Hello Reddit! I'm Don Caldwell, the Editor-in-Chief of Know Your Meme -- the world's largest internet culture encyclopedia -- where I've spent most of my days chronicling the origins, history and evolution of memes from all corners of the internet.

I recently talked to MEL Magazine (/u/wearemel) about r/Place and what it takes to make a great meme, you can follow Know Your Meme on Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and /r/KnowYourMeme here on Reddit. You can also follow me on Twitter here. I'm here now to answer any and all your questions about memes, internet trends, and how we attempt to research and document digital culture in real time -- or anything else that comes to mind!

PROOF: https://i.redd.it/omyrvty0zxr81.jpg

Comments: 526 • Responses: 41  • Date: 

Sweetwill62633 karma

Have you felt your job has changed over the years? Seems like you guys started off as a sort of "Hey this new thing is happening..." and now it feels a lot more like a historical archive of how the internet has developed over the years. More light hearted question, what meme came the most out of left field for you?

memecore904 karma

It's changed so much.

When I first started 12 years ago, memes weren't mainstream at all. I'd regularly meet people who had no idea what the hell a meme even was.

As smartphones and social media platforms became ubiquitous, memes and internet culture went mainstream. Know Your Meme went from a niche trends database to an encyclopedia documenting what is now mainstream culture. It's absolutely wild.

The light hearted question is actually tougher! I think the whole Gamestop saga that happened actually surprised me quite a bit, as I hadn't seen such an intense convergence of meme culture and the stock market happen like that before.

noellekin56 karma

This makes sense! Another question to piggyback that: how were you able to keep up? I have been using your site for those entire 12 years and it has always been THE website for meme documentation.

I imagine having your work turn from one thing to a completely different one is tough enough, the fact that you held that #1 position while doing so, that there isn't a different site that took over, is quite incredible and speaks to the hard work y'all do.

Thanks for everything!

memecore58 karma

We have an amazing staff and research community. While we have perfected techniques and even developed custom tools for things like trendspotting and research, our team of experts are phenomenal at their jobs and the KYM research community is filled with people who are incredibly smart and tapped into online culture.

PM-ME-DOGGOS543 karma

What meme do you still not know the origins of, your white whale of sorts?

memecore788 karma

Good Guy Greg, as /u/Filthy_Dub mentioned, is definitely a big one.

We're currently putting extra effort into looking for the Alf Kid, which is proving very difficult.

We also don't know who first created Meme Man. Someone from "Special meme fresh" claimed it was a "wonky attempt at a human head posted on 4chan's 3DCG board long ago," but we haven't been able to verify it.

swagginpoon125 karma

Did meme man come before stonks guy?

memecore287 karma

Yep! Meme Man first appeared in 2014. Stonks didn't appear till 2017.

black_flag_4ever355 karma

What do you think about the rise/demise/abuse of Pepe the Frog?

memecore696 karma

I could write an entire book on the history of Pepe the Frog. It's one of the most interesting, enduring, chaotic, fraught, adaptable and resilient memes in internet history. We lay out the history pretty well in our entry on Know Your Meme.

While I was sad to see such an iconic meme character become associated with hate and bigotry back during the 2016 election, I think he's come out the other side. Pepe-related emotes are some of the most popular on platforms like Discord and Twitch, where they are completely benign. Pepe was also used as symbol of freedom by protestors in Hong Kong. I think it managed to prove it is actually not a hate symbol and will likely continue to remain important in internet culture for years to come.

ThomasRaith93 karma

What is the rarest pepe in your collection?

memecore258 karma

I've always been a fan of this psychedelic Pepe: https://imgur.com/a/NCZstFN

GotMoFans305 karma

How do you maintain enough revenue to sustain a website these days when so many people just use apps, social media, and aggregators rather than exploring individual websites?

memecore555 karma

The website is still going strong and has proven to be pretty stable traffic-wise. People still want to know their memes.

We've expanded the operation to make videos for platforms like Snapchat, YouTube and Facebook. We also have a Know Your Meme Insights operation where we provide consulting services surrounding topics related to memes and internet culture.

Sonova_Vondruke39 karma

No Tiktok? This seems like a no brainer.

memecore137 karma

We've got one (link). We just crossed 1.1 million followers recently. Haven't quite figured out how to turn it into a revenue stream yet since we aren't eligble for the creator fund.

PUGChamp-257 karma

How do you find out where memes come from? Like how can you tell when a meme was posted for the first time?

memecore396 karma

It varies. We have a number of techniques for tracking down origins and some platforms are way easier than others to track things down on.

