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A group of redditors at r/MemeEconomy are trying to quantify the lifespan of a meme through the creation of a mock stock market.
Memes rise and fall in popularity over time, with people declaring a meme “dead” often as soon as it becomes popular with a wide section of the Internet. Judging the popularity and coolness of a single meme has therefore always been a subjective and difficult task.
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“Investors” on the subreddit are granted 1000 units of NASDANQ (the name of the market they’ve created) currency when they first join, with an aim to make as much profit as possible. The meme market operates just like any other stock market – new memes that are on the rise are desirable, while when a meme is decaying, those participating in the market try and sell it off as quickly as they can.
Memes can only be uploaded once you have established a firm by investing some of your currency. If multiple firms submit the same meme, then it is listed on the meme exchange. Each post is covered in a thick layer of irony; there are no real world consequences in failing on this market, although you may be judged by your fellow meme experts for lack of distinction between a dank meme and a dead one.
The admins of the subreddit, Brandon Wink and Ron Vaisman, told The Verge that its creation was from a desire “to give this usually intangible thing a value, so that people can feel like they’re earning something when before they could not.” The challenge for them was to think up a system that could possibly quantify something so subjective.
The answer was simple – don’t explain the meme, but categorise it. After a meme is approved on the market, it is split into one of three categories: penny stocks (low-end, unpopular memes), text-based memes, and image based memes. Of course, this system is not without its flaws – some memes could easily fit into multiple categories, but it seems to work.
On stock markets, a company’s value is usually determined by how much money it makes, or is predicted to make. Meme value of course is determined by popularity, but what level makes a meme good? 4chan users generally consider a meme to be dead as soon as “normies” start using it, so does it gain or lose value when it hits the mainstream? Is a meme less valuable just because it lives out its lifespan only on one platform? Vaisman and Wink don’t think so, yet on a stock market, growth usually increases value. Vaisman admitted that the problem was working out how “if we [created] a system where when we have X amount of this meme and Y amount of this meme, how do we make sure they’re properly represented in terms of popularity?”
“The culture itself is very resistant to legitimacy,” Wink says. “It’s just this general feeling that going big is a death sentence. But in other communities, for example people who only visit Facebook, to them it’s not like, ‘Oh if I see this it’s dead,’ it’s like ‘Oh this is just the beginning and I’m going to be seeing this a lot more often.’” Due to their prevalence of crossover on different platforms, Wink noted that “Memes have a tendency to resurge… you’ll have a meme gain popularity, die out in a month, and then a year later suddenly it’s very popular again. Kermit has had three iterations that have died and then come back.”
Whilst NASDANQ currently only exists on the subreddit, there are plans to launch a fully functioning website and app for any prospective meme traders, with the ultimate goal being to find “the equation for one meme across every website and every platform.”