About two months ago, I had the rare pleasure of (unknowingly) starting a small meme and then watching it grow into something wholly unexpected. Here’s what happened:
- After reading a post on Tom Coates’ Web site noting the similar subject matter on our sites, Meg and I both posted the same fictional story to megnut and kottke.org about seeing a little girl riding her bike. We even misspelled the word “pedal” to add to the uniformity of the copy. We thought it would be good for a joke.
- Then something strange happened. Tom posted the story to his site, word for word (spelling error and all), without further comment. Then Heather, Steve, and a few other folks posted the story word for word to their Web sites.
- To most folks, who hadn’t had time to witness the genesis of the meme before it spread, these multiple posts (seemingly made at the same time) looked like a conspiracy among a clique, trying to demonstrate their elite status or some other such nonsense. Other people thought it was a bug in the software that many of the posters used to update their sites. In the course of a day or so, the meme had spread to a relatively wide audience and, to a significant degree, had already obscured its origin.
- People then started to notice the pattern and began to comment on it, both in a group setting on Metafilter (here & here) and on their Web sites (here & here, for example). Others took the original story, put a personal spin on it, and posted it to their sites (here, here, and here, for example).
From there, it became a joke in email, was mentioned in passing in online forums, and came up in conversations. People continued to post it to their sites, probably not even realizing the full context of the situation, doing it simply because everyone else was.
There was even a smaller “aftershock” meme involving people posting “I am Jason Kottke” to their sites (like here & here). I have no idea what that was all about…except maybe that the pump had been primed and people were in the mood to repeat just about anything.
And then people pretty much forgot about the whole thing, which, I think we can all agree, is a good thing.