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

Limor Shifman*, Mike Thelwall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


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 même 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 mêmes online, with interesting results, albeit for only one case study.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2567-2576
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2009


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