There was a time when Internet memes seemed to all come from Internet geek culture – video games, and anime – but like most things hidden on the Internet, Internet memes are becoming mainstream. Once just random pieces of nerd culture, Internet memes have spread to entire species of animals and celebrities as well as creating a few of their own. Internet culture has now become one with pop culture – and memes are a big part of it.
Of course(!), Internet memes are inherently silly. That does not mean we can’t learn from them. Regardless of their content, Internet memes are spreading far and fast with no advertising budget. They are leading people to land television deals, interviews, book deals, and revived music careers among other things. Sounds pretty nice, huh? We tried to break down why this is happening.
What counts as an Internet meme?
An Internet meme is a piece of culture propagated by remixing, reinterpreting and sharing various digital forms of media text, image, video or digital behavior. An Internet meme is collective digital expression. Analyzing the most popular memes, we realized that we couldn’t classify them into neat categories. Most memes fall somewhere in our (patent pending) memetic triangle based on the subject of the content. Memes evolve as more people participate in them and can move within the triangle with time.
Mechanics of spreading
Memes can come from anywhere. Their seeds could range from an inside joke in an obscure online forum to a popular news clip. What was interesting for us was which of these seeds actually managed to grow, and how they grew. To Demonstrate the life cycle of an Internet memes we have a case study on Hipster Ariel.
What does all this meme?
We started by saying we were going to tell you about Internet memes are spreading so quickly. To do that, we need to focus on the people who help spread the Internet meme during the stages of the its life cycle (so hopefully you actually went through our slideshare).
By looking at how people interact with internet memes three big topics pop up: co-creation, content creation, and will this type of behavior spread into other media.
The act of collaborative creation is more gratifying than the content it creates.
The motivation behind creating memetic content is less about the quality of the content itself. There has been some talk about how Internet memes are dumb, stupid and crude. What the critics don’t realize is that Internet memes are shining examples of social creativity in a networked age. People don’t find a LOLcat funny in its own right, they find it funny because they know there is a whole community of people out there that finds it funny. Memetic content isn’t an end in itself, it is in service of the relationships it helps to establish. The act of communal creation is more gratifying than the quality of content it creates, and the credit given for creating it. It doesn’t really matter to the people how objectively funny any of their jokes are; they will find a way to add context. They will use other memes to build the joke and let others know that they get it, and that they are part of this community. What matters is that they belong.
What we can learn from this: When making content allow people to be a part of it actively. The past was all about creating a good experience for your audience. The future will be giving them the tools to co-create the experience.
Combined with Co-Creation, Content creation is a lot of people congregating to create a self-feeding self-sustaining ecosystem of entertaining content in which people don’t take credit for their work. That is because the engagement itself is enough of a reward for them. More and more companies are giving people the tools to create pieces of content faster (Vimeo Link), and people are becoming more inclined to use them. They aren’t using them though for individual experiences. They are using them in a larger collective experience that can range from uploading a video to Youtube, creating a tumblr, remixing content, or spreading a meme.
What we can learn from this: People want to create together. Why don’t we apply this better to crowdsourcing? We need to look at ways to crack the collaborative production model. Why send out a pitch to 100 designers and pick the best instead of creating a platform where 100 designers can work together to make 3.
The Future of Media Making and Internet Memes
Memetic culture is amplifying our desire to make things together and documenting it. And because of the tools we use to create and communicate with each other on the Internet – our social interactions are turning into media. It’s not the technology that causes this. We have always wanted to partake in social creativity. A bunch of friends sitting around riffing on each other’s jokes are engaging in social creativity.
What we can learn from this: The Internet just adds scale and speed to this process of creating content. It’s not just the Internet, it’s us on the Internet.