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Like a lot of unsanitary places, 4chan is gloriously fertile. What grows there is memesideas and jokes and fads that spread across the Net. Here's an example: there used to be a tradition on 4chan that every Saturday people would post pictures of cats. It was called Caturday. People added captions representing what the cat would say if cats could talk. One day somebody posted a shot of a fat gray cat looking at the camera and saying, "I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?"
Somehow that picture escaped 4chan onto the wider Web. Without knowing where it came from, somebody saw it and liked it enough to start a blog about it: icanhascheezburger.com. Soon other people were making their own Caturday-style pictures and calling them "lolcats." Now you can buy lolcat T shirts and lolcat buttons and lolcat fridge magnets. Last September investors bought icanhascheezburger.com for about $2 million.
Coarse as it is, 4chan has no rival as a hothouse for memes; they're bred and refined, and then they can escape and run amuck through the culture at large. For better or for worse, this is what the counterculture looks like today: raw, sarcastic, bare of any social or political agenda but frequently funny as hell.
moot doesn't see any of that sweet lolcat money, by the way. Not that he's bitter. He has met the owners of icanhascheezburger.com. "They seem like nice people," he says. "You can't blame them for taking something and capitalizing on it. I don't." But he's barely covering costs. moot runs ads on 4chan, but the site needs massive amounts of bandwidth, and corporations are leery of associating their products with 4chan's content. "It's been a pretty uphill battle getting advertisers to take us seriously and appreciate the community and the power it wields," he says.
But if 4chan's memes can cross into the mainstream, maybe moot can too. This year he spoke at conferences at Yale and MIT. He's even ready to reveal his real name: it's Christopher Poole, he tells me. He wouldn't be above cashing out for the right price, which is $580 million, which is what Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. paid for MySpace in 2005. "I try to work Murdoch into any interview I give," he says. "Rupert Murdoch? firstname.lastname@example.org."