Reddit is actually one of the easier platforms to navigate. It plays really nice with Google search, reverse image search, etc. Facebook and Instagram can be much more difficult to track things down on. 4chan used to be pretty difficult as well due to the ephemeral nature of the posts, but the various 4chan archive sites have helped make that much easier.

Sometimes, it isn't very clear where a meme original came from. In those cases we just find their earliest version we can and note that it is merely the "earliest known" instance, not necessarily the exact origin.

TortieKittah151 karma

Speaking of attempting to find the original source for things... I've attempted off and on for over a decade to get someone on your site to update the original source for a very unfortunately named old meme, because whoever originally added it apparently didn't grasp the concept of default time zones when visiting message board websites to view their content, and the actual website it came from requires you to sign up for an account to view it (since it's been placed in an Archived forum which requires registration to view) so they may not have wanted to bother going to the trouble.

The meme in question is "My <slang term for a bundle of sticks> Dog" and it's been incorrectly attributed to to the Gotgames.com.au forums. It in fact actually came from the Offtopic.com forums and was originally posted on July 18th, 2011 at 1:27 PM (Mountain time)... Unfortunately, the Gotgames site is down (and who knows how long they've been down?) so I can't provide proof that their site was a few hours behind the original posting of it on OT, but I've submitted attempted corrections several times in the past using the "Suggestions" link on the page, so there should be some kind of history there.

Is there any way of going about getting that corrected to actually be factually accurate? Or should I just give up and let that unfortunately named meme permanently die?

EDIT: URL on Offtopic is here: https://offtopic.com/threads/my-faggot-dog-doing-this-faggot-look-everytime-i-come-home.4943427/

memecore119 karma

Thanks for surfacing this. We will look into it and get it updated.

KidSickarus234 karma

Hi Don, long time listener, first time caller. My question is, what is the worst meme you've ever had to document on knowyourmeme?

memecore290 karma

franklyokay201 karma

what do your readers on Know Your Meme get most angry at you about?

memecore379 karma

They used to get mad at me for documenting all the Advice Animal memes from Reddit back in the day. Now they get annoyed at us covering too many TikTok trends.

langis_on77 karma

I get annoyed that clicking pictures on your site takes you to the gallery rather than show the picture I actually clicked. Any chance of fixing that?

memecore30 karma

Can you give me a specific example? Did you click an embedded image in an article?

langis_on21 karma

So if I click the header image right about "Advice animals" in this photo, it will take me to the image gallery with a completely different image than what I clicked on.


If it opens an image gallery, it should at least direct you to the main image first

memecore20 karma

Got it. I actually flagged this recently as something I want to fix. I'll push it again. Thanks for clarifying.

Notmiefault184 karma

I love your site, it helps me keep up with the kids these days.

My question is, are there ever memes where you feel like the standard format (origin -> spread -> etc) isn't really appropriate/useful?

memecore180 karma

Love to hear that. Really feels good to know people find the site valuable.

Great question. There are actually times where we need to use different subheadings to really tell the story of a meme. Sometimes memes are so unique they need a new section that we've never even used before. Sometimes they are steeped in layers of references from other memes, so we need to pull in sections from other entries to explain all the different references. It can get complicated.

Also, we use different heading structures for different categories. Categories for events, people, subcultures and websites use a different heading structure than memes.

Sembregall141 karma

What do you think is the most unexpected thing that became a meme?

memecore256 karma

"Dragons Having Sex With Cars" comes to mind as this was recently rediscovered on TikTok.

endtelegram97 karma

what's the worst/your least favorite meme that won't die / keeps coming back?

memecore192 karma

I find comment spam memes to be kind of annoying and low effort. They keep resurfacing in different forms and are clearly a meme format that is not going to die. "Arrow to the Knee" is the biggest one that I can recall, but the practice has taken over TikTok recently with memes like "Nerf Miner," "Recipe for Brownies" and "Crop / Story Time."

bensthebest84 karma

What well known meme was the hardest to find the source for?

memecore162 karma

Pink Shirt Guy was notoriously difficult. It actually took a Facebook comment for us to get anywhere with a source for the origin.

epicgear82 karma

what really defines a Meme vs just text over an image?

memecore115 karma

We operate on a pretty broad definition on the site, encompassing a variety of internet trends outside of just captioned images, viral videos or digitally edited media.

Internet slang terms, viral characters, stories, fan theories, catchphrases, audio clips, etc are all categorized as memes on the encyclopedia. You can see a full listing of our meme category types here: https://i.imgur.com/2n4LVd2.jpg

Nixflyn49 karma

A meme is any viral unit of culture. An image macro is just one of the many forms a meme can take.


