4archives, the Web’s premiere destination for permanently inscribed relics from 4chan’s past, died a quiet death in early May. The administrator, a 17-year-old GED graduate known only as Jacob, shut it down with little fanfare and even less warning.
“I started writing the shutdown message, 10 minutes later I dumped the database, 10 more minutes later, I pulled the plug,” he told the Daily Dot in an email.
4chan, for the unaware, is basically the mess hall of the Internet. It’s the most popular imageboard online and the 748th most-trafficked website in the world, according to Alexa. It hosts dozens of different board from topics ranging everything from sports to My Little Pony, but it’s most popular forum, known as /b/, has long been known as one of the most chaotic spots on the Web. It’s the place that once conned Mountain Dew and Time magazine, as well as hosting some of the most esoteric pornography in arm’s reach.
4archives, unlike 8chan or other spinoff websites, wasn’t a message board in the traditional sense. It was instead a place where anyone—literally anyone—could copy and paste a 4chan thread URL into the service, and crystalize that thread forever, making it immune from moderator pruning.
This made 4archives an excellent destination for Internet historians, as well as reporters (like me) who kept an eye on 4chan’s antics. But is also provided a safe haven for people to some of 4chan’s darker, legally dubious corners. In total, 4archives saves nearly 10 million posts and more than 3 million images—a not insignificant number of which were NSFW.
“I’ve seen threads that were good at the core. Those were the kind of threads I wanted people to save, but instead, people started using 4archive as their porn collection.”
It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that some of Jacob’s motivation for taking down the site comes from a frustration and disgust with what people were using his site to do. That mirrors the motiviations of Christopher “moot” Poole, who served as the proprietor of 4chan for years before taking his leave earlier this year.
We caught up with Jacob as he elaborated on the end of his useful (and misused) website.
When did you first start using 4chan?
I was introduced to 4chan years ago, but only began really looking at it late 2013. A few friends of mine then were occasionally talking about the site, mainly /b/ of course. I would lurk /g/ and /mu/.
When did you first get the idea for hosting an archive of 4chan?
I noticed that /g/ and /mu/ had their own archives for example, but NSFW boards like /b/ didn’t. Even now, 4chan has their own official archive for /g/ and /mu/, but NSFW boards were left in the dark. I can understand why, but I mean, there are some notable things that I figured people may want to archive on a third-party website. I talked it over with a few friends of mine, and one of them suggested I name it 4archive, so I bought 4archive.org.
What was the tech like for running 4archives? It sounded kinda complicated.
4archive, when it first started, ran on a $5/month VPS hosted by Digital Ocean. I finished the code in two days and, now that I look at it, the code was garbage, but it improved over the year 4archive was online. Eventually, I started running out of the 512 MB memory I was given and had to act quickly. I moved over the Microsoft Azure under a BizSpark license that a friend let me borrow. Microsoft ended up shutting down my server due to the Fappening, actually, so I moved over to a $50/month OVH server, and stayed there until the end. 4archive’s code was written in PHP, with an Apache Web server, running alongside a MySQL 5 database. When a thread was archived, it was archived in that very moment you clicked the “Archive” button. It would gather all of the posts, images, and data for the thread and save the text in the database, but upload the images to Imgur first, then Imageshack if it failed to upload to Imgur. It wasn’t too bad.
4archives became one of the most popular archivers on the Internet. Threads were being saved every second it seemed. What was your reaction to the popularity?
I definitely noticed a rise in the amount of people visiting the site—a slow and steady rise. The biggest popularity spike was during the Fappening. I had over 1,600 people on the website at once, when the usual number was around 70 to 100 people. The traffic died down after the Fappening, but maintained after that.
You mentioned in the goodbye message that you were starting to get disgusted by some of the stuff that was getting saved. That’s understandable. For a while there the most popular thread was of a guy taking pictures of his unconscious sister. When did that content start to make you want to shut down the site?
I’ve had thoughts of shutting it down for a while now. It started to get to me more and more when I would go to the homepage and look at what’s popular and what’s recently been archived. All of it was content that I would’ve much rather had people save on their own computer. I tried to keep 4archive free territory. What I mean by that is, I tried not to take down content that people archived. If they archived porn, so be it. If they archived some disgusting content, whatever. I never really policed 4archive. I honestly barely ever went to the website. But the moment I received a takedown request for a thread, it got taken down. I wasn’t going to take any chances with the content, so if someone felt like something on 4archive was very wrong, I let them take it down. The amount of requests that got rejected were very very low.
I like to think 4chan has some good in it alongside the stuff that’s reprehensible. Do you think 4chan has some good in it?
Well, yeah. I’ve seen threads that were good at the core. Those were the kind of threads I wanted people to save, but instead, people started using 4archive as their porn collection. See this screenshot:
Do you have any regrets about shutting down the site?
I didn’t like taking a service that people used away from them, but I don’t want to deal with the content anymore, which is why I released all the threads archived to the public. They can rehost all the content themselves if they want to. I’ve also been working on a new version of 4archive’s code that will only be open-source. You can see the code and see progress here.
Photo via Archives New Zealand/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed