A Virtual Unknown: Meet 'Moot,' the Secretive Internet Celeb Who Still Lives With Mom.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
So, the Internet walks into a bar.
The bar is in New York's Chinatown. It's a recent Saturday afternoon. It looks beer-stained and sweaty with the lights on, packed with plastic folding chairs and power cords. A giant disco ball hangs above an audience of 425 who are all on their MacBooks. They talk, blog, tweet and text during presentations in one fluid, convergent communicative stream. Even virtual people like to have actual conventions.
There are a few people at this conference who qualify as Internet celebs -- people you either have or haven't heard of in direct proportion to how much time you ever spend online: Obama Girl is expected to be here; so are well-known bloggers, fontmakers and stunt artists. (Hey, there's the guy who once a year inspires hundreds of people to ride subway systems at the same time, without pants.)
But the guy everyone really hopes to meet is named "moot."
Moot -- and please lowercase the "m" -- is the mysterious founder of 4chan.org, one of the weirdest, vast-est, most disgusting-est sites online. It's a sprawling web of message boards on which users post images of everything from their favorite actors to their favorite bowel movements.
Moot, the most influential and famous Internet celebrity you've never heard of, isn't on a panel or presenting anything, but he appears on the program nonetheless: "Pass out when you see moot IRL"-- that's In Real Life, noobs -- is the activity listed to take place somewhere between the "Causing a Scene" presentation and "The Future of Online Video" panel.
Over in the corner, a serious-looking 21-year-old wearing a gray hoodie and a mop of curly hair chats with friends about his two kittens and the night's dinner plans and how, after dinner, and after the after-party, he'll be going home to his mom's house in a nearby suburb.
This is moot.
His real name is Christopher Poole.
He is responsible for the online lives of 5 million monthly 4chan visitors -- the hackers, slackers and potty-mouthed geeks. They come to 4chan when they should be doing calc homework. Now -- in debt, out of work, another example of the Internet's intangibility -- Poole just needs to figure out how to make that matter.
'The Dark Heart of the Internet'
In the diaphanous online world where everyone has a Twitter feed and a Facebook account, everyone is someone. Blips of YouTube fame barely register, disappearing as they do within days or hours.
Content on 4chan is even more fleeting. The site, divided into categories like anime and video games, is almost entirely user-generated. It receives 400,000 posts a day, according to Poole's metrics, and some boards move so quickly that posts disappear in seconds. The quality of discussion is often akin to bathroom graffiti, and in fact, the site's "random" board has been described as the place where the Internet goes to vomit after a late night.