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Y ­ No Go Viral: The Emerging Science of Memes

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A scientific cat meme.

Researchers at Harvard University are looking into how memes come about, and why some fail while others go viral.


Scientists are beginning to study how memes are created, which ones fail, and how certain memes go viral.

In 1976, British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins first defined the term 'meme' as any idea that excels at sharing and advancing its concept from one mind to another. Dawkins compared memes to genes, capable of reproducing, mutating, and spreading through a population.

The Internet has significantly increased the growth of memes, especially those that involve a phrase or visual image.

Harvard University's Michele Coscia believes the likelihood of an Internet meme going viral can be shown at any point on a decision tree. To create the decision tree, Coscia culled 178,801 variants of 499 memes from meme clearinghouse Quickmeme. The number at the top of the tree represents the total percentage of memes deemed successful, based on their score on Memebase, which allows users to vote memes up or down. Coscia found that memes attaining an above-average peak of popularity at a particular stage were less likely to eventually break the success threshold than memes that were shared more evenly over time.

In addition, memes with a popularity increase linked to another meme's decrease are more likely to succeed in the long term, Coscia found.

From The Atlantic
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Abstracts Copyright © 2013 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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