Over the last few years, 4chan.org has become one of the most talked-about sites when it comes to launching new memes. After appearing on the site, “LOLcats,” humorous images of cats with loud text beneath them in a fake language called “LOLspeak”, stormed the Web last year. (For example, instead of saying “hello,” the cats would say “oh hai.”) Another phrase “So I herd u like mudkips,” a reference to a sea creature from the popular animated show “PokÃ©mon,” spawned thousands of tribute videos on YouTube. 4chan.org began as a simple message board with pictures and text. It was started by Christopher Poole in his Long Island bedroom in 2003 when he was 15 years old. Since then it has grown to more than 3 million monthly users, according to Mr. Poole.
One of the site’s most popular memes is an online bait-and-switch known as the “Rick Roll.” Here’s how it works: A friend sends an email suggesting you take a peek at an “amazing” online video and passes along the link. You follow the link, but instead of the video you expect, you’ve been sent to the music video of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” a hit song from 1988. Over the past year, Rick Rolling has become an online sensation, pushing Mr. Astley’s video past 16 million views on YouTube.
4chan is a quaint throwback to the earliest Web pages that have since been eclipsed in the newest iterations of the Web. While other Web sites focus on flashy-social networking features and eye-catching advertisements, 4chan’s design is archaic and the color scheme is two-tone. Each page on 4chan features photos and text. One user will post an image of something to start a discussion on one of the more than 40 different subject areas spanning origami and automobiles. Other users follow up with responses or requests for more images.
“It’s like Craigslist — hugely simple and highly useful,” says David Weinberger, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. 4chan’s utility is its ability to gather millions of people in conversation in a single place and create a “meme-rich” environment, says Mr. Weinberger.