Memes can be broadly defined as culturally transmitted information, or ideas and beliefs that can be spread from one organism, or group of organisms, to another. A key component to the meme concept is that the information is able to self-replicate, and in turn undergoes a type of natural selection, much like genes. Internet memes are typically associated with media, catchphrases, and more general trends that spread throughout various outlets on the World Wide Web like chat clients, blogs, social networking sites, email, forums and image boards. It’s often used to point out how trends online evolve and change over time, creating various new derivatives.
The word was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. The book focused on the importance of self-replication in evolution, and pointed to the gene as the unit of biological information that is subject to selection pressures. He postulated that perhaps not only biological information undergoes natural selection, and that anything that is capable of replicating itself would also be susceptible to selection pressures, like ideas and beliefs. The word “meme” was used to label this type of self-replicating cultural information, and it was derived from the Greek word mimema, which translates to “something imitated”.