The other young gentleman in the sweatshirt running a social network is Moot

Christopher "Moot" Poole at SXSW in 2010, as photographed by mirka23.

Striking, isn’t it, how Moot appears to be some sort of anti-matter to Mark Zuckerberg’s matter? How Facebook and 4chan can simultaneously be ubiquitous, but you’re much more likely to admit to an account on one than the other?

In the throes of my constant and ongoing research and curiosity about comments and commenting systems, I couldn’t help but quietly raise an eyebrow as Facebook launched a sort of Facebook Anywhere commenting system in recent weeks. It’s a little bit like a Disqus with nothing but Facebook for authentication, if that helps compress the explanation for you.

Now there’s places where this — “this” being mandatory use of a Facebook account to leave a comment (whether the account uses a “real” name or not is a bit of an identity-is-in-the-eye-of-the-beholder problem, eh?) — might work, and places where it might not, but I wasn’t especially surprised to find out that at TechCrunch, using the Facebook commenting system quickly cleaned up discourse, right up to the brink of boring:

“But the other interesting thing we’re seeing is that whereas trollish garbage used to infest the comment section, now we’re seeing almost the opposite. Many people are now leaving comments that gush about the subject of the article in an overly sycophantic way. It’s quite odd. The cold pricklies have turned to warm fuzzies.”

That said, they seem to be happy with the quality of discourse, even if the quantity has decreased:

“With the Facebook system, the most popular posts are only touching around 100 or so comments (obviously, the ones about the commenting system have more). But of those 50 to 100 comments, many of them are actually coherent thoughts in response to the post itself — you know, what a comment is supposed to be.

The emphasis on that last clause is mine.

“What a comment is supposed to be.”

Well, we certainly have high hopes about that, don’t we?

Look at the universe we’ve just discussed, where users with a real identity say nice things about products they like and contribute meaningful bits of commentary on the issues.

Now look at 4chan. [I’m linking to the Wikipedia entry so you can make the call on whether to actually, physically, look at 4chan.]

Before we go any further, let me admit that I fudged a bit in the title of this post. 4chan a social network? Not exactly. With all its users anonymous, no real history of what a user has said or posted, and memes that are carried on into the future more by abstract institutional knowledge than permalink, it is remarkably easy to label 4chan “the antisocial network.”

And even that would be a stretch. Network? It’s a message board. But more like a giant jellyfish, its tentacles spreading over the Internet and getting all tangled with the Reddit octopus and the Tumblr school of anchovies.

So what does Moot (neé Christopher Poole) have to say about the new Facebook Comments system, and the idea of real identity on the Web?

“I think that’s totally wrong.”

The quote is from this VentureBeat story on his talk at SXSW.

Read on:

“Poole argued that anonymity allows users to reveal themselves in a ‘completely unvarnished, unfiltered, raw way.’


‘The cost of failure is really high when you’re contributing as yourself,’ Poole said.”

And so we come back to the characterization made back on TechCrunch. The one about what a comment is supposed to be.

And yes, I’m going to make this about your news site. What is a comment thread supposed to be, on your news site?

A watercooler by which to carouse and argue and shout and laugh and snort?

A serious space for questions and answers about important issues in the community?

A suggestion box?

A tip line?

All of those? Really? You’re expecting users to stick with the same (real, perhaps) identity and the same interface for all of those functions?