Surely you have received some e-mail asking you to fill a number of fields on aspects about you (your name, your favourite color, if you have ever been in love and so on) and forward it to your contacts, so that they’ll receive your answers and will have to do the same. That’s a meme. But, of course, all memes aren’t like that.
Acording to the Oxford English Dictionary:
A meme /mi:m/ is an element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation.
So, any kind of information that is copied from person to person, and likely to be modified and selected, is a meme, just like the cultural brother of a gene. This term was coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. Memetics, the science related with memes, declares that our cultures are the constantly evolving product of natural selection of memes. For example, another types of memes would be fashion or urban legends.
Susan Blackmore, whose bio and work is worth reading, is interested in this topic and she sees Internet as “a vast realm of memes, growing rapidly by the process of memetic evolution and not under human control“. I cannot disagree with her, Internet being such a great net of passing information. Lately, it is very common to see memes travelling through the blogsphere, such as “your five weird habits” or “your 25 favourite films ever”.
Some ‘self-declared’ memes are quite unuseful, but other can be very interesting. For example, Blog del día started a meme entitled “3 tips to be a good blogger” (in Spanish). A large amount of bloggers followed it and an interesting research on almost all the reactions can be found at Blogging para ser un buen blogger (also in Spanish). Not that nobody could summarize them all, of course – here we have Blogger’s tips on the subject, for example -, but anyway it’s a fascinating proccess of social contribution to the evolution of information.