Saturday, 25 November 2006

Measuring The Speed of Meme: An Experiment in which You Will Participate, Or Else... [Short Version: Link to this post in the name of science. Ask others to do the same. Results to be announced during the "Meet the Bloggers" panel at MLA 2006.] [Update #6: I want everyone to say hello to all the nice mefi folk stopping by this morning. They are more than welcome to slam me here too, but before doing so they may want to check out Scott McLemee's second post about this little experiment on Crooked Timber. I anticipated failure, not success, so the claim that I'm link-whoring misses the mark as much as the Wired article did.] What is the speed of meme? People write in general (typically truimphant) terms about how swiftly a single voice can travel from one side of the internet to the other and back again, but how often does that actually happen? Of those instances, how often is it organic? Most memes, I'd wager, are only superficially organic: beginning small, they acquire minor prominence among low-traffic blogs before being picked up by a high-traffic one, from which many more low-traffic blogs snatch them. Contra blog-triumphal models of memetic bootstrapping, I believe most memes are—to borrow a term from Daniel Dennett's rebuttal of punctuated equilibrium—"skyhooked" into prominence by high-traffic blogs. For my talk at the MLA, I'd prefer being able to quantify this triumphalism with hard numbers. Had I paid attention when "DISADVENTURE" and "My Morning" made the rounds, I could've completed this little experiment without revealing its existence. Since I lack foresight, I'm stuck announcing my intentions and begging participation. Here's what I need you to do: Write a post linking to this one in which you explain the experiment. (All blogs count, be they TypePad, Blogger, MySpace, Facebook, &c.) Ask your readers to do the same. Beg them. Relate sob stories about poor graduate students in desperate circumstances. Imply I'm one of them. (Do whatever you have to. If that fails, try whatever it takes.) Ping Technorati. While you do that, a script I've written will track this meme (via Technorati) across the internet in 10 minute intervals. It will record the number of links to this post, register their authority and create a database the very size of which will cause my poor processor to fall tumbling, in flames, down a steep cliff. (So be it. We all must makes sacrifices in the name of science.) My fear is that I'll post this and no one will participate in my experiment. On the one hand, that'll be educational too, allowing me to talk about top-down vs. bottom-up dynamics, the ineffectiveness of compulsion and coercion on free-range bloggers, &c. On the other, I would rather not tell the august body of the Modern Language Association that bloggers only stop posting about what they had for lunch (fish sticks!) when their cat strikes another (fifth today!) outrageously adorable pose... [Update #1: This post? Not a chain letter. This one is—sort of.] [Update #2: An update.] [Update #3: N. Pepperell provides an excellent...

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