The Internet Slums

A month back, JC wrote a post that inspired some digging. The topic was the Footscray of the Internet as I described it… 4chan /b/.

The thing is, I’ve been around, not heavily involved, with a subset of the 4chan community for a number of years, long before social networking was even big. Over the years I’ve been subjected to many memes, most of which I probably didn’t even realise at the time were memes. I’ve seen the birth of some of these Internet phenomenons and possibly taken part in developing them into mainstream memes. It wasn’t until Julian’s post that I started thinking about the importance of this community on Internet culture, even more so about a possible marketing application.

Julian said there was too much to cover in one post, and I agree. So here I’m simply going to suggest you check out the two biggest slums on the Internet…

+ 4chan /b/
+ Something Awful

Both communities are incredibly strong, even if they are based entirely around the anonymous. After spending a fair bit of time in these slums over the past month, I can easily say they are the best and worst places on the Internet. They are social in a disgusting yet brilliant manner. And they are responsible for 90% of the memes on the Internet and have had an impact on culture many couldn’t comprehend.

So as marketers, how can we use these communities?

  • Brett Fyfield
    Posted at March 1, 2009 7:15pm, 01 March Reply

    Hey Zac,

    Like the petri dishes they are, perhaps they lend themselves more to observation and measurement than to utilisation.

    Perhaps you could seed ideas there and watch how they evolve over time, before unleashing them into tamer neighbourhoods.

    I’m no marketer though, I’m just a humble scientist.

  • Matt Moore
    Posted at March 2, 2009 7:18am, 02 March Reply


    One option is to do the default marketing move and treat them the same way that petroleum companies treat oil-bearing rocks*.

    Another option is to immerse yourself in them and start creating dark, sick stuff – not for the TVC or direct mailing campaign. Let your shadow have a bit of a walk.

    Also marketers love people to identify themselves – fill out this survey, give us your details, plug yourself into our segmentation analysis. But people do not always want to identify themselves – or indeed to be nice – which I think freaks out the Cluetrain Bircher Authenticity mob as much as the SPSS Martengineers.


    *Which makes me wonder, have we reached Peak Cool yet? Will the price of Cool start escalating wildly? Will we have start substituting Cool with Kitsch or even Authenticity (surely the biodiesel of the online world)?

  • A(non)ymous
    Posted at March 2, 2009 11:37am, 02 March Reply

    I don’t think use is the right word here. Maybe it’s just my teenage years of heartbreak — but I think as markters, it’s important to monitor – and quite rightly enjoy – communities and realise what bigger themes are coming out of these communities that make them so strong.

    Through this, it’s possible to start to engage, build or create new/existing communities that will also (maybe) be one day as strong and influential.

    One comment I will make is I notice 4chan would probably have a much higher participatory rate than others, and they are generally pretty tech heavy and love to share.

    Saw your last post too, did you see mine? Under ‘anonymous’. That was some sick shit man. Let’s catch up.


  • Gavin Heaton
    Posted at March 2, 2009 3:18pm, 02 March Reply

    You know, social networking has been big for quite some time, and the very earliest research/academic communities drove the growth of what became the internet. What we are seeing now is a surfacing of the power of online communities – there is a real movement from the edge to the centre.

    The challenge for marketers is not to use the power or creativity of the edge, but to harness the acceptable elements that are able to successfully cross-over from the edge to the centre, and assist in that transition.

  • Lucas Ng
    Posted at March 25, 2009 3:57pm, 25 March Reply

    I’ve been a ‘goon’ on SA since 04. Haven’t really done much on 4chan besides lurking, since its more depraved than SA.

    As you mentioned, both have very strong and loyal communities.

    Marketing-wise, SA/4chan can teach us a lot about what goes viral and how it goes viral, particularly amongst the SA/4chan/digg demographic.

    The two communities are also references for how a social network’s self-governance can be scaled. SA’s registration + banning system is very streamlined these days, and users have adapted well to it.

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