Futurecasting, Project VoCo, Hacking, Harassment & More

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Gif via ProSymbols/The Noun Project/Andrew McGill/The Atlantic

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Designing the Future for the Present: Futurecasting is on the rise, ya’ll. Firms like Frog and Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve use data and research to imagine future worlds and brands’ places within them. Hopefully these futures are free from Big Brother’s watchful eyes, however, the ubiquity of hacking (see below) has me feeling v uneasy.

Project VoCo Is Creepy AF: I first heard about Adobe’s new audio app that lets users alter and create voices from a friend in the audio engineering industry. He brought up how this technology will negatively impact both audio engineers and voice actors. Other concerns come to mind as well: security threats, falsified quotes and loss of skill. While all of these possibilities are disconcerting, what really wigs me out is the ability to use Adobe’s technology to essentially steal someone’s voice. Imagine a stalker recording your voice in the check-out line and using it later to carry out delusional fetishes. Imagine never moving on from the passing of a loved one and continuing to talk to a fake version of them long after they have died. Imagine prank phone calls on steroids by using someone else’s voice to convince a listener to believe or to do something. Creepy AF, right?

I Guess I Should Come Up With Stronger Passwords, Huh: The recent cyberattacks in the eastern U.S. and beyond (not to mention the unyielding release of WikiLeaks’ hacked DNC emails) got a lot of people talking about internet security. So, The Atlantic‘s Andrew McGill decided to do a little experiment. McGill built a fake web toaster (outdated, slow or cheap processors soldered into web-connected devices) and put out a honeypot (an irresistible target that attracts and entraps hackers and the scripts they use to find vulnerable servers). Basically, McGill wanted to see how long it would take for his toaster to get hacked. He was expecting to wait days, or even weeks. But the first hack attempt came after just one hour. There were more than 300 further attempts before midnight. So what does this mean? Hackers now have the ability to literally scan the entire internet in search of vulnerable servers. The belief that you are small and insignificant when it comes to the vastness of the internet is no longer reasonable. No one can escape. We are all likely to be hacked at some point. BRB pulling a Walden.

Twitter’s Catch-22: How do you sustain a platform founded upon the belief of free speech while simultaneously trying to tame the trolls? Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross talks with BuzzFeed technology reporter Charlie Warzel to find out. Ultimately, it doesn’t sound like there’s much of a solution for Twitter harassment right now. In fact, harassment everywhere only seems to be increasing. Take, for example, this woman who was virtually groped in a VR multiplayer game. TBH I don’t know what’s more depressing: the fact that this doesn’t really seem to be that much of a concern to CEOs, or the fact that there are truly this many human beings who choose to engage in such hateful behavior.

I’m Sick of Telling You Guys Podcasts Are the Future: So I’ll let this article do it for me.

Make Your Ears Happy: Let my boo Devendra croon to you.

Stay classy, nerds.

 

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#byetrump: Social Media & the Presidential Election

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Image via Feminist Fight Club

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As the second Presidential debate looms nearer (t-minus 5 hours), social media is buzzing with vitriol, comedy, empowerment and urgency. This post is by no means a comprehensive or unbiased roundup of the social media landscape in the wake of Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” remark released on video Friday. More than woman, I am human. As a human being, I simply cannot understand anyone who supports Donald Trump. That being said, here’s some stuff going on online.

#pussygrabsback: Yesterday Feminist Fight Club, a social media presence run by Jessica Bennett (author of a manual by the same name), posted a meme that quickly went viral, getting reposted by artists and comedians including Lena Dunham, Carson Ellis, Sarah Silverman and Amber Tamblyn. In addition to the meme, celebrities including America Ferrera quickly took to the hashtag, demonstrating that women everywhere are taking a stand against rape culture.

Brands Enter the Fray: Last month, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a horrific message comparing Syrian refugees to Skittles. The tape of Donald Trump released Friday contained audio of Trump talking inappropriately about using Tic Tacs and forcing himself upon an actress. Both candy companies have released statements condemning Trump’s statements and distancing themselves from his campaign.

Women Share Their #NotOkay Stories: On Friday evening millions of women turned to the Twitter community to speak out against sexual assault. Cartoonist Rebecca Cohen asked women to retweet her if they’ve ever had an intimate body part grabbed without their consent. Nearly 19,000 women retweeted her message. Author and social media blogger Kelly Oxford asked women to tweet her their first sexual assaults. Oxford reported receiving nearly 10 million impressions, with a minimum of 50 women per minute sharing their stories of sexual assault, many with the hashtag #NotOkay.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump…:  Accused rapist, blatant xenophobe and racist, white supremacist supporter, documented misogynistdenier of mental health disorders and, perhaps worst of all, this country’s chosen Republican nominee  tweeted “Certainly has been an interesting 24 hours!”

The man is a monster. Have fun watching the debate, everyone. I’ll be drowning my sorrows in a bottle of whiskey and live tweeting the downfall of society.

Stay classy, nerds.

Platform-Specific Content: Tumblr Edition

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Gif by Sasha Katz

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While it’s easier, cheaper and quicker to repurpose content across all social media platforms, is that really best practice? IMHO, content designed for the specific platform it will live on, not for how many platforms it can live on, is the most creative, compelling and ultimately convincing in terms of brand loyalty.

