Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

The fleetingness of memes

Dave Winer says we should think of the Internet as an "idea processor".

The value of writing publicly on the Internet is that you can solve problems quickly, by using a network of people who pool what they know to create something larger. When the Internet works this is why it works.

Dave's got this absolutely right and absolutely wrong all at the same time. 

Yes, the Internet, and in particular the blogosphere is an "ideas processor". But this isn't "when the Internet works". The Internet works when it acts as an action agent.

For Winer, I can see how he might see the Internet in this way. Many of the conversations that Winer is involved in relates to actual tangible things. When Winer debates RSS or OPML ideas that come out of those discussions (save for the political crap) can actually go towards "creating something larger".

However, I'd suggest 99.9 per cent of 'conversations' don't actually lead anywhere. Most of the conversations are just the digital equivalent of having a yack down the pub with your mates. You postulate, pimp and preen but in the end the only thing that ever gets done is the consistent emptying of glasses of amber ale.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that, but let's not pretend it's something it's not.

For me, the proof in the pudding is the fleetingness of memes(and god I hate to use this term and i apologise profusely for putting in the headline but the blogosphere made me do it). How many memes actually last longer than 48 hours. As soon as a meme drops off the front page of memeorandum, how much oxygen is it given? SFA. There are any number of memes over the last six months I would have loved to have really sunk my teeth into but they came, they crackled and they expired all in the space of a couple of sleeps. 

How can we really evolve ideas, how can we evoke change, when we give what could be really interesting ideas and issues such limited time to play out. It's simply not possible to read something, sit on it for a few days and then take your time to write a meaningful response because by that time the meme has already burnt out and nobody is going to read what you've written. This is a fundamental flaw in the blogosphere and why for the most part it equates to nothing but hot air.

The only way, of course, for a meme to grow and prosper is for it to be based on something real, and preferably to have a high profile champion, who can keep bringing the meme to prominence. There are people like Dave Winer who fulfill both these criteria and so Dave would see the Internet as an action agent.

But for the most part, Winer is right when he calls the Internet an "ideas processor". Stick the idea in, turn it on, wait a short amount of time and watch the idea come out the other end all mangled up. 


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5 Responses

  1. Brock says:

    The partial solution to your problem is the permalink. Just because your Meme doesn’t make it onto memeorandom doesn’t mean it won’t be read by those interested in it. I have found posts from months or years ago and commented on them. Sometimes the writer even updates the post to reflect my comment.

    Frankly, most the of the readers who flock in from Reddit or Digg probably have nothing meaningful to add to the meme anyway. Those who do will find it again, just because they’re on the web and links / search engines work the way they do.

  2. The memes that burn out … maybe they’re just not very fit, memetically speaking? If they can find just one good host brain (yours!) to occupy for a little while, that may be enough to get them through a lean period. They burn out because people stop writing about them… if you think a mem is worth spending time on and don’t write about, you’re part of the problem. =)

  3. Rob Irwin says:

    Spot on, Phil. Most of “the conversation” going on is utter wank and leads absolutely nowhere. And a lot of folks seem to spend more time talking about the fact there’s a conversation going on, than actually engaging in it, anyway… it’s kinda funny, actually, to see people pretend it’s a big deal when “the conversation” is, 9/10, utterly meaningless and achieves nothing.

  4. zelig says:

    Point is we are speaking of the Internet as an “idea processor”, not quite of individuals as idea processors.
    Who (as an individual) finds interesting ideas, should give herself time to process them and then write responses for whoever else may read them: days, months, or years later.
    The fact that “nobody is going to read what you’ve written” means that the Internet is not going to process the idea; there is nothing we can do about it.

    But the Long Tail is not only in space or ‘taste’ but also in time. Ideas can take unexpected processing threads and “come out the other end all mangled up”. You may not even recognize them.

    Keep the ideas coming!

  5. metalsam says:

    blogs are almost like a very slow IM – something ive found.
    However blogs usually have more meaningful conversations (meaningful / serious ?).

    Yeah, the permalink is a good idea, so is RSS for comments (great if you have bloglines like me !!).

    Possibly counting comments as an edit to the blog post, so they come up again (for rss users) ?

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