Most people visiting the site for the first time will not only find
the design of the site confusing. 4chan and especially /b/ are one
of the internets most creative breeding grounds for so called memes.
Memes are ideas or just in-jokes, that spread virally over the
internet (and sometimes even into real life).
The term itself is coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins
in his book “The Selfish Gene”:
>“Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes
>fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes
>propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body
>via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme
>pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the
>broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or
>reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and
>students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the
>idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from
>brain to brain. As my colleague N. K. Humphrey neatly summed up an
>earlier draft of this chapter:’... memes should be regarded as
>living structures, not just metaphorically but technically.
>When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize
>my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in
>just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a
(Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene. New York 2006, p. 193)
Dawkins idea of memes, and especially the term itself leaked into popular
culture and became a meme itself. For Dawknis, knowledge about manufacturing
tools, the concept of religion or the thought of life after death were
memes(Ibid.) but in internet culture it stands for in jokes that spread
around the internet until everybody knows them and they die.
In his book “Epic Win for Anonymous”, Cole Stryker states that memes
are not pictures, videos or microcelebrities but concepts:
>“People use the word meme to describe visual content like videos or
>photos or offbeat microcelebrities, but it’s important to recognize
>that the meme is the concept. A photo or video might be just one
>execution of that concept among many. As memes evolve, they branch
>out in countless ways, shifting and merging with other mashed-up,
>mutated memes. Sometimes, in order to understand a given iteration
>of a meme, one must also be familiar with dozens of others.”
(Cole Stryker: Epic Win for Anonymous. New York 2011, p.28)
It is really important to see, that a meme is not the funny picture
your friend sends you over facebook, but the idea behind it.
This way, memes get remixed and mashed-up with other memes all
the time and the thought evolves from mind to mind like a biological gene.
Cole Stryker also describes the stages in the life of a meme. (Ibid. p. 205 et seq.)
Tough he also points out that they don’t work for every meme, they are still
a nice model and that’s why I summed it up here.
Some kind of content is created and uploaded to the internet.
At some point that may be years later, someone will discover the
content and posts the content, for example, to 4chan with a comment like “WTF”.
If it is succesful, the thread explodes and mashups will be made.
Eventually the meme will jump to other threads.
At some time, the memewave jumps over to one of the content aggregators.
Reddit for example. If it is good, it will be upvoted by the community
and eventually appears on the front page, where many see it.
Word of Mouth
Once it has been on the front page of a content aggregator, people
will start tweeting and blogging about it or posting in on facebook.
That is also the point where sites like 9gag start using the meme.
If a meme seems to be established, sites like knowyourmeme will
research the phenomenon. A race over the most valuable background
informations starts to cover as much of the story as possible
before the meme explodes into mainstream. This is also the point
where the icanhascheezburger-network propably dedicates a blog to it.
When a certain level of virality is reached, mainstream media will start
to report on it. This is the point when memetic microcelebrities
start to get interviewed. Since memes are some kind of in-jokes,
they will soon loose their appeal as everyone knows them.
At this point, microcelebrities from memes get hired for tv-commercials.
Advertisers jump on the meme to promote products.
The meme is over, as every bit of fascination is drained by inimaginative
rehashes and abundand mainstream coverage.
One exception is, for example, http://www.zombo.com/.
It is a single serving site with a repetitive flash animation,
welcoming you to zombo.com. The site has been created by Josh Levine in 1999
and has never exploded into the mainstream. It has never died, yet never
took off to be so famous that everybody knows it.
(Whois: zombo.com. as of Jan.5 2012 Url: http://who.is/whois/zombo.com/)