Assessing global diffusion with Web memetics: The spread and evolution of a popular joke



Memes are small units of culture, analogous to genes, which flow from person to person by copying or imitation. More than any previous medium, the Internet has the technical capabilities for global meme diffusion. Yet, to spread globally, memes need to negotiate their way through cultural and linguistic borders. This article introduces a new broad method, Web memetics, comprising extensive Web searches and combined quantitative and qualitative analyses, to identify and assess: (a) the different versions of a meme, (b) its evolution online, and (c) its Web presence and translation into common Internet languages. This method is demonstrated through one extensively circulated joke about men, women, and computers. The results show that the joke has mutated into several different versions and is widely translated, and that translations incorporate small, local adaptations while retaining the English versions' fundamental components. In conclusion, Web memetics has demonstrated its ability to identify and track the evolution and spread of memes online, with interesting results, albeit for only one case study.