"My name is Andrey. I made this little thing which everyone liked -- well, many people liked -- and that's why I'm here. It's a little website for video connection between people."
-Andrey Ternovskiy, CEO, Chatroulette
It's not news. Traditional print media is dying and is in desperate need of recycling. On a panel titled "Digital Crowds into Dollars," Tech Crunch editor Erick Schonfeld, Judy Hu, the global director of advertising and branding at GE, Brian Pokorny, the CEO of dailybooth.com, Christopher Poole, the founder of 4chan, and Andrey Ternovskiy, the CEO of Chatroulette took the stage this morning at TechCrunch's Disrupt Conference to discuss how entrepreneurs can effectively monetize "digital crowds."
As founders of two of the most hedonistic and bohemian "addictive digital platforms," 22-year-old Christopher Poole and 17-year-old Andrey Ternovskiy are this generation's Internet legends.
Ternovskiy, in nervous English, describes Chatroulette as "uncontrollable...a grown up baby...an experiment." "I like the feeling that I can show off. I like the feeling that other people see me and interact with me. That was what brought me to broadcast myself. I also was interested in what other people look like and that was what made me want to watch other people. This combination of 'I see them and they see me.'" says Ternovskiy.
TechCrunch's Schonfeld described Chatroulette as "an international language," and asked GE's Judy Hu, on potentially advertising on Chatroulette. Hu answered, "We don't really do so well with guys without pants."
Hu wasn't the only adult in the room uncomfortable with the new age of the Internet. Watching the various VCs in the audience try to figure out what 4Chan, which receives over 800,000 posts a day, is all about was humorous. Christopher "m00t" Poole is the founder of an online community called 4Chan, the largest online community in the English-speaking world, essentially an imageboard website where people post and discuss pictures. It is what social media enthusiast Colin James Nagy calls "pandora's box of the Internet."
Without any entry barriers, 4Chan is a place where users can post, contribute and share with anonymity. Poole started 4chan in 2003 with his mother's credit card and went only by the name m00t for several years. His real identity was revealed on July 9, 2008 in The Wall Street Journal. That same year, The Observer described him as "the most influential web entrepreneur you've never heard of." In April 2009, m00t was listed as Time magazine's most influential person in an open Internet poll amid rumors that his 4Chan followers hacked the site. Earlier this year in February 2010, m00t spoke at the TED2010 Conference about privacy on sites like Facebook and Twitter versus the value of anonymous posting on 4Chan.
TechCrunch's Schonfeld asked Poole what users do on 4Chan besides share LOLcat photos and Rickroll each other. "Content creation is communication," Poole explains, "It's a kind of ripping back and forth. And unlike every other forum on the Internet where you have to register, our content is ephemeral because our users are anonymous. 4Chan is very basic. The lack of registration means there's no friction or barrier for a person to enter the site. Our users are very good at spreading memes. This is why memes are born on 4Chan."
4Chan and Chatroulette comprise a massive digital market, a younger, savvier demographic of users, the future of the Internet, if you will. But how do its founders monetize off of this and how do advertisers capture this audience? Poole answered, "It's hard to get advertisers to spend money on this type of site because advertisers are scared by community generated content. We can't guarantee that we aren't going to slam their brands, we can't curate the experience of a user-generated site. To do so would be to break with the original idea. And I haven't cracked that nut yet."
The future of the Internet is about real time. It's about feeling the experience, it's about convergence. Whether our future is one of random video chat, Skype or people living through the Internet, a Tsernovskiy suggested, people are connecting and consuming new and different media---rapidly. To successfully monetize this new convergence, companies must open up their boundaries, loosen up and help the rising generation to crack the nut.
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