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Know Your Meme Asks How Videos Go Viral

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For those of us watching, and especially making, online video, a new million dollar question arises: What exactly makes a video go viral? It would seem that talkability and interest with a dash of good timing are some major components, but nailing down the perfect recipe for a viral video seems like a tenuous venture at best.


One of my new favorite websites is devoted solely to documenting these internet memes, how they spread and mutated, and what exactly made them so explosively popular. Knowyourmeme.com (KYM) covers all internet cultural phonomena, not just online video. Its suprisingly scientific approach attempts to provide empirical data to track the formation and spread of internet memes. The site began as a recurring episode on Rocketboom, and became so widely watched that an entire site was devoted to knowing your memes.
According to wikipedia, “A meme (pronounced /ˈmiːm/, rhyming with “cream”) is a postulated unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, and is transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. (The etymology of the term relates to the Greek word mimema for “something imitated”.)[…]Theorists point out that memes which replicate the most effectively spread best, and some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.”






David After the Dentist. Blood. Get Down. Single Topic Blogs (This is Why You’re Fat, Fail Blog, etc). Im sure you are familiar with at least one of these memes that are all featured (among many, many others) on KYM. Users can submit ideas for new memes to be added to the site. KYM scientists then conduct thorough research on the phenomenon to determine whether it can be considered a meme proper. Once a meme has been confirmed, the KYM scientists create short videos breaking down each of these memes. I can spend days reliving moments of internet meme history, or learning about new ones, watching videos or reading the forum.


mulitlayered meme


One of the most interesting things about the site is that traffic sky rocketed in the last months. Is KYM becoming a meme in its own right? Can we call this a Meta-meme? It certainly provides some solid evidence to back up general speculation about the way memes function within our web-centric society. If nothing else, the site is a great way to relive some of your favorite meme-ories from the past.


At Poptech 2005, psychologist Susan Blackmore interviewed KYM scientist Kenyatta Cheese about internet memes and the way that KYM functions to identify, document, and analyse them. You can read the interview here; it paints a pretty good picture of the KYM scientific method.


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Meme E

One Comment

  1. I’ve just found this post after a Google search for why we share.’ Example of siarhng through the collective unconscious? IDK, maybe more of a unremarkable coincidence, but I was in Sevilla on Jan. 22 and I found myself thinking about why we love to share. I was at a wonderful historic site called Real de Alcazar, and I was a bit upset with myself for not having my camera with me. Experiencing the beauty should be enough right? But I had the strong desire to be able to share the images with people I know and with my future self. Is this a product of facebook culture? I questioned. I had also just viewed the film Social Network about a week before, and I thought how smart Mark Zuckerman was for seeing our desire to share. Was it always this way, just with different forms of technology and limitations of proximity?I agree with the both the concept in the article of perceived value, and also with a comment by Brett about the sharer receiving a credit’ for proving the link.’ That person might be seen as more valuable in his or her group. True. When exploring these ideas in past personal experiences, I have found that I also have a desire to be understood, accepted and recognized for my thoughts/abilities. I think this is common to some extent and more pronounced in some people. Through the process of siarhng those who are proficient in the skill create value for themselves and others for what they share. (Example of a painter created a beautiful piece that gives value to her and to others.) Those who are less adept at siarhng create less value. (Example of girl showing me endless photos that she has collected from different places and I am not interested in the slightest to see them.)And a small last idea open for comments. I recently read part of an article in the January/February edition of Harvard Business Review titled something like Rethinking Capitalism, in which the author explores the idea of shared value between a business and a community as a means of re-energizing communities and re-focusing businesses. To what extent might there be connections between the way people share value with one another and the way that a business might hope to share value with a community? Just thought I’d throw a meme out there. Interesting times we live in.

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