moot doesn't give out much in the way of personal info. I don't even know his real name. He's 20 years old and skinny; he could pass for 16. He grew up in New York City and is currently in college somewhere. He is pleasant and very serious. "When people meet me and I'm generally pretty sociable and I meet some definition of normal, they're almost surprised," he says. "And simultaneously disappointed." We talk in a coffee shop in downtown Manhattan. He orders a lemonade.
moot is the founder of an online community called 4chan, located at 4chan.org. You may not realize it, but 4chan has probably touched your life. Possibly inappropriately. 4chan is unusual in several ways. It's extremely large and active; it gets 8.5 million page views a day and 3.3 million visitors a month. Since moot started it in 2003, those visitors have put up 145 million posts. By some metrics, 4chan is the fourth largest bulletin board on the Net.
4chan is also very profane. A phrase from Star Wars comes to mind: It's a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Spammers don't even bother to spam 4chan; Google started searching it only six months ago. But it is the wellspring from which a lot of Internet culture, and hence popular culture, bubbles. In his way, moot is one of the most powerful people on the Web.
moot founded 4chan when he was 15 as a space where he and his friends could talk about manga and anime; it's based on a popular Japanese site called 2channel. Like 2channel, 4chan is an imageboard: you're supposed to post picturessnapshots, found images, original artwork, altered or defaced photosrather than words. 4chan is divided into 43 different boards, ranging from video games to origami to food to "random." The most popular board on 4chan, by far, is random.
There are few rules on 4chan. Child pornography is off limits, but not much else is. Unlike most boards, 4chan doesn't require posters to register, which means they can post anonymously, which leads to a lot of uninhibited behavior. If you're looking for obscenity, blasphemy, homophobia, misogyny and racial insults, you don't have to dig too deep. Shortly after midnight on Sept. 11, 2007, a teenager in Pflugerville, Texas, posted a photo of some pipe bombs and announced that he was going to shoot up his school in the morning. A reader in Arizona called the Pflugerville police, who arrested the teenager. (So that's another thing that's against the rules.)
You can see why moot keeps his real name to himself. "My personal private life is very separate from my Internet life," he says. "There's a firewall in between."