Ripples in the Blogosphere

Earlier this year, blogger Nova Spivack undertook a very cool, original, and potentially useful project: his blog meme propagation experiment. Basically, this effort sought to create a dataset that would show how ideas and themes of discussion (“memes”) can spread among weblogs.

Specifically, the experiment allowed each instance of the meme (relevant blog posting) to be tracked by time and location. It also tracked how each instance of the meme was vectored (from whom it was discovered).

That experiment is now closed, after cycling through four variations. (So don’t bother trying to participate by adding links at this point.) However, I’m eagerly awaiting more posts from Spivack regarding the results.

I’d heard about this experiment during the spring, but it didn’t really ignite my interest until I read Spivack’s July 8 posting, A Physics of Ideas: Measuring The Physical Properties of Memes. Here are a few excerpts I’d like to share…

Spivack wrote:

“Memes are essential to the way the human brain processes ideas and how it decides what is important. We are basically ‘meme processors’ – we are ‘life-support systems for memes’ to put it another way. To use a computer analogy, our physical bodies are like the hardware and operating system, and our minds – the dynamical activity and state of this hardware – are like the software applications and content running on the hardware. Our minds could be viewed as systems of interacting memes – complex systems of ideas that interact within us, and across our relationships.”

“…One of the many interesting skills that humans have but that computers are so far not able to replicate very well is the ability to ‘intuitively’ figure out what is important in a complex set of information. …What determines whether we decide it is important and ‘hot?’ It is not merely the total number of times that the meme is mentioned (what we might call the ‘mass’ of the meme) – that just tells us how “big” the memes are but not how ‘hot”‘ or ‘forceful’ they are relative to other memes. Furthermore, ‘hotness’ is not merely the velocity or frequency of new mentions per unit time – while this is useful, velocity alone doesn’t say much about relative importance of memes. Acceleration of memes – the change in velocity – is also useful but not enough.

…What we really need is a method that relates the ‘size’ of a meme to the way it moves in space and time. In other words, in order to determine whether a meme is ‘hot’ we need a way to measure its ‘meme momentum’ – we need a physics of ideas.”

Once upon a time I was a physics major in college (before I switched to journalism). Therefore, this analogy appeals to me – but I’m also aware of the pitfall of trying to stretch too hard to make an analogy fit. I think Spivack so far has done a pretty good job of keeping his analogy in perspective – that is, sticking with it only as far as it is truly relevant and useful. This paper of his is excellent food for thought – especially for fans of knowledge management.

Anyway, so far a detailed analysis of the first phase of Spivack’s experiment (compiled by Greg Tyrell) is available. I haven’t had a chance to read through it yet, but I shall shortly.

Other postings relevant to Spivack’s meme propagation experiment can be found here.

Very, very cool stuff. A physics of ideas… hmmmm… no wonder we talk about “ideas bouncing around.”