The Internet has a secret. A secret that makes no effort at all to hide itself, but by its very nature will always remain a secret. This secret is very powerful, so powerful that it crashed the American magazine Time, created a popular motion picture and has destroyed and created many celebrities; so powerful that it has more imitation sites then wikipedia, that it could be sued for £20,000 and shrug it off with sarcasm. It goes by many names: futaba channel, 2channel, 2 leaves, 2-chan, 2ch, but principally by it’s real name, 2ちゃんねる (Editor’s note: wordpress doesn’t like Japanese characters, so content yourself with the novelty of question marks.)
2ch, as I will hereafter refer to it, is the largest Internet community in the world. It’s so large that in the time it’s taken you to read this article so far, 633 different posts have been made there. 2ch swallows up an incredible 0.3% of all Internet traffic worldwide. How is it possible, you ask yourself, that this can be kept a secret? Well, the answer is simple. 2ch is completely in Japanese, and in order to post there, you must be using a computer in Japan. Of course, there are ways around this, but the consequence is that only 5% of the site’s total traffic comes from the rest of the world.
The website itself, (2ch.net and 2chan.net, usually considered together) is what is known as a BBS, (Bulletin Board System) and indeed the vast majority of BBSs in the world today use the same software as 2ch. A BBS is a collection of boards, a board is a collection of threads on a particular topic, and a thread is a collection of posts on a specific part of that topic under discussion in the thread. A post is simply a short piece of text (in the case of 2ch) and/or a picture (in the case of 2chan). Posts can range from a simple “agreed” to cross-referenced, well-structured pages of detailed information. 2ch comprises well over 600 different boards on subjects ranging from
plants to true love, human rights to mathematics, and almost everything in-between. There are even boards specifically for the War in Iraq. Five of these boards exist purely to house things that don’t fit into the other boards. Some of these boards receive posts so fast that a thread created on the first page appears to vanish within 5 minutes, simply because it got pushed right off the last page by new threads. No prolonged record of these threads is kept, simply because no storage system in the world could possibly have enough space to do so. The amount of raw data received by 2chan.net is rivalled only by major national news networks.
“Ok, so 2ch is huge and interesting, but I can’t read Japanese, why should I care?” Well, many new sites have sprung up specifically to answer that question. 5% of 2ch visitors that realised how popular the site had become decided to export the idea, setting up versions in other languages all over the world. There exist Spanish, Russian, Polish, Norwegian, German, Hungarian and Dutch boards just to name a few, and a multitude of English boards on top. Their names are as diverse as their locations, but the vast majority end with the suffix “chan”. There are even auxiliary websites such as wikichan, which serve to index these boards and their topics and fads. These boards do however suffer the disadvantage of being set-up almost exclusively by anime fans, meaning their subject matter and quality tend to be rather restricted. Consider that a very veiled warning. iichan.net is one of the more socially acceptable sites among the collection, and certainly the one to aim for if you’re starting out.
What is also interesting is what happens when these sites clash with the real world. This happens more often then you’d think, and when it does, it happens hard. The classic example of this is known as 電車男 (Densha Otoko, or Train Man); it’s a heart warming story about an anonymous 2ch user who allegedly carried out his first successful romance as a direct result of advice from other 2ch users. Before I begin, it’s important to clarify who “Anonymous” is. Anonymous is simply the collective will of 2ch and/or another copycat community personified. Anonymous is made up of a constantly varying (but usually large) number of unidentifiable individuals who participate in these communities. The story starts on the Tokyo Subway, where train man witnessed a drunk in a car almost completely full of women other then himself and the drunk. This drunk then proceeds to harass a particular woman, yelling things
such as “<You’d better not even think about using a cell phone, you got it!?>” and starting to cross the border into assault. Train man, who was at the time a stereotypical geek, took the brave step of yelling at the drunk, drawing his attention away from the lady. This quickly degenerated into a scuffle between them that started drawing the attention of the other passengers; a businessman also in the carriage started trying to calm the situation, and another fetched the conductor. Together, they managed to get the drunk arrested. After the incident, two of the women on the train,
including the previous target of the drunk’s affections, asked train man for his address. He handed it over, but nearly broke down in the process, being a virgin in every possible sense of the word. Train man then turned to 2ch for help. He made a series of posts describing the incident and asking Anonymous what he should do. Long and romantic story short, train man professed his love for the woman a few months later, and she reciprocated.
Since then, Densha Otoko has gained almost legendary Status. Thanks to the huge social clout of 2ch, it spawned a TV series, a film, books, graphic novels, and, of course, websites dedicated to preserving the beautiful story. The Film made it big at the box office and was premiered in the US in four different states, and the TV series is still available on DVD. The story effectively finished the discussion about the validity of online friends in Japan. Despite the fame he would have instantly accumulated, train man never identified himself, preferring to be defined simply as a part of Anonymous.
However, Densha Otoko is by no means the only example of 2ch influencing
the world. Time Magazine annually publishes an issue entitled “Person of the Year”
in which the chosen person of the year is given a biography and his achievement detailed. In 2001, Anonymous decided that that person would be Masashi Tashiro. This time Anonymous used its detailed programming knowledge to submit huge numbers of votes to Time Magazine, which simply crashed their servers, wiping them off the Internet for a short time. The result was that Tashiro received almost 30% of the total votes made. While this might not seem like a particularly large number, you have to remember Time Magazine was taking votes from all across America, and the
total number of votes submitted was slightly over 230,000. Needless to say, Masashi Tashiro was removed from the vote.
2ch’s American copies also have a proportionately (much) smaller ability to influence events. Hal Turner, a self avowed White Supremacist who broadcast his opinions on an internet radio show attracted the attention of Anonymous when he retaliated specifically against the American *chan boards after receiving a large number of
prank calls to his allegedly last ever broadcast. Long and hideous story short, his website was knocked off the internet repeatedly (and then permanently) and everything from his criminal record, to his wife’s mortgage scheme, to the last known addresses of all his living relatives was made public. Unfortunately, it is legally impossible to sue Anonymous, so Mr. Turner was left without a method of reprisal.
Although it’s definitely the biggest, 2ch is by no means the only part of the Internet you haven’t heard of. Over a series of Articles I’ll be telling you about many more corners of the Internet and it’s ever increasing effect on the modern world. For now, I strongly suggest you find and read the novel “Snow Crash” by Neal Stephenson. Although marketing will decide the face of things to come, this does seem to be where we’re going so far.