Memes Shaping the Blogosphere

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Memes Shaping the Blogosphere

The science of memetics – the scientific and systematic study of memes and their propagation – is not quite considered a science yet. People will concede that memes are a key factor in cultural evolution, but they are too difficult to track, too unpredictable to study closely. Unless we "someday discover a striking identity between brain structures storing the same information, allowing us to identify memes syntactically" (Dennett 354), it would seem that there is little hope for a science of memetics. How can we explore and apply memetics to culture if we cannot isolate and investigate the memes themselves, and their behaviors and effects?

While memes' motion and influence through culture at large is perhaps impossible to analyze using a precise methodology, memes' virus-like spread on the internet – most notably throughout the so-called "blogosphere" – is easier to follow. Consequently, it is also much easier to highlight how memes have directed the evolution of the "blogosphere," and, indeed, of blogging and internet itself. Richard Dawkins, who is credited with coining the term "meme," defines it as:

...a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation... Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm 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 (Dennett 344-5).

Since the blogosphere can be defined as the internet space populated by weblogs, memes travel through it not from brain to brain, but from page to page, leaving a trail that can be monitored and analyzed.

Memes have been an important part of the blogging world since at least 2001, when "Best Meme" first appeared as a category in The Bloggies, the annual Oscars of weblogging. The winner in the "Best Meme" category that year was "A Day Without Weblogs," which suggested that each December 1st, people use their weblogs to link to information and resources about AIDS, in memory of those who had died. "A Day Without Weblogs" had in fact begun with only fifty blogs in 1999, but by 2001, over 1,000 webloggers participated (Link and Think, 2003). The success of "A Day Without Weblogs" was one of the first demonstrations of the power and reach of the blogging community. The success of the project helped bring crucial attention to a serious issue, and mobilized many casual web surfers to donate time and money to the cause.

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