4Chan, the image board created by New York’s Chris “Moot” Poole when he was just 15, has gone on to generate some of the funniest memes and most destructive communities on the internet. Last year he launched a new startup, Canvas, which tried to recreate the viral language of creating and sharing images without the filth of 4chan. The startup, which has raised more than $3.6 million so far from top flight VCs and angels, opened up to the public today.
Canvas insisted during its private beta that users log in with Facebook Connect and posted a simple set of rules: “Keep it safe for work | Don’t be mean | Stay on topic.” It banned sexually provocative content, hate speech and insults. The rules seems to be working … sort of.
Unlike 4chan, which does not archive its posts, Canvas keeps older posts alive and keeps track of what has been most popular over the last year, month, week and day. Betabeat took a look at the most popular posts on Canvas from the last year to get a sense of what kind of community was developing.
A quick four panel post showing YouTube sensation Rebecca Black riding in a car ends with a picture of a completely totaled car. There is no blood, but the narrative of the image is clear. It’s violent and mean (and funny).
Another popular image shows a woman standing in a fountain, water pouring up and out from under her skirt. The original caption on the most popular reblog reads “I came. Came buckets.” A later version features “Larry the Penis Snake” crawling up the woman’s skirt.
So yes, there is no explicit pornography here. And the community does seem to have diverse interests. Recent posts include un-ironic shots of fashion and nature with little or no shocking content. But those posts failed to generate anything like the response that followed the posts which pushed the boundaries of taste.
The simple truth is, sex, violence and race are hot button topics which provide the material for most comedy. Most jokes have an element of cruelty to them, because someone or something is the punch line. Which is why jokes about Nazi Necrophilia are some of the most popular items on Canvas.
It’s unclear if Mr. Poole really hoped to create a sanitized version of 4chan with Canvas, or if he only wanted and needed to clean it up enough to get some great funding. It would be foolish to bet against the growth of this kind of image based internet behavior, although its unclear how Canvas plans to monetize. Unlike 4chan, Canvas is paying to host all these images for a while.
No doubt the community at Canvas will change quite a bit in coming months now that the floodgates are open to the public. It will be interesting to see if the most popular posts become more or less aggressive and what kind of features or ads Canvas rolls out to try and generate revenue from its users’ activity. Its hard to image any big brands agreeing to appear on the site given the nature of the most popular posts.