It takes some wading through sludge of child pornography, gore, rampant racism and herp-a-derp-check-out-my-dubs threads, but the best thing (and possibly the only truly good thing) about /b/ has always been the memes, little image-based internet in-jokes that people revise and riff on in endless variations to often hilarious results. For over a decade now, /b/ has been the home base and origination point for almost every meme you've ever seen, a random image board whose simple platform of total anonymity and endless possibility allows for the organic exchange of some of the best (or at least the funniest) ideas of humanity, and as a consequence, also plays host to some of the worst. The aim of canv.as is to improve upon that platform, facilitating the good while eliminating the bad.
The site is the latest project of 4chan founder Christopher Poole -- better known by his web handle moot -- who has repeatedly expressed the same amazement and revulsion that everyone else expresses at the cesspool of creativity and grotesquerie that is his creation; given that, canv.as is pretty much his next logical step. Launched in late January, the site is still in closed beta testing, meaning you can't get a login without an invitation (you can request one via Facebook). We just got ours -- took long enough -- and took a couple of hours to play around on it.
We are impressed.
Here's how it works: Much like 4chan, canv.as works in image threads; someone starts by posting a new image, and from there, people can "remix" that or another image in the thread to add to or modify the joke -- what's awesome is that, where in 4chan a person could pull an image off the board, modify it in Photoshop and then repost in that thread, in canv.as, that machinery is built in -- it works on an html5 platform (which basically, at this point, is the html most sites are currently built on raised to the power of awesome), and because of that, facilitates more interactivity than these humble internets have literally ever seen. You have essentially a stripped-down version of Photoshop in front of you that you can work on right there in your browser, which not only provides you with the standard clone stamping and drawing tools, but -- and this is even better than Photoshop -- allows you to search and import images right from Google. Some of the features are hard to figure out, and there isn't a help section -- yet -- but that kind of thing is why the site is still in beta testing, so you can't complain too much.
There are also a lot of organizational and upvoting features and whatnot, which'll be fun for Redditors and young folks who enjoy voting on stuff.
What's notably absent from canv.as's current incarnation is the presence of really funny shit; we dropped in on /b/ today and found about 25 memes that made us lol within five minutes -- we lol'd at maybe one thing on canv.as in the entire time we were playing around with it. As a meme generator, sure, it's undeniably awesome, packed with entertaining stuff to fiddle with and technologically way cool; as a meme collector, it just doesn't hold a candle to its inspiration.
There are probably two reasons for that: One, unlike 4chan, canv.as is not anonymous -- it requires a login, and although you can post images "anonymously," you're still trackable. And that's theoretically fine, but part of both /b/'s ugliness and /b/'s greatness is the wild-west allure of total anonymity -- the total absence of supervision equals the total absence of social constraint, making /b/ something akin to the id of the internets, untamed and outrageous.
Canv.as, on the other hand, almost literally puts a parent in the room; it's strictly moderated, and moot's billing it as SFW -- meaning no nudity, no gore, possibly not even swear words (there's nothing about that in the Code of Conduct, but we got a moderator warning after we captioned a post "My Brain is Full of Fuck" -- admittedly they didn't tell us exactly why we got the warning, but that in itself is kind of worrisome). Mostly, /b/ is great because it's where the bad kids hang out, and with the very real element of patronizing supervision looming over the proceedings, it's unlikely the bad kids are going to take to hanging out on canv.as.
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Die-hard trolls notwithstanding, though, this site is going to be out-of-control popular with everyone else -- it's way too cool and too novel not to be -- and though it'll never really replace /b/, it does provide a neat supplement to it, and -- far more importantly for the merchandisers involved -- a supplement that's readily palatable to the masses. And the masses will most certainly flock to it.
Watch out, internets. All your base are belong to moot.