The term meme was coined in Richard Dawkins' 1976 book The Selfish Gene, but Dawkins later distanced himself from the resulting field of study. Analogous to a gene, the meme was conceived as a "unit of culture" (an idea, belief, pattern of behavior, etc.) which is "hosted" in the minds of one or more individuals, and which can reproduce itself in the sense of jumping from the mind of one person to the mind of another. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen as an idea-replicator reproducing itself in a new host.

memecore47 karma

I was first introduced to the word "meme" when I was 18 and read The Selfish Gene, so I'm partial to thinking about memes as just culturally transmitted information. The concept blew my damn mind and I probably wouldn't have ended up doing this if I hadn't read the book during that pivotal time in my life.

Son_of_Kong8 karma

I assume you've read Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine? I think that's the book that really solidified memetics as a theory.

memecore15 karma

bradleytheartist71 karma

why do you have an octopus tattoo?

memecore236 karma

It's actually a Reddit story, believe it or not.

Many years ago a coworker sent me this Reddit post of a tentacle mobius tattoo (link). I thought it was cool so I saved the image on my phone.

A couple of weeks later I was at a party with a new friend of mine. We were talking about how cephalopods were our favorite animals and I mentioned the Reddit post and pulled it up on my phone. He revealed that was actually his and showed me the tattoo on his neck. After that weird coincidence we decided to get tentacles slapped on our arms for some reason.

CambriaKilgannonn67 karma

What inspired you to start researching and annotating these pieces of internet culture? Has your work been recognized by any more 'respected' organizations?

memecore178 karma

I've always been fascinated by the idea of memes as a concept and a huge internet nerd. I read The Selfish Gene when I was 18 and the concept of memes absolutely blew my mind.

I went on to get a degree is in anthro and I specifically graviated toward evolutionary anthro and viral culture as areas of interest. Working on a site that documents all of viral internet culture has been a dream for me.

Know Your Meme's research regularly gets cited in major publications like The New York Times. We're even archived by the Library of Congress.

AndyWinds65 karma

What's the most interesting change in the use of a meme that's been rediscovered on a new platform that you've seen?

memecore139 karma

The resurgence of Trollface last year was really odd/interesting. We did a video on it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek4lLpj0X7c

It was also really weird when Boxxy got rediscovered by Zoomers on TikTok and they started making lip dub videos and cosplaying as her: https://www.tiktok.com/@bonbibonkers/video/6733248864112938246

Also Dragons Having Sex With Cars is currently seeing a resurgence on TikTok.

Pinball-Gizzard55 karma

What meme is best?

memecore94 karma

It's tough call and I change my mind constantly. If resilience, longevity and adaptability are the metrics, then I'm leaning toward Wojak at the moment.

HansCool33 karma

The gamergate article you guys wrote is the most level-headed and thorough piece of media I think I'll ever see on the subject. What was that process like?

memecore5 karma

These super polarizing topics can be challenging to make sure they are covered properly. Maintaining a clinical, encyclopedic tone is something that is crucial for the way we cover things, and I think it's one of the reasons KYM is so well respected.

We have strict editorial guidelines and don't allow anyone to use the site to push a particular agenda. All factual claims made in entries need to have citations and we have a zero tolerance policy for unproven/false info.

FreakensteinAG32 karma

What does The Don do when he's not confirming and Deadpooling memes?

memecore57 karma

I play too many video games and I like flying FPV drones when it's nice out. Here's one of my fpv videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckWmfLTezbE

bogansquatch5 karma

That video is amazing, great job!

memecore6 karma

Thanks! I love making fpv videos as a hobby. Super fun

kaest30 karma

Hey Don, thanks for chatting. What was the first meme you ever researched?

memecore71 karma

The first entry I ever submitted to Know Your Meme was "Fucking Magnets, How Do They Work?" about the Insane Clown Posse song "Miracles."

kaest9 karma

Haha, love it! Thanks for the reply.

memecore9 karma

My pleasure!

illimitable127 karma

Did this grow out of Encyclopedia Dramatica?

memecore50 karma

No it came out of a YouTube series by Rocketboom.

I've never seen ED as a competitor as their approach to documenting internet culture has always been way more satirical in nature. KYM uses a clinical, enyclopedic approach.

That said, some good research about internet culture has come out of Encyclopedia Dramatica.

FizzBuzz300023 karma

Can't believe KYM got meme "don" cadwell to do an AMA...

With that out of the way, favorite YTPMV? Favorite/most interesting subculture you've had to work on?

memecore5 karma

Both of those questions are tough.

