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CHRISTOPHER "MOOT" POOLE – 4CHANChristopher Poole, aka Moot, creator of 4chan.org. Photograph: Helayne Seidman
The site is distinctive because users can post material anonymously, and some users have also organised themselves as a collective, using the name "Anonymous". What does that actually mean?
As recently as six years ago, people were used to forums where you could lurk, you could view, but in order to post and participate, you had to register. Because you didn't need to register on 4chan, people started to appreciate it, and realise how radically different it was. We began to see anonymity not just as an aspect or feature, but as a thing, as a principle, as an idea that we are one, we are a collective, we are Anonymous. People then came to the site who not only saw Anonymous as a principle, but started to exploit anonymity as a new platform where they could be rebellious and no one knew who they were.
Anonymity allows you to express and view opinions, images you wouldn't necessarily be comfortable with elsewhere. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to be negative. It's not about, "You can't say fuck on Facebook but you can on 4chan." Services where you have a persistent, registered identity such as Twitter and Facebook – in many cases it's your real identity – limit what users want to say and read. But you can on 4chan. It is an outlet. I was invited to speak at Facebook to provide an alternative and opposite perspective to theirs. Mark Zuckerberg's point of view is that anonymity and monikers and pseudo-identity represents cowardice. He said that if you have nothing to hide, what's the big deal? Why would you be concerned about putting all this stuff on your profile? Well, I'm not a zealot and people like what Facebook is doing. But there is a place for both. They both offer powerful utilities for different needs. The world still needs a Google, and Facebook. But it also needs the anonymous, ephemeral, open 4chan.
Are there any rules?
There is a set of codified rules and we do enforce them: don't break the law or post anything illegal. Past that, the users are left to their own devices.
ORY OKOLLOH - USHAHIDIOry Okolloh, founder of Ushahidi. Photograph: Brian Harkin/Getty Images
Kenyan activist, lawyer and blogger, and co-founder of Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing technology. She is 33 and now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Where will the web have its greatest effect over the next 10 years?
No question: Africa.
JODY McINTYRE – LIFE ON WHEELSJody Mcintyre, activist and Life on Wheels blogger. Photograph: Sophia Evans for the Observer
A 20-year old British blogger and author of the site Life on Wheels, Jody was born disabled and campaigns worldwide for justice in Palestine.
Where does Life on Wheels come from?
The site was born out of anger and frustration – as with the birth of every revolutionary movement. Essentially, I was going to college every morning and bus drivers wouldn't let me on the bus because I was in a wheelchair. So in response to these feelings, I began writing the blog, detailing my experiences.
HAN HAN – BLOGGERHan Han a professional rally driver, bestselling author, singer, creator of a literary magazine and China's most popular blogger. Photograph: Ym Yik/epa/Corbis
The 28-year-old Chinese professional rally driver, bestselling author, singer, creator of a literary magazine and China's most popular blogger – indeed, possibly the most popular blogger in the world.
What are your greatest criticisms of the Chinese government and the current political climate there?
The Chinese Communist party puts keeping their political position first above everything. Of course, this is the wish of many political parties around the world. For the Chinese government, the reality is that regardless of whether the people are satisfied or unsatisfied, the party's position will always be secure. However, they are sometimes nervous, sometimes arrogant and this attitude has caused many tragedies.
PETER SUNDE – THE PIRATE BAYPeter Sunde, co-founder of The Pirate Bay. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Guardian
The 32-year old Swedish co-founder of the Pirate Bay, the world's leading file-sharing site, allowing users to exchange music, games, videos and more. Found guilty, along with his colleagues, of assisting others in copyright infringement in 2009; lost his appeal last week (after this interview took place) and now faces eight months in jail and a fine shared with his colleagues of £4.1m.
What philosophy lay behind your attitude?
We were influenced by Public Enemy and the KLF. And by traditional French philosophers, rather than by any US west coast libertarians.
What makes you think that the free sharing of files online can be right?
I grew up with computers. I got my first computer when I was nine, and everything I learned about computers was from copies. I wouldn't be able to program if it wasn't for illegally copying my first programming language compiler.
WALID AL-SAQAF – YEMEN PORTALWalid al-Saqaf, creator of Yemen Portal. Photograph: James Duncan Davidson/TED
The 37-year old Yemeni activist is the creator of Yemen Portal and of software used to circumvent firewalls.
How did the government respond to the fact that an increasing readership was discovering dissident content through Yemen Portal?
They simply blocked access to it, to the whole site from within Yemen. So I had three choices: give way and let the government control what did and didn't appear on my site; shut it down altogether; or keep the controversial content and find ways to allow people to access the site. I chose the latter, because I felt it would have been a betrayal to my professsion to manipulate what people see. I developed a piece of software called alkasir. If you were browsing the net and wanted to open your Gmail, your Gmail would go through the regular internet service provider. But when you open a blocked website, it activates itself and changes into the encrypted proxy mode. That's better than anonymising everything because if you do that, you give the impression to the monitors at the ISP that there is a fishy connection.
TOM STEINBERG – MYSOCIETYTom Steinberg, founder of mySociety. Photograph: Anna Gordon for the Guardian
The 33-year old founder of mySociety, which has developed websites in the UK including TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem, aiming to bring greater transparency to government.
What is mySociety?
MySociety builds websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and democratic parts of their lives. We run various democracy and transparency sites in the UK that do things like make it really easy to find out how your politicians voted or, on a more local level, help you report problems to the council, such as potholes and broken streetlights, or get information out of government that you might want via the Freedom of Information Act.
Are you trying to transform local politics?
It would be lovely if measurably more people in the future felt they could realistically be part of the solution if there was some problem in their community, that it's not just something unimaginably over their heads that's dealt with by another class of people that they never meet. I am out to give as many people as I can a better experience of dealing with the democracy they live in and the government that rules over them.