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Library of Congress Collects, Ranks Internet’s Most Popular Meme … For Science

Librarian Carla Hayden previously announced ‘digital transformation‘


The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, has crunched the numbers on the web’s most commonly used memes.

The library released two new datasets today based on archival information it gathered on two websites: GIPHY, a repository of GIFs, and Meme Generator, a store of popular image macros.

In an analysis of 86,310 memes, researchers counted the number of distinct memes created with the most popular meme templates across the web.

Top 10 Meme Templates by Total Meme Instances Count

Top 10 Meme Templates by CountTotal Meme Instances
Y U No 766
Futurama Fry 660
Insanity Wolf610
Success Kid510
The Most Interesting Man In the World507
willy wonka474
Foul Bachelor Frog469
Socially Awkward Penguin446
Advice Yoda Gives419

Together, the ten most popular meme templates comprise about 9 percent of the total archive, the analysis found.

Researchers published the datasets as part of a larger effort to preserve the internet. The Web Cultures Web Archive crawls and captures websites that are meaningful to American culture with the help of the Wayback Machine — including GIPHY and Meme Generator. But those sites are “more like databases or datasets of digital resources,” writes librarian Trevor Owens on the Library of Congress’ The Signal blog. 

For those uninitiated with the meanings of these meme templates, the Library of Congress also archives the site Know Your Meme.

The project is premised on the idea that memes and gifs provide a valuable primary source for researchers interested in the recent past. For example, the GIPHY dataset shows that the archive captured a dozen or so jubilant Donald Trump gifs in the days after he locked down the Republican nomination on July 19, 2016.

This gif’s “trending date” coincides with President Donald Trump receiving the Republican nomination in July 2016, according to metadata on the Library of Congress’ gif archive.

Nicole Saylor, head of archives at the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center, referred to historical online content as a “whole new class of documentation” in an interview with Slate last year.

The datasets generated some buzz at the annual conference of the Association of Internet Researchers today in Montreal, Canada. The Library of Congress says it’s hoping to expand the breadth and utility of its databases and is looking for a few good researchers and web archivists to help.

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced a five-year plan for a “digital transformation” last week.

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