fail in an environment where you're contributing with your real name is costly."
On this point, Scoble had a very different opinion when he wrote last week. "REAL change comes from people putting their necks on the line. I couldn't remember a time when an anonymous person really enacted change in, well, anything. It's why I sign my name to everything, even stuff that could get me fired," wrote Scoble.
What do you think - do you want Poole's version of authenticity? Will anonymity always lead to the variety of creativity we see on 4chan? Or is anonymity a necessary party of true honesty and authenticity?