Why won't you leave?!

· Essay

Online communities die. No ifs, no buts, no digital coconuts. Folks have started to get a good handle on why that happens, but alas, knowledge doesn’t prevent the inevitable.

Unless you’re 4chan.

Unless you’re asking an oldfag, 4chan’s, *ahem*, quality has so far stayed pretty constant. That is, it’s always been an outlandish place, and it hasn’t changed a lick. Even the Something Awful forums have become passe in their old age. What’s going on?

Cultural inoculation

A huge reason that communities die on the web (or probably anywhere) is that they grow too big for their boots. When too many people sign up and actively use a platform, the culture gets diluted and slowly erased. At the very least, it fades.

One potential way 4chan has survived is that it actually pushes people away from the site, rather than inviting them in. 4chan was, is, and probably will continue to be, a bit of a web culture taboo. “Ew, you go to 4chan?” may be responsible for driving people away from the website and staving off that terrible tipping point of cultural erosion.

But we are the initiated, aren’t we?

If you do ask an oldfag, you’ll be treated to a full-length treatise involving summer 4chan, Moot’s abandonment of the site, and MOOOOODS, the gist of which is that 4chan actually does have a lot more users now. If we check the stats, the OF is right; 4chan is going uphill. And yet, there’s been no drop in the median shenanigans-per-month measure. What gives?

I’ll take a wild, flailing stab in the dark and suggest that this is a result of 4chan’s unique, and cryptic, culture. 4chan communication is weird, man. Kek, BTFO, dubs and trips of truth, GIFs of George Costanza, PNGs of fish being (or avoiding being) hooked by bait… More than a little unintelligible to someone not in the know. That right there is the key to 4chan’s survival. In order to do something more than lurk on the site, in order to actually participate and possibly affect the culture of the place, you have to learn how to communicate in the 4chan way. Then, even when you think you’ve got it under your belt, you have to try to use it properly. May God help you if you fail. This digital hazing is what drives away those that would dilute or otherwise ruin the 4chan culture; if you can’t do it, you’ll get bullied so hard that you never come back. If you can do it, welcome to the club. Because of this, the culture never gets diluted when more people join up, because they’re well-versed in the old ways and pose no danger.

That’s your secret?

That was a lot more disheartening than expected. The main way to keep culture alive is to be terribly exclusive? Kinda saddening, but an unfortunate reality if you want your community to stay true to its roots. Perhaps there are other ways, but for now, they remain undiscovered. Our only hope is to tell newcomers to git gud, or get out.