canv.as was first revealed early this year to rather mixed reactions. Widely characterized as some kind of “4chan 2”, there was quite a bit of skepticism and disdain spread across the interwebs. However, back then, barely anyone had actually given canv.as a shot. Not only did it remain in closed beta for most of the year, but it used Facebook Connect as its beta signup/login method, which surely deterred quite a few potential testers who may have felt a just a little anxiety about giving all of their personal information to anyone associated with 4chan.
I actually did sign up for and gain entry to the site fairly early on, but still didn’t really try it out until now. My first impression back then was that it was basically something like a sanitized version of 4chan that would be so easy to navigate that it could attract an even lower common denominator than 4chan, while staying clean enough to support the advertisers who were too afraid to deal with 4chan and actually make some loot. Now that I’ve gone through it a bit more, I don’t think the preceding conception of canv.as is wrong, but there’s a lot more to it. I’ll go through how it works step by step, and you can decide yourself.
the canv.as experience
The first thing you’ll notice if you know anything about 4chan is that canv.as requires an account. This seems initially to contradict moot’s claim to strongly support anonymity, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. Many people fail to realize that when they post on 4chan, unless they go through additional measures to mask their identity, are only anonymous to other participants in discussions. From the perspective of the administration, which logs the IP address connected with each post, it’s easy to determine what users are posting what content. It’s necessary to do this in order to suppress rule violators. The actual value moot sees in anonymity is the ability to post things without having an individual reputation at stake, and canv.as continues to facilitate this. By default, everything is posted as anonymous, only using your username if you choose to. However, it allows the interesting feature of attaching your name to a post retroactively, should you choose to.
When you first log in, you’re given the annoying choice to autoinvite everyone on your Facebook friends list. I suppose this probably does get them a few new users, but I suspect most people have a fairly unpleasant reaction to seeing that the site’s already digging through all of the information accessible to it via Facebook Connect (even if they should know better).
After that, you’re greeted with a splash screen displaying the latest posts in the most popular categories. The subject categories are given twitterish hashtags and act something more like reddit’s subreddits than 4chan’s fixed boards. If you click on one of the images, you’re linked to its position at the bottom of the parent thread. You’re then given the ability to reply with text, a picture, or a modification of the existing picture you clicked through.
a basic run-through
Beginning my test of the system, I clicked on the the image of Link/Zelda. This brought me to the end of the thread in the “exploitable” category where it had been posted.
The initial post in this thread was simply the words “KNOW THE DIFFERENCE” with a vertical divider through the center. This was a common 4chan meme a while ago, with the optional caption “it could save your life.” The idea of an exploitable image (something begging to be photoshopped or captioned) was also a relatively common concept on 4chan in its earlier days, with the accompanying phrase “OH, EXPLOITABLE” often posted when such an image appeared. The existence of this category on canv.as is likely part of moot’s attempt to reacquire some of early 4chan’s creativity that it’s arguably lost in recent days, having been replaced with doubles threads and lol we r lejun xD everywhere.
Replying with only text or an uploaded picture is extremely similar to posting on 4chan— you have a text box and a button to browse to a file on your computer to attach it. By itself, this would contribute pretty strongly to the whole “shiny 4chan variant” perception. However, with the new ability to modify existing images from within the site, they’ve added something really impressive.
Basically, canv.as’ goal here is to lower the barrier of entry to creating some kind of visual content so much that ~anyone~ (really anyone) will be able to do it, and that’s what’s potentially their real innovation here. Maybe something like a visual twitter? Not quite, but it might be approaching that.
After making my pointless modification, I hit submit! And now we have my worthless contribution added to the end of the thread.
Look! Someone gave me a cookie! See the icons on the sidebar above the obligatory facebook/tumblr/etc link buttons? They’re kind of like visual meta tags that you can apply to other peoples’ posts to help categorize/prioritize them. The description of the cookie is that it’s “for things that need a little condescending acknowledgement.” Sounds appropriate amirite?
That’s the basic process. There is one more critical improvement over 4chan / innovation lacked by other sites, though, which I referenced before. This is the ability to “claim” content that you’ve previously posted as anonymous. Paraphrasing moot, anonymous posting gives you the ability to create content without worrying about how a failure reflects on your personal identity. But what if something you post turns out to actually be awesome? It’s pretty implausible, but it could happen. If it does, you’ll probably wish you were getting credit instead of the collective intelligence known as anon. This is what canv.as lets you do— no loss if you post complete drivel 99% of the time, because only the 1% of beneficial content need be attributed to your identity.
is canv.as actually worthwile; does any of this matter?
Maybe. It’s probably still to early to say. There’s no question that it’s an attempt to extract the good parts of 4chan and present them in a friendlier way. It’s probably up to you to decide if that’s actually a good thing, but they’ve done a fairly nice job of it. The integration of the imageboard and the image editor into a single interface is absolutely a great idea, and really does reduce the stupid cat picture creation time to almost nothing— sites like memegenerator have nothing on it.
The ability to switch between anonymous and a persistent identity is also rather brilliant, but I’m not sure if people at large will realize its value. I don’t think most people consciously realize that 4chan is really a place you can go to safely experiment (har), but simply somewhere they can post while disregarding normal social etiquette.
The site’s designed quite well and should certainly be very easy for even the nubbiest of newbs to navigate. If canv.as allows people at large to create their own content more easily, that could be pretty cool and make the world a more interesting place. On the other hand, lowering the bar of entry too much often tends to result in a flood of garbage. If/when canv.as gets sufficiently popular, we’ll see which it is.
[edited to fix images. kind of. decided to let them break the formatting because the formatting deserves to be broken]