Google+, Google’s social network, has struggled for a long time as a prospective Facebook competitor but has not been abandoned by Google. Rather, the search giant has become more creative in its attempts to improve the social network’s clout, and one of its recent steps is hiring Chris Poole, the original founder of the controversial message board 4chan. Poole himself first revealed his hiring on his personal blog, before Bradley Horowitz, Google’s VP of Streams, Photos and Sharing confirmed as much on his own Twitter account.
On the surface, this is a strange decision for Google to make. Much of 4chan’s content is inappropriate for a wide audience, and the site has been regarded poorly since the 2000s, where Fox News sensationalized it as an “Internet hate machine”. However, the website’s founder was less mentioned publicly, and his contribution could be seen as more positive: his experience running the website and bringing it to the millions of users and search-topping rankings it has today may be just what Google+ needs. After all, 4chan sees one million posts and twenty-two million views each day, and most of its users are between 18 and 34. This may be just the market Google+ intends to reach.
Beyond demographics, Poole’s addition to the top Google+ team may represent an attempt by Google to diversify not the people using the site, but how they use it: as an imageboard, where users primarily communicated visually, 4chan was anything but a conventional message board. Google may be hoping that Poole’s expertise in building a social website outside of social media will allow them to shift away from competing directly with Facebook, and allow them to offer something their competitors don’t provide.
Overall, hiring Chris Poole is a decision which all online marketers should watch from the outside with interest. It represents a changing of the guard, a difference in how Google+ is led. It may provide them with the expertise they need to turn Google+ from a flagging social network into something different and glorious. But it may also work out poorly, leaving Google+ as a failed experiment. And although moot is not well-known on mass media, Silicon Valley cynicism and his checkered fame on the Internet may also affect the site’s usage. Undoubtedly, the long-term outcome of this decision will tell marketers a lot about how their craft works today.