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I think that 4chan suffered from an "Eternal September" from 2007 onwards, and an inability to best accommodate the desires of new users, but it has really improved upon this in the last few years.
With the exclusion of /b/, perhaps /v/, and some porn boards, 4chan's boards serve as some of the most convenient mediums for various interests which did not merit their own website, either for lack of relevancy and community outside of a certain demographic, or for reasons involving censorship, infighting, or appealing to the common denominator in the communities outside of 4chan.
By forcing transience through inevitable deletion and lax moderation, 4chan served as a place where one could speak their mind without triggering a paper trail. Alos, imageboards remain one of the few places where the weight of one's words is displayed without bias, unlike Reddit's upvote system, a forum's manipulation of board software and the categorization of users, or the heavily abstract, nuanced, and arbitrary Social Media platforms.
4chan is no French salon, though, and in order to compete with the attention span of the average poster/lurker, people needed a way to construct a safe set of assumptions about the topic in which they were engaging, without being wordy or repetitive.
So developed board culture, where certain phrases and names attached with them a colloquial meaning which was much deeper and nuanced than they appear to be at face-value. For instance, that one can declare a topic, an alliance, a certain personal taste, a set of preloaded arguments against naysayers, and the forum for debate with a phrase like "Homura did nothing wrong" is a pretty powerful compression of the English language.
However, it is also very esoteric. And so you get users who are attracted to the site for various reasons, but who do not fit in, and who do not practice "lurking more" for whatever reason.
How is the site, which has no barriers on participation, supposed to preserve a stable medium of conversation?
One method is the creation of sites like Encyclopedia Dramatica to preserve the colloquialisms, generalize them as memetic lingo, or "memes," qualify and quantify them, and present the culture of 4chan in a nutshell. It is widely despised, and I feel the hate is deserved, because it nullifies the experience which led to the creation of these very particular phrases.
By declaring a particularism to be a meme, and then attempting to prescribe its use to the wider society, it is then accepted and parroted, bound to a rigid, written context. In essence, to declare and define something as memetic, will inevitably lead to it being memetic. And Encyclopedia Dramatica fine-tuned this process to an art.
[Another method is open hostility towards those who do not conform. By berating, calling out, ignoring, etc. those who do not conform, you establish to the poster directly that they are not properly embodying the assumptions with which the accuser has become acquainted. This is still commonly done, but its effectiveness varies.
For one, a mischievous user can easily play this animosity to his own benefit, and aggravate board discussion by triggering the passion of other posters for their own benefit. Secondly, it is easy for one to disregard the complaints of other users, until an objective, direct consequence results from their nonconformity. Third, the entire process is entirely subjective, and their may not be a relatively certain validity between the ideals of both posters. /pol/ and /v/ are the prime examples of these consequences.
Yet another method is a more active involvement of moderation in preserving post quality or board culture. I disagree with this vehemently. While minimum moderation keeps spam away, request at bay, and CP removed without delay, placing cultural authority into the hands of the few limits freedom of expression and opens the way for greater abuses in moderation. IIRC, this occurring on /jp/ helped to jump-start the creation of Tohno-chan.
Any of the many imageboards which practice this ideology have less potential for growth, as the culture of the board becomes the culture of a few, all-too-human individuals, whose personal misinterpretations and faults become one of the entire board.
The best method, IMHO, and one which seems to work alright, is the division and compartmentalization of over-populated and over-generalized boards into its largest constituencies. By creating a so-called "containment board," those within receive a space in which to discuss their interests and produce a new culture for their own, and those on the outside are relieved of their overbearing presence. They can be universal alleviating, like /mlp/, /pol/, or /r9k/ for the whole of 4chan, or exclusively so, like /vr/ and /vg/ for /v/.
Either way, they tend to work. Ponies are only rarely seen outside of /mlp/, political crossposting is less frequent than after the deletion of /new/, and /vr/, and /vg/ are free to discuss their niche yet numerous subjects without spam.
The imageboard which protects, caters, and cultivates the mindsets and ideas of the many modules of the masses most completely is the one which will succeed. 4chan adapts primarily through the userbase, and only with caution does it modify the structure of the site. This careful change allows communities to organically form and for user participation to be omnipresent.
8chan, the primary opposition to 4chan, goes one step farther in its free board creation, the main consequence being a "Chicken before the Egg" scenario where the community is not populous or organized enough to drive its own board, self-moderation, and the other responsibilities of board management. So for the time being, 8chan thrives on providing what 4chan cannot legally or technically afford, while 4chan preserves the main userbase.
Tohno-chan is largely conservative and reactionary (exceptions being /mai/ and the 3d idol board), and is only valued, if even relevant, to certain people, from a certain place, at a certain time, as a static testament against the effervescent, transient board culture. Users may be gained in the short term, but the size of its community and the sum of its activities have been largely predetermined.