Perhaps owing to those biological origins, we have come to describe particularly fast-moving Internet memes as viral, which evokes the image of passing through a population (and doesn’t, for what it’s worth, have anything to do with genetics). In New York magazine’s discussion of Wasik’s book, Times culture critic Virginia Heffernan questions whether the virus metaphor is “misleading — and ripe for retirement.” The meme-tracking study provides an alternative analogy: the heartbeat.
Back to Kleinberg’s idea of the web as a “single organism.” The study found that, yes, memes peak on prominent websites — that is, those indexed by Google News — before less prominent ones, but both of those peaks are generally preceded by a blip on the less prominent sites. Here’s how it’s illustrated in the paper; we’re looking at the percentage of each meme’s mentions that occur on sites not indexed by Google News. Zero hour represents the meme’s overall peak.
Nieman Journalism Lab: In the news cycle, memes spread more like a heartbeat than a virus
(via Jay Rosen)