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Tuesday, November 7, 2006, an Anonymous Social Network

The website

There’s a pecularity on Japan’s huge discussion board, (active since 1999, with 28 million pages listed in Google) which I find very interesting in its contrast to certain boards of other cultures: users mostly post without a name or nickname. Instead of having to register to participate in the discussion, you are supposed to not identify yourself at all by any means... in fact, entering something in the name field only identifies you as newbie who hasn’t learned the 2channel etiquette yet.

What are the reasons behind this approach? For one thing, as Wikipedia writes, “One Toshiaki [the default name for an anonymous poster] is as good (or as much a loser) as another.” There is no reason for anyone to feel like they stand out as someone important in this Japanese community. If nicknames were used, as the creator of the board Hiroyuki Nishimura once explained in an interview, those people would gain authority in this network over time... an authority which would make it harder for others to tell them “what you say is wrong/ boring/ lame.” Nishimura says, “All information is treated equally; only an accurate argument will work.” And: “[P]eople can only truly discuss something when they don’t know each other.”

Compare this to, say, the comments system at Slashdot, which explicitly honors the “good karma” of long-time, popular users, by allowing them to hide comments of others. (Digg, on the other hand, while still showing the nickname, honors only on a per-comments approval basis... though it too compiles “top users” lists.)

Another reason for the 2ch anonymity is that there is less risk involved for the poster to say something... like disclosing secret information (this also leads to a lot of racist and other hate speech, according to Wikipedia). The New York Times in 2004 called 2channel “the place where disgruntled employees leak information about their companies, journalists include tidbits they cannot get into the mainstream news media and the average salaryman attacks with ferocity and language unacceptable in daily life.” The strong homogeneity of the board seems to be a digital escape from the Japanese real life culture, where, as the NYT puts it, “language is calibrated according to one’s social position.”

Drawings by members, apparently

Indeed, when my friend Dominik and I were hit by a massive wave of extremely talented artists who discovered Sketch Swap – creating tens of thousands of drawings within days – a lot of the pictures were signed with “VIP” or “Vipper” (apparently, the name for members of, showing the community spirit above individuality. Even when the Vippers arrived at this blog’s forum thread to explain, they mostly used the anonymous “VIP” as shared nickname.

To me, credibility is often associated with the past record of someone... you need to filter good from bad information, and trusted sources – those identifying themselves, preferably with their real name – seem to attach more “weight” to their information. But is it possible this Japanese approach would work on English/ Western discussion boards, too (or are there already examples of such mostly anonymous social networks/ forums)?


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