Chain Letter

The simplest example of a meme that takes into advantage these network features is a chain-letter: a message sent to different people with the express request to copy it and distribute it further. This is motivated by anticipated rewards for those who do (and punishment for those who don't). Paper chain-letters are often poorly readable photocopies, or manuscripts retranscribed numerous times by hand or by typewriter, with the insertion of plenty of spelling and semantic errors. The effort and cost of copying and distribution moreover limit the number of copies per generation to about 20. Chain-letters distributed by electronic mail, on the other hand, can be sent to hundreds or thousands of people at once, at virtually no efforts or costs, and without information degradation.

Though I have received more chain-letters by email than by post, chain-letters on the net are still a minor phenomenon. Although their spread is very much facilitated by the net, the same applies to all other types of messages. That means that there is increased competition between all these different memes for a limited resource: the attention a user pays to the information he or she receives. Because chain-letters fulfil relatively few of the criteria? that distinguish successful memes from unsuccessful ones, they are unlikely to win this competition. (Heylighen, Francis, 1997)

Last edited on Saturday, October 4, 2003 8:09:32 pm.