The following is part one of an ongoing series on the largest anonymous textboards (any by extension the largest forum on Earth.), 2channel. Because of the large amount of news coverage 2channel has received over the years by not only the Japanese but by the international media, it’s impossible to summarize 2channel in a simple 3-5 page article. Not only that there are pieces and full articles covering the website via magazines and blogs. The scope of 2channel is so large, that it’s impossible to determine the scale of its true size. The goal of the series is about how a website that was a refuge for a Amezou worlders became the largest forums in the world.
2channel has done nothing short of a revolution in its home country. But it’s more than a revolution in internet discourse; it’s something of a well of modern internet culture to many Japanese. 2channel is THE father of the Western Imageboard culture, as it created begun many routine concepts that modern channers seem to be taken granted of or do not know. Routine concepts like topic recurrentablity, traditions, tripcodes, and the routine creation of memes.
Think any average internet forum in the US. Like the Something Awful Forums, or off-topic.com, or even (god forbid) Gaia Online. Then multiply any of those forums by ten times the posts and population. Then add nameless anonymity. That is what 2channel is. 2channel is all about radical anonymity in a public sphere where Japanese netiquette used to reign supreme.
2channel is a place where Japanese, having to show a face in public in real life, can reveal their inner feelings and true side in a public sphere in complete anonymity. Employees can post secret information about their companies without reprisal. A place where people want to talk about what’s for dinner or the latest technology news, or talk about books or any other subject imaginable have a place to talk about it. Otaku of all types: anime, manga, video games, have a space to talk about anime and manga without fear of being set upon by a mainstream public that actually hates their hobbies. A place where people can come and chit chat and have fun.
2channel (“2ch” for short) is Japan’s (and the World’s) largest eBBS, or electronic Bulletin Board System(eBBS is a Japanese saying for Internet Message Forum). It’s currently run by both Nishimura Hiroyuki (Known by his username “Hiroyuki”)and Nakao Yoshihiro (Known by his username “FOX”), both administrators of the site . The entire site is hosted on 33 servers located in the United States. 2channel contains over 750 boards of every subject imaginable, categorized into about 41 broad subjects. In each board there are hundreds of threads, and each thread has a limit of 1000 replies or about 500k of data.
Many people who post 2channel post anonymously, due to the ease of the posting system which is based on Amezou and Ayashii world. Amezou and Ayashii world were predecessors of 2channel and many of the first 2channelers came from those sites and the software which 2channel was created from was based on the software that Amezou world used before it closed down for good.
2channel is basically a place where Japanese of all walks of life can share information, chat with people over several topics. A place where can discuss topic freely and openly than in real life than what they do in the same real life Japan. A place where they can forget about presenting a face, and can show their true side. For any topic you want to talk about in 2channel there’s a board for you. You like television shows, there’s not only a board for that, but a dedicated board for live discussions and comments while watching television shows. You like books, there’s a multiple boards for that. Go to school and are into a class subject, there is a board for each of those subjects you’re into. Into technology, there are boards for computers, gadgets, cell phones, cameras, etc. Like animals, there’s a board for dogs, cats, other animals, even there’s an animal haters board. For any topic you like, there’s a board for it.
Topic boards range from “recipes, real-time coverage of news events, sex gossip, high-tech gadgets and computer news.” (2channel’s success rests on anonymity- The Japan Times) Each board has its own culture, memes, posters, and recognized users of the boards. There are even whole boards (that end with +) where dedicated volunteers people post breaking news. Many of the threads are copied and pasted from other news websites routinely by dedicated volunteers that are allowed to post threads on the boards. In those boards, channelers can exchange comments based on their observations of that news story and any knowledge they have about the topic.
With a site with so many boards, it’s impossible to determine the true nature and size of 2channel. It’s a place so big that “people hardly ever browse the boards there” (2channel-Shii). Instead they go the boards they like and keep to themselves. While they may be different cultures in each board, they are bound together with a unique common culture.
2channel is so powerful that Japanese news organizations browse to research the public mood of the day. Corporations monitor 2channel to see how their products or the corporations are viewed. Law enforcement monitor the 2channel so they can reacts immediately to threats posted from simple offenses, murders, or yakuza incidents. It basically got the ears of the Japanese government and economy, primarily because of its massive grassroots hivemind nature.
2channel was founded by Hiroyuki Nishimura on May 30th, 1999 while he was a student at the University of Central Arkansas. While in America he started a business as a webpage designer while studying for his psychology degree. (Japanese Find a Forum to Vent Most-Secret Feelings – NYT) While he may claim that he created 2channel because he had some free time and he wanted to create a Web page for which other people would provide content. Ayashii and Amezou world may have been the first textboards to provide such an open space for others, but 2channel was the first to provide that space to everyone. As a matter of fact, Hiroyuki was actually an Amezou worlder before he created 2channel.
The name of the site was based on the second channel Kanto region of VHF television for broadcast television. It also had a double meaning of the second channel, a second textboard channel for many Amezou worlders. It was fitting that it got that name due to the fact that Amezou world’s server’s kept crashing routinely. Especially during one time where 2channel will be given its first break.
Shortly after he created 2channel in June 1999, the Toshiba scandal occurred. A 2channeler came to one of the website boards to make a thread about Toshiba’s rude customer service. The thread was about him complaining about a faulty VCR he bought from a store that was made by Toshiba. When he called customer service, he was “greeted with obscenities from the electronics giant’s service staff” (2channel – Everything Shii Knows) Not only he was able to post the ordeal, he was able to record the entire conversation and upload it as a link in the thread. The 2channelers who visited the thread were compelled to call the customer care there and forced them to apologize to the man for being abused.
The Toshiba scandal is one of the first and wasn’t the last examples of the “naked heroism” that each person used. This is particularly important because while in America they can be activists without being worried, in Japan they don’t want to be identified doing so. 2channel provides the space and platform to be active protesters without being identified. The Toshiba incident provided the positive attention, but it wasn’t the one that brought 2channel into the media spotlight. What did was something more sinister.
But even before then, as soon as the thread about the Toshiba incident was created, many Amezou worlders came to 2channel. This was primarily because when the incident went down, Amezou World was down at the time due to routine server problems. As a result many of Amezou worlders went to 2channel. As more Amezou worlders came to 2channel, more boards were created to accommodate the migrating population.
Eventually 2channel would be the new home for those who used to go to Amezou world. On December 30th 1999, Amezou World’s front page, the access point of the boards, was down for good. As a end result, the remaining Amezou worlders who remained, migrated to 2channel.
For further reading:
2channel – Japanese Wikipedia: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/2%E3%81%A1%E3%82%83%E3%82%93%E3%81%AD%E3%82%8B
2channel’s success rests on anonymity - The Japan Times - http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20100406i1.html
2channel – Everything Shii Knows - http://shii.org/knows/2channel
Japanese Find a Forum to Vent Most-Secret Feelings – New York Times - http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/09/world/japanese-find-a-forum-to-vent-most-secret-feelings.html