Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Im In Ur Meme
Typin My Storee

November 2007

By Mike Gould

We're talking culture here, or what passes for it on the Internet. Given the speed and universality of 'net communications, it is inevitable that a bright idea can be presented and instantly spawn a response of global proportions, all in the blink of an eye. This is especially true for things that are funny.

All your base canards are belong to us
A current meme is lolcats.
Let's back up. A meme is sort of an atom in the biochemical molecule of modern culture - what Wikipedia describes as:

... a theoretical unit of cultural information, the building block of cultural evolution or diffusion that propagates from one mind to another analogously to the way in which a gene propagates from one organism to another as a unit of genetic information and of biological evolution. Biologist and evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins coined the term meme in 1976... He gave as examples tunes, catch-phrases, beliefs, clothing fashions, ways of making pots, and the technology of building arches.

In WWII "Kilroy was here" was a meme, a graffito found on many surfaces in Europe. The origin of Kilroy is shrouded in the mists of time, but one tale has it that scouts who infiltrated towns before they were liberated by the allies managed to inscribe the Kilroy image here and there to greet the advancing allies. Kilroy may have been a riveter whose mark was seen on ships' hulls by servicemen bound for overseas; they picked up the meme and spread it across Europe. Interestingly, the image accompanying the phrase is known to have been the creation of British cartoonist George Edward Chatterton. It was a popular graffito in England around the time of the war, and somehow the phrase merged with the image - an early version of viral mashup or something.

Do Re Meme
Here in the technical vastness of the future, the current memes are found on the Internet (and of course, sprayed ["tagged"] on walls as graffiti - although these have a limited, local reach unless someone photographs and posts them). On the Internet, a meme can be a saying, a photo, or just about anything else that ends up in the background radiation of popular culture.

A few years ago, the meme du jour was "All your base are belong to us"(AYB), a poorly-translated bit of dialog from the Japanese video game Zero Wing. Before too long, AYB was all over the Internet, and formed the basis for an imaginative video still visible at the URL below.

The current web weirdness is lolcats: lol, of course is leet speak for "laughing out loud". This is thoroughly entrenched in the lexicon of email, where popular contractions for the key-weary abound. ("Leet" is short for "elite", one in the know in matters digitally hackworthy. Long story. Maybe next article). Anyway, somebody decided that photos of cats with pidgen English captions were noteworthy, and posted a picture entitled "I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?" (Seen above). The idea is that if cats could speak, they would speak in broken English in caps in Arial Bold font.

The joke took off and everyone with a funny cat photo brought it up in Photoshop and munged in a clever saying. This is those "Hang in there baby" posters kicked up a notch and posted on the Internet for all to see. Soon there were snails playing with bits of vegetable matter ("I HAS A STIK") and other animals in various situations.

This spawned a series of faux comic strips, done in the early 20th century style of George Herriman's "Krazy Kat". These feature the comic adventures of Meowlin Q. Kitteh and his kitten pal Pip and is voiced entirely in leet speak.

Leets Don't Fail Me Now
Back to leet speakers again, the phrase currently making the rounds of the 'net is: "Im in ur ___, ___ing ur ___z". According to Wired magazine this is:

A present-tense equivalent to the hacker insult, pwned, this geek-slang declaration of victory means, "Guess what? I'm humiliating you and you don't even know it." Legend has it that the phrase was coined in 2004, when one networked gamer sent another the message, "im in ur base killin ur d00dz."

Wired magazine gives examples such as:

I'm in ur cubical, stealing ur staplerz.
I'm in ur wikipedia, editing ur articlz.
I'm in ur conference, tazing ur broz.

"All very amusing, Dr. CyberKnowItAll", I hear you say, "but wtf does this have to do with us small biz persons looking for usable information to increase our core competencies and gain traction in modularizing our pro-active, enterprise paradigm? "

I feel your pain. (And wtf stands for "What the, um, freak", btw).

Interfacing Your Tactical Groupwide Synergy
The biz tie-in to all this madness is yet another buzz-word, viral marketing. When your marketing is viral, it does not have a nasty cough and wheezing; it has a way of contaminating popular culture that is viral in its efficacy and spread. If you manage to come up with a clever marketing noise, image, or slogan, and it spreads throughout the world via the web at Internet speed, you have created the holy grail. You have made advertising that spreads itself without cost.

I don't think anyone has done this yet. Apple came close with their silhouetted iPod dancers, which inspired various parodies and such. The folk of the net who popularize this sort of thing have well-developed BS filters and have so far been resistant to spreading purely commercial memes.

So give it a try; just don't start with "Im in ur buick, eating ur cheezburger".

All your Base:
http://allyourbase.planettribes.gamespy.com/video1_view.shtml

lolcats:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lolcat http://icanhascheezburger.com/

lolcats comic strip:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/apelad/sets/72157600296941365/

Wired:
http://www.wired.com/culture/geekipedia/magazine/geekipedia/im_in_ur

Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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