Mathematics of Memetics

Academic, 2022
On the Mathematics of Memetics
Masters Thesis
Awarded the Daniel L. Schodek Award for Technology and Sustainability
Graduate School of Design, Harvard University

Advisors: Andrew Witt and Allen Sayegh


This study delves into the propagation mechanics of memes within digital platforms, utilizing Reddit as a case study to unveil the patterns and predictors of meme virality. Central to this analysis is the introduction of the "Fracking" coefficient and "Echo Space" values two metrics developed to quantify the efficiency with which memes permeate online communities based on how connected they are to other communities.


In the thesis "Mathematics of Memetics," my investigation first delves into the intricate web of meme propagation within the vast networks of Reddit. The study commences with a rigorous data collection phase, employing advanced scraping techniques to amass a comprehensive dataset that reflects the vibrant activity of memes across these platforms. Some of the primary results are understood and drawn from the ideas of social psychology and game theory.

Data Collection and Visualization

The initial stage involved methodically gathering data from Reddit, aiming to capture a snapshot of meme evolution from its nascent stages to widespread popularity. This dataset served as the foundation for the subsequent analysis. Scraping at this time as a fairly arduoous task and I made a raspberry pi cluster which scrapped data for the the live version of reddit.

Raspberry Pi cluster

The raspberry pi cluster used to scrape data

With a rich dataset at hand, I embarked on a journey of data visualization, constructing detailed maps that chart the lifecycle of memes. These visual representations provide a window into the dynamics of meme spread, revealing the pathways through which memes permeate online communities. Along the way I built a WebGl powered graph visualisation library. Read more about it here. The research paper associated with the library is available here.

This was one of the visualisations I built

Check it out below! This takes a while to load (>10mins for the data) and only works on a desktop

Check out the app!

There is the older version of the app, which loads faster, with less fidelity and works on phones, availaible here:

Check out the old app!

Bot Experiments and Novel Metrics

A pivotal component of the research involved experimenting with social orchestration bots. These experiments were designed to simulate the artificial dissemination of memes, offering insights into the mechanics behind meme virality. Through this process, we observed the nuanced ways in which digital content can be amplified. To quantify the observations, the thesis introduces innovative metrics such as the "Fracking Coefficient" and "Echo Space Value." These metrics serve as analytical tools to dissect the complexities of meme propagation, offering a new vocabulary for discussing memetic dynamics. Propogating memes also pointed to some subreddits which would be considered problematic.
Opinion fit

Each node in a network diffusion simulation converges to stability at different rates, the Fracking Coeeficient essentialy is a measure of the dregree of the polynomial that most colely approximates that rate of convergence, in most of the simulations and visualisations, this is reffered to as the "b" value

New measuure vs old

The new measure Echo Space Value, in comparison to other centrality measures

Extending the Analysis to Twitter

Leveraging the methodologies developed from the Reddit study, the research extends its gaze to Twitter. This extension is pivotal, as it allows for the examination of information spread and the mapping of influence networks within a different digital ecosystem. The study also looks at other possible areas for example, can we find "problematic" subreddits based on the metrics that we have developed?

At risk subreddit 1
At risk subreddit 2
At risk subreddit 3
At risk subreddit 4

Some of the high frack value and high echo space value Subreddits.

Memes as Digital Culture Artifacts

The study of memetics, particularly through mathematical models, concludes that memes play a crucial role in shaping digital culture and online discourse. Understanding the dynamics of memes is essential for comprehending the broader implications of how information and ideas circulate on the internet. Memes significantly influence the digital environment, serving as key components of contemporary internet culture.

Read the thesis here:

Mathematics of Memetics