Anonymous and Impermanent Communities?
February 11, 2010 6:12 PM   Subscribe

What online communities or networks have embraced or enforced both anonymity and impermanence (i.e. no permanent archives)? Usenet (before Deja), IRC, imageboards (2ch/4chan), Craigslist Missed Connections, Omegle, ChatRoulette... What else?

How about offline communities, past or present?
posted by waxpancake to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Public libraries catalogs often will permanently remove a record of a patron having borrowed an item once that item has been returned (example). This is to advance the [legally mandated in the US] patron privacy laws and to sort of thwart the USA PATRIOT Act, but comes with downsides like not being able to do dataviz-type stuff with your reading history. People who want more 2.0 type tools in libraries find this lack of record retention problematic.
posted by jessamyn at 6:20 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There was the (now apparently defunct) wiki/palimpsest site, which featured a dynamic collection of content by theoretically (but not necessarily functionally) anonymous contributors.
posted by cortex at 6:44 PM on February 11, 2010

Best answer: Your World Of Text.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:49 PM on February 11, 2010

Oh, also, the collective known as Anonymous (which is closely associated with 4chan, but I thought I'd mention it)

For offline communities:

The Ku Klux Klan employed anonymity by overtly hiding their identities from each other, although members often enjoyed a whispered stature in their communities due to widespread knowledge of their membership. AFAIK, they also conducted their business only verbally, with no permanent records, but I could be wrong about that.

You could argue that terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda have been known to use anonymous cell structures to protect the larger organization from the consequences of low-level infiltration/betrayal.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:40 PM on February 11, 2010

BBS networks -- FidoNet echos, WWIV boards, etc.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:42 PM on February 11, 2010

(To be clear, they had archives but it was up to the individual sysop to determine the cutoff date, such that you might find 30 days worth of posts on one board, but only a week's worth on another.)
posted by Rhomboid at 7:44 PM on February 11, 2010

YouPorn, as if it needed to be mentioned. (Not linked on purpose. Just Google it, 'kay?)
posted by Down10 at 11:22 PM on February 11, 2010

Also, you might include any number of MMOs that exist. Second Life is the most notable example, but there are plenty of others that have sprung up both before and since.
posted by Down10 at 11:29 PM on February 11, 2010

Usenet (before Deja), IRC

Neither of these systems are anonymous in the way that 4chan and your other examples are. Usenet users often sign their posts with their real name or at least have a consistent email address that people can use to identify them. And although the IRC protocol has no built-in support for users to keep a consistent nickname, within a few years of its creation most networks adopted services like NickServ that allow people to register their preferred handle.

The community around FTP file sharing before P2P file sharing got was much more anonymous and impermanent than similar ones before and since.

In the cases of hacked FTP servers, the login information would be posted somewhere (such as on IRC) and people would connect to upload and download files. Since FTP doesn't have any built-in communication system, the different users would have no way of contacting each other or even knowing what other users were connected. These hacked servers were by their nature impermanent, because eventually the actual owners would find out and shut it down.

In the cases of private FTP servers that were specifically run for file sharing, the login information would also be shared using some other communication system. By the late 90s there were also search engines that crawled FTP content. Although the owner of the FTP server could post a welcome message and view the activity, none of the users could interact with other users or the owner directly on the server itself. Owners and users did not usually keep detailed or permanent logs. They were also relatively impermanent because similar to BBS most were run off of the owner's home connection as a hobby.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:10 AM on February 12, 2010

LambdaMOO fits your description.
posted by etoile at 9:29 PM on February 12, 2010

Best answer: There was a great anonymous IRC called IIP (Invisible IRC Project). The setup was geared toward anonymity - you could connect to any of a half dozen nodes & there were level of indirection between those nodes & the main server that made it difficult to track down who was saying what. A lot of good minds gathered there - people who were working on cool anonymous software, mostly p2p type stuff.

Sadly, it no longer exists.

Within that, there was an anonymous chatroom, where anything you posted showed up as being from <anonymous>. It had the advantage of allowing you to discuss sensitive issues or controversial issues, such as politics, and focus on the issues and not on who said what. It was rather surreal.

I think these things are best as an adjunct to a normal community - similar to anonymous posts here. You could debate stuff like politics with people you were familiar with, but focus on the issues & not your preconceived notions of the motives of the people who are saying it.

Crazy on Tap is a forum that allows you to post without registering, but logs are kept for a long, long time, including a public hash of your IP address that other people could examine to see if two posts were from the same person. Most posters use persistent nicks, but many of them rotate in new nicks every few months, so you really have to be a regular to now who's who.
posted by MesoFilter at 9:38 PM on February 12, 2010

Best answer: Sketchzilla sort of went the way of metababy.
posted by jessamyn at 10:02 PM on February 12, 2010

Reddit for sure. No sign up barrier, and no real names
posted by joelf at 2:20 PM on February 24, 2010

A lot of MMOGs would fit this description.
posted by foraneagle2 at 3:18 PM on February 24, 2010

Not a huge website, but fits the description and looks elegant: a friend of mine created Wall of Freedom where one can post anonymously 80 chars twice per day.
posted by yves at 2:29 AM on February 26, 2010

I think an interesting extension to the question is what frameworks and systems encourage impermenance. With I used Redis for the banning backend because it's exactly right for the job. Very fast, single threaded for easy concurrency, asynchronous modules for node.js. Perfect for the job.

What is cool, though is the EXPIRE keyword which means a Key will simply disappear after an amount of time. For a site to be truly anonymous, it requires that the backend data is impermanent too, not just the visible front-end.

Unfortunately, the site does use Google Analytics for some stat keeping on whether RTMP or RTMFP was used for the audio and video transmission. I think it would be good if Google let you specify for how long they can keep the data.

I also think that as apps move more and more towards Peer to Peer, you lose any centralised permanance to data or behaviour storage, and this can only be a good thing! Only trouble is those damned Speedtouch ADSL routers that stop it all working.....
posted by Donch at 1:08 PM on March 27, 2010

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