All entries for Monday 26 September 2005

September 26, 2005

Meme strangeness

Mat suggested the other day that I hate memes. But he's only half-right; I hate rubbish memes, but I quite like good ones. This is obviously just a feeble attempt at self-justification via adjectives, but my point (and I do have one) is this: it's perfectly possible in principle to construct a meme which would cause the people who picked it up and wrote about it to write something interesting. As a simple example, consider this:-

Tell me about the best day of your life.

The difference between a good meme and a rubbish meme is the difference between following a recipe to cook your dinner or buying a microwave ready meal. Rubbish memes are those which remove any need for intellectual effort or creativity, and produce a lot of identi-kit one or two word answers which reveal nothing significant of the author and in many cases are simple arbitrary choices. What possible value can there be in knowing whether someone prefers chocolate or vanilla, or – a particular bewilderment of mine – how many gigabytes of music they have on their hard disk? Does more gigabytes imply a better, more interesting or more intelligent person? Does it imply anything at all?

The puzzle really is why the majority of memes seem to fall into the "rubbish" category (as I'm defining it). Given that good memes are simpler, easier to devise and shorter, why do so many long lists of pointless questions make the rounds? I genuinely have no idea.

Million dollar home page

Writing about web page

Picture this: You're 21, you're about to start university, and you don't want to leave with a hulking great debt in three years time. Not an uncommon picture, I think you'll agree. So what do you do? Get a job at Tescos? Live frugally? Hit your parents up for as much as you think you can get away with? If your answer was any of the above, then compared with Alex Tew, you're a loser. He's going to be starting university with, as of this writing, 144,000 dollars (which is currently about £81,000). And he's accomplished this impressive feat with something which if you'd described it to me, I would have said can't possibly work: he's selling off pixels on his home page for a dollar a pixel.

Now if your reaction is anything like my reaction then you're thinking this can't possibly be true, and maybe it's not – maybe it's an elaborate hoax. But if it isn't, then I take my hat off to the guy; he's managed to persuade plenty of people that they should buy space on his home page for no better reason, apparently, than that he guarantees to keep it around for a while.

It's one of those slightly circular ideas that only works because it works. Clearly you don't need to buy space on this home page in order to get an advert on to the internet. But if enough people buy some space, it becomes interesting enough for other people (like me) to notice it and write about it. So more people go and take a look which in turn means that more people decide that maybe this is a novel way to be seen by lots of eyeballs, which means that… and so so, and so on. This weekend, the national press got the story and interviewed him, which in turn, I bet, means that still more people will buy some pixels and, as his site puts it, "be a part of internet history". It's a bit like being whats-her-name, the first person who figured out that you could leave a webcam running 24 hours a day in your apartment and people would want to come and watch. My guess is that once he'd sold twenty thousand pixels, the thing was more-or-less bound to take off. I've no idea, though, what motivated the people who bought the first ten thousand pixels or so.

But if it's true, then it looks perfectly plausible that he could clear half a million dollars before he starts his first class. Don't you wish you'd thought of it?

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