Gavin asks a very interesting question:
it has me thinking, what gives some web sensation staying power?
What makes some video, idea, or motif a predominant meme? Why do people blog about bacon, zombies, and lolcats, but not so much about pork shoulder roast, mummies, and parakeets? Why does one guy mouthing the words to Numa Numa in front of his PC become famous, while almost all others who do likewise do not?
I don't have any answers, but I'm thinking out loud. Perhaps commentors and bloggers can bounce these ideas around:
Penetrability. Modern Internet life virtually obliterates geographic barriers and invents new communities based upon common interests. Language remains a barrier in cyberspace (for now), but otherwise cuts across physical boundaries. But netizens still tend to focus their activities in their niche communities, limiting contact outside of them.
For example, I read a variety of conservative and libertarian political blogs, as well as geekery and gun blogs. So if a meme gains traction within those communities, I have a good chance of encountering it. But if, for example, a meme moves through the Canadian blogosphere, I'm unlikely to encounter it because I rarely read Canada-focused blogs.
Some fora retain enormous reach through a vast variety of niche communities. Neatorama is an example, pulling interest from very different communities. It is highly unusual of me to encounter a commentor there that I have read from or heard of anywhere else. Neatorama and similar fora transcend these already-permeable cyber community boundaries to bring strangers into contact with each other. Such fora have enormous penetrability, and the presence of memes on these fora can vastly increase their scope.
Instantaneous Comprehensibility. Can a meme be grasped in under 10 seconds -- or summarized in under ten words.
Example: Britain's Got Talent singer wallflower single homely inner beauty.
What Internet meme do these keywords describe? The Susan Boyle video. Which, by the way, I've never actually seen. But tell me that that isn't what the meme is about.
An Internet meme thrives if it can be understood within the short attention span of netizens.
Those are just my thoughts for the moment. What do you think? What causes an Internet meme?