This is a snapshot from a thread about “Child Stars: Then and Now” on the FOK forum, one of the biggest fora in the Netherlands. It is exemplary of fora whose community members rely on image content hosting sites to submit their content to a thread. Ephemerality has a connection to the real-time stream1 where data ‘flows by’ and Twitter limits access to ‘old’ content by only providing updates from the past two weeks. The FOK forum does archive itself but since its members rely on third-party content hosting sites old threads become unreadable. Imagine what 4chan will look like in 5 years?
The popular discussion board 4chan takes a different approach to ‘archiving’ its forum which is closer to the idea of the ephemerality of streams within social media platforms. As described in “4chan and/B: an Analysis of Anonymity and Ephemerality in a Large Online Community” 4chan is rendered ephemeral through specific design choices:
Content ephemerality on 4chan is enforced by thread expiration and a large volume of incoming content. Threads begin on page one and are pushed down as new threads are added. If a user replies to a thread, it is bumped back to the top of the first page. If the thread reaches the bottom of the fifteenth page, the thread is removed permanently and its URL returns a ‘Page Not Found’ error. This entire process can take place over a matter of minutes, as Study 1 will demonstrate.2
Because 4chan by design deletes its threads when they become relatively inactive chances are very slim that it will have to deal with ephemeral third-party content hosting sites on which it heavily relies. With its focus on fresh and popular content, where the median life of a thread is 3,9 minutes (Bernstein et al 2011: p. 4), it is not designed as a permanent record of a specific type of internet culture. 4chan’s robots.txt excludes it from being crawled by the Internet Archive but the 4chanarchive – now being rebranded to chanarchive – keeps a selection of 4chan threads online. Nominated popular threads are archived by chanarchive, including the images from content hosting sites which allows you to revisit a thread with all images intact.
- see also: M Berry, David. Chapter 6: Real-Time Streams, in: “The Philosophy of Software: Code and Mediation in the Digital Age.” (2011): 200. Print. [↩]
- Bernstein, M et al. “4chan and/B: an Analysis of Anonymity and Ephemerality in a Large Online Community.” Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (2011): n. pag. Print. [↩]