3 The First Channel
The Protochannel and the First Channel
Many 4channers (and channers in general) know the origin of the imageboards came from 2chan or Fubata Channel. However, it was another unknown site that created the foundations of the imageboard culture. Ayashii World was the first large-scale anonymous textboard in Japan. Ayashii was established in 1996 by Shiba Masayuki (also known by his username ‘Shiba'). Ayashii world pioneered and basically gave birth to anonymous discourse, verbal memes (more specifically idioms), ascii art, and the first visual meme (giko-neko) of not only Japanese but Western online otaku culture.
Ayashii grew out of the USENET culture in Japan. It was used as an extension of USENET, but as Ayashii popularity increases, it eventually grew out of USENET and into its own set of boards. Ayashii was a group of anonymous bulletin boards based on various underground and subculture interests related to technology. Due to the fact that Ayashii world came from USENET users, most of the topics were strictly about technology and more broadly Information Technology. More specifically includes “hacking, warez, copyrighted material, pornography including child pornography, snuff, drugs,bombs,etc”.(http://groups.diigo.com/group/ksudigg/content/tag/anonymous%20history) This was unlike 2chan, 2channel, and its derivatives which had boards which range from various topics depending on the site. Ayashii world was strictly about the underground geek culture.
The influence of USENET over Ayashii world also brought another aspect of the culture: nameless discourse. Raw, “no hold-barred” discussions were already present in USENET. (http://groups.diigo.com/group/ksudigg/content/tag/anonymous%20history) The ability of the same people to hold those conversations on Ayashii, because the major difference is that people don’t have to enter a name in order to community merely amplifies these discussions. The end result was raw, pure discourse of technology topics.
Ayashii pioneered several cultural concepts of the imageboard culture that most channers take for granted.
First, it introduced the concept of anonymous posting. Users “usually did not indicate their names in the name field”, so it’s in effect an anonymous forum. (http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue4/kaigo.html) In USENET, you have to have a user name to use the system but with the use of the username optional it basically told them, you don’t have to use a user name if you don’t want to. This turned out in a good thing because in Japan, people are forced to present to the public a façade, but in Ayashii they don’t have to, unless they want to or have to. This same cultural concept also gave birth of the use of the word ‘Nanashi’, or Nameless.
The second cultural concept that Ayashii created, was the in-joke or meme culture. You have your catchphrases, idioms and the like. However, it is unknown what idioms was born from Ayashii because we don’t have much information about it. But what we discovered that it was the place where the giko cat, from 2channel, was created.
Giko-cat, or by its native Japanese pronunciation “Giko Hanyann” or Giko-neko is a ascii drawing of a cat on all fours, in some cases he appears in a biped form on two legs with arms side by side. He usually says the words “Itte Yoshi”, which can mean “Fuck off” or “Piss off” depending on the context. What is unique about giko-cat and what they like is that the text in the word bubble can be replaced with similar words. That’s how the giko-cat became one of the first visual memes, because the cat can be easily replicated by copying and pasting the image and replacing the text with whatever the person wanted. Giko-cat was born from the wealth of ascii art that was created out of Ayashii. In Japan, it is typed as ‘AA’ for Ascii Art, but technically known as Shift_JIS art or SJIS Art. AA art was first used in protochannel for all kinds of art.
Within Ayashii, there was a board that was similar to /b/ known as the gesu or “scum” board. The Gesu board is where users can plan or discuss website hackings or invasions of websites. It was similar to /b/ where occasionally people wanted to raid websites for the lulz, but it was not completely mixed in with random discussion. The gesu board was simply just that, a board used as a staging ground to wreck havoc on other websites.
The main problem with Ayashii was that it did not had good servers, so it kept crashing from time to time. The server problems were so bad that eventually Shiba received personal threats over the crashes. The personal threats gotten so bad that eventually in 1998, he closed the site down. With many Nanashi without a home, they needed a replacement. That replacement came to be Amezou World
If Ayashii was the grandmother of the Western Imageboard Culture, then Amezou could be considered the grandfather. Now, I consider Ayashii world as the protochannel, the channel before the first channel: which is Amezou.
When Ayashii World died it created a disporea, or scattering of Ayashii Worlders. Those Worlders created their own BBSes based on Ayashii world’s system. When Amezou World started by an unknown coder named Amezou-shi (aka Mr. Amezou, as his real name is unknown to this very day) on June 9th, 1998. It just started as a page to a bunch of links of those boards created by people displaced because they lost a home. But he eventually created his own board which eventually gained users.
Amezou created two things that many channers take for granted when it comes discussion and contribution of text and pictures.
A. A new style of threading (Floating type vs. Tree type): Threads in Ayashii world had threads that are tree-type. Tree-type threads are threads consist of an OP (Original Post) and replies that “grow” throughout. Then people make new replies on those older replies and so on and so on. Those threads were difficult to go through and hard to read, and probably at that time there was no way for a linear mode at the time.
Amezou world did just that by inventing a linear mode for imageboards. Mr. Amezou as a coder made “new threads (discussion topics pages) would display above older threads, and newer postings to existing threads would follow the older postings in sequence.” (http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol12/issue4/kaigo.html) The end result is a thread system that is much easier and simpler to read. 2channel adopted it and it became the standard way to view threads. These threads are called “Floating threads”
B. Bumping: Mr. Amezou created a bumping system for those floating threads. New replies make a thread bump to the front page of the board, while unpopular threads go down and “eliminated eventually” by the new threads created along with bumping popular threads. (http://groups.diigo.com/group/ksudigg/content/tag/anonymous%20history) The threads that are unpopular are naturally “saging” by new threads.
The main problem Amezou faced wasn’t bad servers, it was vandalism. As Amezou got more popular, vandalism done by trolls spamming the site to make threads less readable. Eventually, violent threats led him to close down the site. But he did made one request to the community: Create sites similar to Amezou. Just like they did after Ayashii World died, many sites were created using the same program Amezou created.
One of those sites was 2channel, the same channel that would for the first time, bring this culture to the mainstream of Japanese society and would further innovate the culture. Many people from Amezou flocked to 2channel when it was launched. The same channel would be the same channel that would bring about the second generation of nameless expression.
This article is dedicated to ‘shii’, a former 4chan moderator who has intended to create an article about Ayashii World on his ‘Everything Shii Knows’ personal wiki, but never got the chance to.