Favorite YTMPV is maybe GentleMentleMen.

Favorite/most interesting subculture is hard to narrow down but I recently became fascinated by the VRChat shader community. This video by CNLohr really impressed me and "Treehouse in the Shade" is a really special VRChat world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVWlgh8QP5s

semtex9418 karma

Have you gotten any pushback or hate from people considering you an outsider, much like how Behind the Meme was driven off YouTube for being a "normie"?

memecore40 karma

We actually used to get a lot of flak back in the day. There was Operation Stop Their Scheme in 2010, during which we were targeted with spam and DDoS attacks.

That's all long gone, though. Most people have come around to appreciate what we do, even the communities that used to hate us. I think people just realized KYM is something that is helpful to pretty much everyone that uses the internet now.

vahsnali18 karma

Have you considered consulting for movie productions to ensure they stop using the most cringe memes in an attempt to seem relatable?

memecore12 karma

The KYM Insights part of Know Your Meme provides guidance on that sort of thing. A lot of companies are really bad at navigating internet culture and need help understanding what the hell most memes even mean.

jexdiel32116 karma

Hey been a fan of your site and I have been using it alot lately since I can't seem to keep up with meme culture as I get older. How do you guys do it? How do you keep up with meme trends since they come and go every single day? Second related question : What meme did you find very funny and amusing but seem to didn't take off as it should be and what meme so you find annoying/not funny but took off?

Hope my question gets answered and sorry the many questions.

memecore28 karma

Thanks for the question! Glad to hear you're a fan.

Frankly, our staff and research community are fucking amazing. They are super tapped into online culture and it's really the only way we've managed to stay on top of everything. We have developed some techniques/tools to assist us, even custom software, but it really just comes down to how damn awesome our staff and community is at researching internet culture.

The second question is tough. I really like "The Ol' Spicy Keychain" even though it isn't super mainstream. Also, I never really understood the meme appeal of My Little Pony.

jelvinjs714 karma

The word meme has grown in usage dramatically over the last decade, and in turn its meaning has morphed along the way. You mention somewhere else in this thread that memes used to be pretty niche, but have now become a mainstream concept labeled by a household word.

As someone who’s followed this trend for a while… I dunno, what’s been your perspective or reaction to this development? Was there ever an “oh shit, we’ve gone mainstream” moment, or a point where you started to realize that the general public was gonna catch on and it’s eventually waaaay bigger than we’d thought? Looking at Mike Godwin’s 1994 article “Meme, Counter-meme”, it seems like a lot of his thoughts—and concerns—about the potential impacts of memes have come true. Which is, well, wild.

memecore7 karma

It was somewhat gradual but I do remember a point when I started seeing older relatives posting memes on Facebook that I was like "oh... shit." Like, relatives that were completely disconnected from internet culture started posting boomer image macros. I knew at that point we have crossed some sort of boundary and there was no turning back.

It still amazes me how resilient Godwin's Law is as a meme, especially since it's often thought of as one of the first major internet memes ever created.

invisibro12 karma

Finally. I'm a huge KYM fan and I've been champing at the bit to ask this for a long time: Where do you get your ideas from?

torqueparty11 karma

So....bowling balls, huh?

I'm super late to the party so this probably won't get answered, but did this job make you desensitized to internet weirdness, or were you already hard to faze from the beginning?

memecore16 karma

That's currently our top entry on the site: https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/nsfw-bowling-animations

I was pretty hard to phase from the beginning, but my brain is just completely fucked by weird internet bullshit at this point.

impossiblefunky6 karma

Are y'all still doing videos? Those were amazing but I haven't seen a new one in years.

memecore8 karma

We are! Check out our latest on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/KnowYourMemeStudio/videos

We also have a Snapchat channel that is pretty popular these days.

RicoElectrico5 karma

How many memes are in the backlog as "researched and evaluated"? It seems that quite a bit of them are notable, yet not confirmed by KYM.

I suggest page views as a proxy of popularity to prioritize them.

memecore6 karma

We've been trying to come up with a good system to confirm. I think adding in an automation component is the way to go. Something like a minimum threshold of pageviews + having been fully vetted/researched by a staff member. Going to try to get this rolled out sometime this year.

silverback_791 karma

Do you and your colleagues have as fun as I suspect you might when writing new entries and needing to describe not only the original meme but also describe the spinoff memes that sometimes are even funnier?

Also, I don't see an entry on Meme Database for "Number One Bullshit Guy", but it has gotten a lot of sidememes on youtube.

memecore3 karma

We have a blast. There's a reason I've been doing this for 12 years.

I'll make sure we get that one up in the encyclopedia.