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January 21, 2013

Aretha Franklin's Inauguration Hat from 2009: One of Facebook's First Memes

By Jacqueline Lee, Contributing Writer

On January 20, 2009, Aretha Franklin stepped up to the podium in Washington, D.C., to sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” for Barack Obama’s first inauguration ceremony. On that day, she wore a gray hat with a large bow designed by Luke Song of Mr. Song Millinery.

In 2009, Facebook and Twitter (News - Alert) were just beginning to ramp up in popularity. Suddenly, everyone ranging from Albert Einstein to Mr. Spock was showing up on social networks in doctored photos, wearing Aretha Franklin’s infamous inauguration hat. The hat, which now resides in The Smithsonian with a backup copy in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, kicked off what is now a Facebook (News - Alert) standard: the meme.

Professor Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, coined the term “meme” long before the proliferation of the Web. Memes, according to Dawkins, are catch phrases, melodies, urban legends or other snippets that become ingrained in human culture.

Image via  Papermag

According to Christian Bauckhage, speaking in a presentation to the Association of the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), an Internet meme is defined as either a piece of content or a concept that passes rapidly among Internet users. The content could circulate via e-mail, forums, blogs, instant messaging or social media.

Bauckhage did a sophisticated statistical analysis of how Internet memes spread. Originally, he and his colleagues wondered whether Internet memes spread like epidemics, from their center of creation outward.

They found that memes instead spread primarily through homogenous communities and social networks rather than over the Internet at large. For example, a person wouldn’t type “what’s today’s meme” into a search engine. Instead, the person would pick up memes from Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon (News - Alert) or other social networks and pass them along to their friends.

The research also found that different social network users exhibited different meme behaviors. Digg users, according to Bauckhage’s study, tend to pass along the latest memes, while StumbleUpon users tend to wait and pass along the most sophisticated memes.

Whatever the social network, most people are now used to seeing their feeds crowded by memes. When Aretha Franklin wore the inauguration hat, however, the meme was just getting started.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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