Our nation’s newspaper of record, the New York Post, today chronicled the lifestyle of Christopher Poole. Poole runs 4chan, which is one of the most active web sites, but lives with his Mom and is about $20,000 in debt.
Poole’s story is markedly different from other computer wunderkinds – like Bill Gates – who dropped out of college to devote time to digital endeavors, and it’s reflexive of different times. Gates, Steve Jobs, and other innovators of the late 1970s and early 1980s used their own creative abilities to invent or build products that were commodities – software, computers, etc. – that could be bought and sold. These commodities became high in demand and served as the cornerstones of a revolution in computing, making the innovators rich.
Poole is successful on today’s internet because he built a successful forum that harnessed the creativity and imagination of its users; 4chan originated as a site about Japanese animation and evolved to serve a specific and active niche audience. And unfortunately for Poole, use of his product is free. It is also a bastion of free expression, meaning advertisers are loathe to be associated with the site’s often inappropriate content.
That Poole has had trouble parlaying his online success into offline profits speaks to the need for any individual to devote attention to his or her personal brand. Clearly, Poole is an expert at something, or has certain experiences no one else has. He could bill himself as an authority on running a website, creating an open forum, managing a product that takes on a life of its own, or even Japanese animation – or possibly all of the above.
Not to mention his whole situation could be a book in an of itself.