Another good read: this academic (or quasi-academic) paper getting into the dynamics behind web memes. There’s some debate as to whether the paper is ‘real’ (as in actually academic) or not, but I don’t care – it’s fun and interesting.
We marketers spend lots of time talking about things like Facebook and blogs and gaming, but often ignore or disdainfully brush away a whole other side of web communities. Sites like icanhascheezburger that feature funny pictures of cats, or sites like YTMND that riff on clips from bad movies, don’t fit into many marketer’s frameworks.
That’s probably in part because many of them are not advertising vehicles, but I’m guessing it’s probably also because they don’t fit into our perceptions of what “content” should be. They’re often horribly designed, nonsensical, and filled with juvenile humour and rampant flame wars – but that’s the point. There’s probably some personal bias there: it’s not where we spend our time. Once you get beyond the surface they’re actually deeply self-referential, highly intelligent, quickly spawning and morphing communities with their own grammar, language and rules. And many of them garner huge amounts of traffic (icanhascheezburger makes it into Technorati’s top 10 blogs).
They’re worth understanding, and I think it’s partly because there’s a parallel to the animal world (bear with me for a forced and poorly thought-through analogy). Most marketers see their web initiatives as mammals – the brand’s presence should be a big, hulking, long-lasting thing. But these communities are like insects – they buzz for a few minutes and then disappear but there’s way more of them and collectively they’re really powerful. And at some level, they support the rest of the ecosystem: the web probably wouldn’t function the same way without them (but it sure could function without most branded sites).
Apparently, this is all really hard to talk about without sounding like a total dork. Go read the paper.