Julian Dibbell has written a typically thoughtful piece about 4chan and its creator Christopher Poole for Technology Review.
If 4chan’s anonymity is good for anything, it turns out, it’s good for lulz. Consider, Poole explains, how the fixed identities in other online communities can stifle creativity: where usernames are required (whether real or pseudonymous), a new user who posts a few failed attempts at humor will soon find other users associating that name with failure. “Even if you’re posting gold by day eight,” says Poole, “they’ll be like, ‘Oh, this guy sucks.’” Names, in other words, make failure costly, thus discouraging even the attempt to succeed. By the same token, namelessness makes failure cheap — nearly costless, reputation-wise, in a setting like 4chan, where the Anonymous who posted a lame joke five minutes ago might well be the same Anonymous who’s mocking it hilariously right now. And as the social-media theorist Clay Shirky has suggested in another context (explaining how the plummeting costs of networked collaboration encourage, say, a thousand open-source software projects to launch for every one that gets anywhere), the closer a community gets to “failure for free,” the better its chances of generating success.