Posts Tagged ‘youtube’

Newsflash: Funneh Cat Site Iz Serious Bizness

October 12, 2009

Spend enough time on the Internet, and odds are you played a part in circulating a meme. Yes, you probably did, even if you didn’t know that’s what it’s called.

A meme (rhymes with theme), Merriam-Webster tells us, is “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.” On the Internet, every time you forward, repost or retweet you could be giving life to a meme.

YouTube is filled with memes, like the one parodied on last week’s episode of “The Office.” You might know them better as “viral videos.”

Media scholar Henry Jenkins calls such communications, which can also take the form of music, still images, catch phrases, even clothing, “spreadable media.” “Meme” and “viral” understate the role of the audience, he says.

Whatever you call them, memes can make you a lot of money. The just-released low-budget horror film Paranormal Activity built a marketing campaign around them.

Ben Huh has built an empire around them.

He’s the guy behind wildly popular user-generated meme sites I Can Has Cheezburger?,, spinoffs I Has A Hotdog! and My First Fail and several others.

Just over a year ago Huh told a Web 2.0 Expo NY audience (video above, presentation .pdf here) some of the secrets of his success. My classmates and I, it turns out, would have said roughly the same thing. And our speaking fees are much lower.

Asked by our Theory and Audience Analysis professor to list qualities that, as Jenkins would put it, make media spreadable, we honed in on many of the same aspects as Huh.

Memes, we said, tend to be simple, discussable, brief, relatable and easy to share.

Huh, earning his speaking fee, I suppose, captured the first two elements in a single soundbite.

“We perceive Web. 2.0 as this complex environment, where there’s lots of filtering, lots of stuff going on,” he said. “But really what it boils down to is there’s two people sharing a piece of content or an experience.”

Think of it as the “Hey, dude check this out” test.

Brevity, meanwhile, is at the heart of the irreverently captioned cat pictures, known as Lolcats, on I Can Has Cheezburger?, where the goal, Huh said, is “to make people happy for just 5 minutes a day.”

The importance that content be relatable explains Huh’s early discovery that many of the submissions to I Can Has Cheezburger? aren’t explicitly about cats. They’re about eBay, drinking too much, everyday annoyances or whatever else users deem topical.

Finally, what really helped I Can Has Cheezburger? take off, Huh said, was the lightweight tool that enables virtually anyone with an Internet connection and basic computer proficiency to upload their own captioned photo. It took a part-timer less than a weekend’s work to put the widget together, but it’s a big reason Huh’s site went mainstream when others like it did not.

“We try to lower the bar for content creation,” Huh said, “because the more you allow users to remove the technology… the better content you get.”

Some tips from Huh that apply to any Web company are to consistently update your site — I Can Has Cheezburger? features six new posts every day, the first coming as East Coasters are arriving to work, he said — and, this will sound familiar, “Groundswell” readers, to listen to your audience. I Can Has Cheezburger?’s handful of full-time employees spend much of their time interacting with users, Huh said.

What’s that? Time for one more Lolcat? I thought so.


The Molecule As a Social Media Metaphor

October 7, 2009

chemName a social media app and you’ll likely find it on Brian Solis’ Conversation Prism. There are nearly 200 social media icons on Version 2.0 of the colorful conceptual map, intended to assist organizations in applying social media to their brands.

Every industry needs an encyclopedia. Daily newspapers have the Editor & Publisher International Yearbook. Such exhaustive resources can be invaluable — in the case of the E&P Yearbook, locating potential employers is how I used it — but are too cumbersome for everyday use.

To fully make out the Conversation Prism’s icons requires a large monitor. Or, for $20, you can buy a 22″ by 28″ poster from

With some study, advanced users can make sense of it. They recognize most of the icons and have used enough of the tools to know how they relate to each other. But the average business person will be overwhelmed: “Yeah, it looks pretty, but what do I do with it?”

A second shortcoming is that the Conversation Prism does a poor job of illustrating the crossover between different tools. For example, I’ve embedded a YouTube video on this blog. WordPress and YouTube are at opposite ends of the prism, however, suggesting they don’t interact.

An alternative metaphor that addresses these deficiencies is a chemical molecule. Think of the models from chemistry class (pictured above). Social media advisers would only need to present to managers the tools they’re most likely to use, and the relationship between them would be clearer.

