The Seeds Of Buzzfeed

Abby Rabinowitz traces “meme” from its coinage in Richard Dawkins’s 1976 book The Selfish Gene to its current incarnation:

Pinpointing when memes first made the leap to the Internet is tricky. Nowadays, we might think of the dancing baby, also known as Baby Cha-Cha, that grooved into our inboxes in the 1990s. It was a kind of proto-meme, but no one called it that at the time. The first reference I could find to an “Internet meme” appeared in a footnote in a 2003 academic article, describing an important event in the life of Jonah Peretti, co-founder of the hugely successful websites The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed.

In 2001, as a procrastinating graduate student at MIT, Peretti decided to order a pair of Nike sneakers customized to read “sweatshop.” Nike refused. Peretti forwarded the email exchange to friends, who sent it on and on, until the story leapt to the mainstream media, where Peretti debated a Nike representative on NBC’s Today Show. Peretti later wrote, “Without really trying, I had released what biologist Richard Dawkins calls a meme.” …

According to a recent profile in New York Magazine, the Nike experience was formative for Peretti, who created BuzzFeed with the explicit goal of creating viral Internet memes. The company uses a formula called “Big Seed Marketing,” that begins with an equation describing the growth of a virus, the spread of a disease.