2ch is the largest internet forum in the world – over 10 million registered users. I first heard of it a few years ago, but the wikipedia article is probably the single best source of information.
A distinguishing feature of 2ch is the pervasive anonymity. From an interview with the founder, quoted in the wikipedia article:
Q: Why did you decide to use perfect anonymity, not even requiring a user name?
A: Because delivering news without taking any risk is very important to us. There is a lot of information disclosure or secret news gathered on Channel 2. Few people would post that kind of information by taking a risk. Moreover, people can only truly discuss something when they don’t know each other.
If there is a user ID attached to a user, a discussion tends to become a criticizing game. On the other hand, under the anonymous system, even though your opinion/information is criticized, you don’t know with whom to be upset. Also with a user ID, those who participate in the site for a long time tend to have authority, and it becomes difficult for a user to disagree with them. Under a perfectly anonymous system, you can say, “it’s boring,” if it is actually boring. All information is treated equally; only an accurate argument will work.
That said, some celebrities do sign their names with a tripcode, a cryptographic has created from the password field. Like any large community, 2ch has evolved its own culture, slang, mythology, and iconography. Examples are Soy Sauce Warrior Kikkoman, the Neomugicha incident, Shift_JIS artwork, and the astonishing love story of Densha Otoko, the patron saint of otaku aspirations if there ever was one.
Strangely, I found a referral to haibane.info from this site which has my blog listed as an English 2ch-type forum. Given that I run a pretty standard WordPress/K2 install, I’m somewhat bemused.
It would be interesting to launch a 2ch type forum focused on a single topic, probably politics. The community model might well be a significant improvement over Scoop-based sites like Daily Kos and RedState. Especially if you presented the forum content in blog format via RSS feeds. As a model for community-building, 2ch s perhaps teh most successful example ever, and given that many other 2ch-inspired English sites have sprung up but none have ever achieved anywhere near the original’s mass popularity, I wonder if 2ch is somehow more uniquely suited to the Japanese cultural mileu.