Part of the Internet acronyms and lingo glossary:

What is an Internet meme?

An Internet meme is a cultural phenomenon that spreads from one person to another online.

A meme spread online could be just about anything that is voluntarily shared, including phrases, images, rumors and audio or video files. An Internet meme might originate and stay online. However, frequently memes cross over and may spread from the offline world to online or vice-versa.

Examples of Internet memes include:

  • LOLcats -- images of cats with semi-literate captions, such as "I can has cheezeburger?"
  • The Crazy Frog video.
  • The Bride Has Massive Hair Wig Out video, secretly created by hair product manufacturers Sunsilk in an attempt to sow seeds for an upcoming advertising campaign.
  • Images of then-president George Bush falling off a Segway in 2003. (This meme sparked follow-up videos of various vertebrates successfully riding the vehicles, including Barbara Bush and a chimpanzee.)
  • The 25 random things about me list that propagated throughout Facebook.
  • The Dancing Baby.
  • Words such as pwn (meaning to defeat or dominate).

According to Lauren Ancel Meyers, a biology professor at the University of Texas, memes spread through online social networks similarly to the way diseases do through offline populations. Fittingly, viral marketing campaigns often attempt to create a meme.

Richard Dawkins coined the term meme in his 1976 book, "The Selfish Gene." As conceived by Dawkins, a meme is a unit of cultural meaning, such as an idea or a value, that is passed from one generation to another. A meme is the cultural counterpart to the unit of physical heredity, the gene.

Learn More About IT:
> Wikipedia maintains an alphabetical list of Internet memes with links to articles about them.
> Margaret Rouse lists the top 10 Internet memes. With hyperlinks, so you can experience them again.
> Jenna Wortham describes this interactive multimedia Internet meme timeline that you can add to.
> On Slate, Chris Wilson wrote about research into how memes spread.

This was last updated in February 2009
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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