The entrepreneur compared the commercialization of memes to a similar metamorphosis within the blogosphere. It used to be, in the early 2000s, that blogs were no more than personal journals and diaries, and what little advertising existed on them was slapped on as a mere afterthought.
"The big idea from [Gawker founder] Nick Denton was what if you took it seriously and you hired full time people and do something that normal people are just doing personally, except you have them do that professionally? That pushed blogging into a new form of professional content."
These days it's an anomaly to find a news outlet that doesn't incorporate blogging in some form or fashion, even as Gawker has moved away from the traditional blogging format and adopted a more newspaper-like front page.
Peretti theorized that the meme is prone to abundant social sharing because it plays into shared emotions and experience. A news article, while it may or may not be something in which your friend is interested, is purely intellectual and does not necessarily trigger any form of emotion.
"So laughter and comedy do well because it's fun to laugh with your friends, and it's fun to have an emotional experience with your friends," he said. "Media that facilitates that seems to spread more."
Duncan Mitchell, the co-founder of Someecards, ascribed the growth of the meme market to content producers' attempts to scale by both maximizing traffic while minimizing the number of paid staffers it takes to produce it. It's not a coincidence, he explained, that many meme-based sites rely on user-generated content.
"I think the goal for a lot of web businesses is to produce quality content without having to burden all the costs of creating that content," he told me. "It's hard to create a profitable publishing business online, so user-generated content is one way to kind of diffuse some of those costs."
Mitchell jokingly refers to himself as the "CEO and assistant to the CEO" of the humorous e-card company launched in 2007 that serves as a parody of Hallmark greeting cards. Though he initially worked on the project while maintaining his day job as creative director at a major digital marketing firm, he and his business partner, Brook Lundy, received some outside funding in 2008 and came to work for the site full time. Today, Someecards employs the two founders, five full time writers, one full time tech person, one full time ad salesperson, and a number of freelance graphic designers and writers. In the last month, the site generated 39 million page views and over five million unique visitors.
Someecards is a mixture of user-generated content (users are able to pick from a variety of designs and overlay their own text onto them) and cards written by company staffers. Mitchell estimated that the company features six to 10 new pieces of content a day. Like many of the companies featured in this piece, it makes most of its money from advertising. While many of its ads are no different from the display ads shown on the websites of the New York Times or CNN, Someecards is also able to provide custom "branded" content for its main publishing channels.
"So if you're a liquor brand, a car company, or a movie studio, we create Someecards co-branded with your products and circulate those around the site," Mitchell said. "It'll show up in our apps, in our Twitter feed, and on our Facebook fan page."
Mitchell claimed that the click-through rates on these kinds of ads are "10 times the rate you get on normal display advertising," mostly because they rely on the very same humor inherent in all its non-branded content. In fact, the only difference between a standard Someecard and a custom ad is the company logo contained in the ad. They don't shill for the company, but rather allow the brand to hitch a ride on the viral content.
Correction: 6/28/13: A previous version of this story misidentified the founder of Quickmeme.