Say a rock band wants to use Twitter to promote its music, videos and fan-produced photos. The “molecule” for such a campaign would have a Twitter atom at its core and music, video and pictures atoms branching off of it. Electrons within each atom would comprise the individual tools. Pandora, Seeqpod and for music, for example.

The hands-on assembly of the molecules would engage the manager on a level staring at a chart just can’t. Plus, social media chemistry models would make for fantastic conversation pieces. Sit them on an executive’s desk or trade show table and you’re bound to get people talking. Conversation. What you’ve been going for all along.

The World Wide Web, a Wonderland of Words

September 23, 2009

cookiesThe Web was built for conversation. Kind of funny, then, it can be so tricky to talk about.

Its lexicon is a mish-mash of new words, repurposed words, and, well, mish-mashed words.

Year after year, Web-related terms highlight updates to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Vlog and webisode are new for 2009. In next year’s update? Who knows? I’m still rooting for specticipants.

Such a fluid vocabulary can be difficult to keep up with.

Why do those things that keep track of what’s in your online shopping cart have such a tasty name? Cookies, Wikipedia tells us, were named such because, like fortune cookies, they have hidden information inside.

How did unsolicited messages, Hormel Foods implores, get to be known as spam? Internet entrepreneur Brad Templeton traces it back to a Monty Python sketch. I’ll let him explain.

Sometimes netizens don’t even need words. This makes them : ) and maybe even LOL.

Like the government, the Web’s good at making alphabet soup. HTML, URL, CSS, P2P, MMORPG — acronyms are everywhere.

Inevitably, celebrities get involved. Or, the Web involves them. If your business conference gets Rickrolled and you don’t have a sense of humor about it, watch out for the Streisand effect.

Of course, Web vocab isn’t always so cryptic. Browse, scroll and jump, among the many words carried over from print, should be familiar to even the greenest users.

The Web breeds laziness, we often hear. It sure does. E-book, e-commute, e-commerce, e-mail, e-marketing. E-nough.

We’ll forgive Apple for iMac, iPod and iPhone, because, repetition is good for branding. Not to mention, the products themselves rock. Plus, the iPod inspired podcast. What an elegant blend of new- and old-media terms.

Words fall in and out of favor. Here are two whose days could be (should be?) numbered: Audience, I’ve mentioned before, seems too passive to describe the modern Web user, who, on his lunch break, is ranking, commenting on and retweeting content from five different sites. Lurking seems too pejorative for what is an accepted and even encouraged online behavior. To avoid being flamed for uninformed content, it can be wise to lurk.

Speaking of flamed, fire comes up a lot: Once I’m done this post, think I’ll launch Firefox, fire off a message on Hotmail and burn some downloaded music to a CD. Makes sense, I guess. Fire was man’s first great tool. And, if the doomsdayers are right, it’s only a matter of time before the robots take over and the Internet becomes man’s last great tool. How poetic.

Kids These Days: A Window to Tomorrow

September 7, 2009

computerchildForecasting the future conjures up images of peering into a crystal ball. Or, perhaps, Conan O’Brien’s “In the Year 3000” sketches. And sometimes carefully considered research isn’t any more reliable. Indeed, from time to time, the innovators themselves get it comically wrong. Western Union’s president said the “telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” Thomas Edison said “the phonograph has no commercial value at all.”

As bright minds squint to try to bring the future into focus, they often overlook that the future, in a way, is just down the street. The attitudes that will shape that mysterious future are on display every day at the neighborhood elementary school.

A classmate of mine recently joked that today’s children are born knowing how to use a computer. They nearly are. Early this decade, more than two-thirds of preschoolers were using computers, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report. The proportion is likely even greater now.

A fifth-grader I mentored last school year already had his own e-mail address and YouTube account. So did many of his classmates. Technologically, his generation is light years ahead of where mine was at that age. And that’s what tends to get the attention. “Kids and their gadgets these days,” one adult might remark to another. 

Less appreciated, however, is the communication literacy this engenders. From the earliest age, children are consumers — and, increasingly, creators — of media. They do not know the definition of online communities theory or uses and gratifications theory, but they are applying each. By the time they reach high school, they have a more sophisticated relationship with media than adults probably give them credit for.

A few of my peers, one of whom is studying the use of interactive gaming as a learning tool, will meet some of these young minds over the course of their research. Anyone interested in the future, however, owes it to himself to visit a classroom. Today’s students can be great teachers.