Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Internet Memes: A Game Theory Explanation

Rebecca Black's Friday. Nyan Cat. Caramelldansen. I can has cheezburger? How is babby formed? Demotivational Posters. The list of memes goes on and on... An interesting question to explore is how these memes propagate through the internet.

Game theory might explain the reasons behind the spread of viral content on the net. As a player on the internet, one must '[gauge] whether to adopt something new based on what others immediately surrounding them do' because there is social value in following trends. For example, when many of one's friends like Farmville, one is likely to start playing Farmville in order to fit in. Two viewpoints are discussed in the article. One is epidemic spread; content goes viral because nodes with many connections adopt the meme, exposing it to a wide group of other users, who in turn also adopt the meme. Metcalfe's law backs this explanation, stating that the value of a potential sharer is n^2, where n is the number of connections the node has. Alternatively, the article proposes game theoretic spread, which differentiates between users (nodes) with many friends (connections) and those with fewer. Those who have more friends act like 'roadblocks' and are more reluctant to adopt new content. In game theoretic spread, it is nodes with fewer connections who spread the meme more quickly because they have a lower barrier of entry. Both theories appear to have merit. Those who have more friends will feel more pressure to conform than those with fewer friends, but at the same time, upon accepting a new meme, such users will exert a more powerful influence on their neighbors due to their popularity.

While game theory may help explain the spread of certain memes, according to this infographic, the meme's initial conditions are just as vital. How is viral content selected for? Although not all memes are masterpieces, they tend to provoke a reaction out of their audience. Perhaps a video is particularly embarrassing, or an image is 'absolutely hilarious'. Either way, even amateur works can be elevated to viral content because it is something we enjoy and want to share with others. Perhaps more important than the content itself is where the meme starts. Posting on a popular site like reddit, Twitter, Facebook, or influential blogs can yield good results. As Metcalfe's law suggests, social hubs in the network that generate a lot of attention will greatly assist the adoption of a meme.

The spread of internet memes and viral content is an interesting one to investigate, as it relates to cascading behavior in networks. Personally, I think it's a pretty funny business.

1 comment:

  1. Lol I've been rickrolled :D. Nice blog, full of insight!