Tuesday, 21 December 2010


Some ideas are more virulent than others. Popular culture has come to refer to the most infectious ideas as "memes". However, this term seems unsuitable for more technical discussion of the topic - since the term "meme" is already taken. There is the term "internet meme". However, that doesn't really say what we mean here.

I think that popular usage fairly clearly indicates that there is demand for a term to refer to highly contagious ideas. I think they should be called "supermemes".

A rather obvious way of classifying memes is according to how popular they are. So, following metric-system conventions, we might call memes with more than a million existing copies "megamemes" and memes with more than a billion existing copies "gigamemes". In the future, we may see "teramemes".

However, for an umbrella term to refer to "very popular" memes, I think "supermemes" is the best term. Supermemes may be highly contagious, very persistent - or preferably both.

It seems likely that the culture of today is relatively poor at occuping human brains - compared to what will be possible in the future. So maybe most of the "supermemes" are yet to come. However, it seems as though there is no point in reserving the term for future use. Some of today's memes are "super" enough.

I note that others have previously used the term. For example, Rebecca Costa says:
Supermemes are ideas that have such strong support or opposition that the mere mention of them clouds peoples' thinking or prevents people from even looking at alternatives.
That's close to my proposed usage. We both have the basic underlying idea of a powerful, successful meme.

One possible problem is the mismatch with the concept of a Supergene. It looks to me as though that one should yield. It seems generally better if "super" refers to fitness rather than mere size.

Justin Bieber is more popular than god

Google and Facebook have been more popular than god for a while now.

Research shows that The Beatles were never more popular than Jesus. However, these days, god is being eclipsed by mere mortals.

In 2010, some celebrities (Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga) became more popular than god:

Justin is more popular - at least temporarily - according to Google's metrics.

As the graphs show God and Jesus combined may still hold their own over the world of mortals (holy trinity win!) - though this situation may not last for much longer.

However, Google and Facebook make god look insignificant:

Google have their own shrine: The Church of Google - for those who want to pray to something that actually exists, and might even answer.

A previous analysis of the "justin vs god" phenomenon may be found here.

2016 update - multiple news articles have now covered this story - e.g. CNET.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Google Ngram Viewer

Google have released their Ngram Viewer - which allows sequences of up to five words to be tracked in their enormous database of scanned books.

Here are some more sample searches.

The tool seems likely to be a useful one for students of cultural evolution.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

YouTube Trends

YouTube try their hand at a viral video - to launch their new "trends" blog.

"You know it's viral when you get it from your mommy".

Memology is not a word!

Facebook have recently been attempting to coin a new term, "memology".

They define "memology" here as follows:

"Memology" refers to the study of how "memes," or new ideas and trends, are spreading on Facebook.
Sorry, Facebook, "memology" is not a word. It is an attempt at marketing - and one of those nasty ones that pollutes the language.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Ed Wilson endorses memes

Here's me reading from Ed Wilson - discussing memes:

The notion of a cultural unit, the most basic element of all, has been around for over 30 years, and has been dubbed by different authors variously as mnemotype, idea, idene, meme, sociogene, concept, culturgen and culture type. The one label that has caught on the most, and for which I now vote to be the winner, is meme, introduced by Richard Dawkins in his influential work The Selfish Gene in 1976.

- Ed Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, (1998, p.149).

Google Insights for Search

Following up on my previous blog post regarding the popularity of the term "meme", Google has now launched Google Insights for Search.

This new tool lets you do many things that Google trends never did.

Without further ado, here's a static snapshot of the graph for "meme":

...and here's the graph for "memes":

However, now here's the graph for "memetic":

...and here's the graph for "memetics":

While memes are doing well, the science of memes is not. Sad times.

Anyway, Google Insights for Search is also a great new way for tracking meme trends - for those who are interested in that sort of thing.