The real ‘meme’ trackers are yet to be invented

The word ‘memetracking’ or (‘meme tracker’) has been used to describe services such as Memeorandum, Megit, Tailrank and Chuquet.

I can’t call them ‘memetrackers’. I like them, they’re useful sites and all that, but they aren’t ‘meme’ trackers.

A meme, as defined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, is

“a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.

…Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.

… If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passed it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.

(There are other definitions floating around but the originator’s will do to make my point.)

There is imitation going on at these these sites: ‘oh, she’s reporting this news, it’s interesting, so I will’. These sites track the act of passing on units of news. In this sense these sites are tracking the memetic quality of blogs.  However, generally speaking, these sites are not tracking the spreading of ‘ideas’ or ‘memes’. They are tracking bits of news being passed on from one blogger or site to another.

A bit of news is not a meme, nor an idea, it is a bit of news.

Memeorandum, Megit and Chuquet are not ‘meme’ trackers. They are news trackers.  Or tittle-tattle trackers. Or gossip trackers.  Again, generally speaking, there are no ‘memes’ being tracked at these sites, just the passing on of news occasionally with a little ‘value-added’ – ‘This is good news because’ or ‘this is bad news because’.

Here is the definition of ‘news’ as defined by Wikipedia:

“News is the reporting of current events usually by local, regional or mass media in the form of newspapers, television and radio programs, or sites on the World Wide Web. News reporting is a type of journalism, typically written or broadcast in news style. Most news is investigated and presented by journalists (or reporters) and often distributed via news agencies. “

(Note to self: It should be revised to include blogs as a source of news.)

The Blonde Joke meme was meme. Did that make it on Memeorandum? Nope. What about the Number 4 meme? Nope? Why not? Because these memes weren’t news, they were memes. Many blogs postings, as Sifry’s data shows and I pointed out earlier this week, are largely event-driven. The most popular blogs are news driven.  These news tracker sites reflect that fact as they track popular blogs (with some exceptions).

Don’t believe me? Have have a look at Memeorandum’s front page, or Tailrank’s or Megit’s or Chuquet’s. What do you see? ‘Memes’ or ‘news’?

The idea that these are ‘memetrackers’ is actually quite a good example of a meme.  One day, somebody blogged these sites as ‘memetrackers’. Other bloggers picked up on it and they imitated and also called these sites memetrackers, and so on and so forth (even though these sites aren’t meme trackers…)

A ‘meme’, not ‘news’ occasionally makes these sites’ front pages.  One example that surfaced recently is this ‘memetracking meme’ when it did the rounds.  It is an example of an exception, not the rule. I’ll say it again – these sites are current affairs / news sites.  They track links to posts and cluster these posts…ok, but that doesn’t make them ‘meme’ trackers. The real memetracking aspect of these news trackers is the following, look:

Spot the difference:

spot the difference

How about now?

China's big, folks...

(China’s news tracking market is potentially huge…smart move)

While on the topic of the news tracking clustering meme, here’s Chuquet:

So, the news tracking sites *are* running with a useful meme – it’s the ‘track news posts and item and cluster them’ meme, a meme I’m sure we will see propagate to become a common feature of hundreds of services. In my view (and arguably by definition) the real ‘meme’ trackers are yet to be invented.

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Comments (22)

  1. Understood.  But memes propogate faster when people have something to associate them with – hooks that relate the idea to a previous one.  It’s also common to combine two familiar words, creating something that’s instantly understood.  Hence, memeorandum->memetracker.  Web2.0+news->News 2.0 (which Om wasn’t too keen on).  And even broadcasting+iPod->podcasting.  If accuracy was the aim, podcasting would be called "MP3casting" – I don’t think that would propogate well at all.  (Actually, the comparison to broadcasting is probably inaccurate too).  In fact, many people didn’t like the term podcasting to start with, but it caught on because it had those exact properties (ie. hooks to previous ideas) that help people to remember it.

    So while "Newstracker" might be more accurate than memetracker, it isn’t half as catchy.  Dictionary definitions don’t really matter when it comes to memes – it’s more about creating something memorable.  And since the most popular example of an online news tracker is Memeorandum, it makes sense to use that as the "hook".  And personally, I do make a distinction between memetrackers (ie. sites that study linking behaviour to find the most talked-about news) and generalized newstrackers (which would include Digg, Reddit and the like.)


  2. Alex, you’re absolutely right – it is a misappropriation of the word ‘meme’ to call chuquet a memetracker, although I admit I was pleased to inherit the term (from Scoble, who coined it I believe) because it was better than calling chuquet a reverse attention aggregator.

    If chuquet is going to be anything like I want it to be in the future, it will have to become more like a memetracker as you describe it. It’s not enough just to serve current news to web 2.0 fanboys and politicos – I want chuquet to have content for ex-county cricketers, extreme knitting fanatics, Japanese robotics experts, 80s New Romantic revival fans and sub-aqua training staff – ie. any interest group. And their news and ‘interesting stuff’ doesn’t come along in a way that’s quite so easy to scan, match and track.

  3. One of Memeorandum’s new competitors, Megite, is testing out a Personalized version of their product. Users will be able to upload their OPML files and a personalized news cluster will be created, based on the RSS feeds that you already…

  4. Ted Shelton says:

    Pete Cashmore does make a good point in that there is often a meme at the heart of why a particular news story is being passed around.  In fact this points to another problem with the current batch of products — they aren’t even really news trackers — as someone (and I thought it was Pete on his blog) recently said, they do a good job of capturing opinionable news items — that is, a given news item might be important, but if people aren’t talking about it, it won’t show up high on these sites.  But a news item that isn’t "important" in itself, but which does strike a chord and thus is talked about ends up being ranked highly… and if it is striking a chord, that is probably because there is a core idea (or meme) that is the reason for that conversation.

    Conversations aren’t memes in themselves — but they are good proxies for memes.  Where there is smoke, there is probably fire.  So if you optimize for promoting things that people are talking about, you are in all likelihood promoting memes.

  5. Wow, I missed this the first time around…

    Megite is going letting me do what I’ve been asking…

  6. Elroy Jetson says:

    I agree that news aggregation is not the same as meme tracking.  I was just blogging about the idea of Intelligent Idea Agents.  Modeled some what off of the old 90’s search agents mixed in with some of the ideas of Findory and memeorandum.

  7. matthew says:

    Megite is redesigned.

  8. MSDNArchive says:

    thanks Mathew, I like it!

  9. myFeedz is a new service aimed at personalizing and adding a democratic, social dimension to the RSS feed reading experience. Here we have an interesting attempt to roll together the success of social news sites such as Digg, services that…