For example, some brands have been absolutely killing it on Tumblr, where the users are mainly millennials and tend to be quirkier than their counterparts on more mainstream social media platforms. That’s because of the nature of Tumblr itself—it’s only part social network, but also part microblog. Users can post multimedia content to their own short-form personal blogs (AKA a tumblelog), as well as like and repost content from other blogs.

This hybrid setup means Tumblr attracts a lot of creative-types who are interested in posting their own work or want to be inspired by others. That doesn’t mean the platform is all artsy fartsy, though. A lot of users are hilarious pranksters, the first to know about trending memes and gifs, or even the ones who created the content that goes viral in the first place.

Unlike every other major social network, Tumblr allows users to customize their page designs by selecting or submitting a theme. This element of individual freedom, combined with the diary-like feel of Tumblr’s text posts, makes the platform a deeply personal place. Essentially, it’s your teenage self’s bedroom wall, covered with virtual pages torn from magazines or scraps of paper scribbled with poems.

While Tumblr is incredibly intimate, it also fosters a fiercely supportive community. Users post about their true feelings—the things they’re too embarrassed to tell their family or coworkers or even friends. By revealing their insecurities, Tumblr users discover that they’re not alone. An entire online community of fellow introverts and artists and dreamers is there to offer comfort and advice. Obviously I’m generalizing here. Everyone on Tumblr has different reasons for using the platform. This is just what I’ve personally discovered after using the platform for four years.

Regardless, it’s easy to see why the Tumblr community would be wary of brands encroaching on their personal space. Tumblr is the place they go to seek encouragement, find solace or be inspired. It’s the place they go to get away from the mainstream, the man and big corporations. That’s why the best brands on Tumblr are the ones that don’t try to force themselves into this community. They ask to be let in.

Dunkin’ Donuts worked with Tumblr Creatrs, or emerging artists using the platform to promote their work, to create posts that were not only creative, but also resonated with the aesthetic of the Tumblr community:

Similarly, Vans commissioned artists that aligned with their brand’s voice to design several posts for them:

I’ve been fangirling over the Nike Women’s Tumblr account all year and I honestly can’t come up with a shortlist of their best posts because everything they share is so perfect for Tumblr. So go ahead and check out their entire blog.

And while I’m calling out entire Tumblr blogs, check out Netflix. Their entertaining memes and gifs are all reblogworthy.

The theme? All of these brands are creating content specifically for Tumblr as opposed to sharing the same content across all of their social media platforms. They don’t have one singular social media strategy. Instead, they adapt their strategy depending on the platform.

TL;DR: Tumblr is a unique community. That means your content needs to be unique, too.

Stay classy, nerds

Facebook Curators, the Dank Ages and a Podcast Update

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Image via Bust

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You Are Facebook’s Most Biased Curator: Last month Gizmodo released a report claiming that Facebook’s curators, the ones behind the Trending Topics section, suppressed conservative news and used an “injection tool” to feature selected stories that were not actually trending. Naturally, this raised a lot of questions, most importantly: Facebook has editors? The answer, of course, is yes. Facebook’s curators control the Trending Topics that all users see, and there are a lot of users—167 million just in the US.

It’s a scary thought, realizing that the news you’re viewing may have been manipulated by some faceless dude drinking Jamba Juice and playing ping pong at Facebook’s headquarters. But Vox brought up an even scarier thought. Curators aren’t necessarily a bad thing (granted they’re actually serving up a wide range of stories and opinions). The bad thing is an echo chamber: when you only consume news that already aligns with your own beliefs.

Unfortunately, it’s too late. We’re all already living in individual echo chambers of our own design. You see, Facebook’s algorithm was created to make the platform less biased. Instead of deciding which content to publish in your news feed for you, you decide. Based on your personal connections, content you engage with and articles you share, Facebook’s algorithm serves you similar content, ensuring you’re living in your own cocoon where you agree with everything you consume. Scary, right?

So yes, let’s absolutely question Facebook’s curation tactics to make sure we’re actually being served unbiased trending topics. But also, maybe we should focus more on the magic echo chamber algorithm. Or, and I can’t believe that I (vocal proclaimer of the theory that Facebook = Big Brother) am the one saying this, maybe we should all stop attacking the platform that we choose to use and instead foster a broader view of the world for ourselves by seeking out a variety of opinions and ideas? #woke

Welcome to the Dank Ages: Despite the recent success of Dat Boi and “Don’t talk to me or my son ever again,” the peak year of the meme was actually 2011, according to recent analysis. In fact, we have now entered the age of Dank Memes, parodies that are intentionally overdone or cliche. If you’re wondering how to speak meme, this glossary is helpful af (btw we are all normies). And while you’re reading glossaries, check out this one on fanspeak.

Podcast Update: A while back I did a post that was entirely about podcasts. While I continue to cry at the gym listening to This American Life, I’ve now added awkwardly laughing in public to my repertoire. 2 Dope Queens just finished up their first season and it was hilarious and empowering. If you’re looking for more female power, Girlboss, hosted by Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso, features interviews with successful girl bosses. And totally unrelated is More Perfect, a Radiolab spinoff that explores how the Supreme Court has shaped the nation.

Stay classy, nerds.

Empowered Women, EverestNoFilter and Jessie’s Story

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Images via Adrian Ballinger and Cory Richards

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Empowering Women…Through Advertising: For a long time, beauty marketing was about instilling fear in women—without these products, women were incapable of being beautiful and without beauty, women were incapable of success. Recently, however, advertising messaging has changed to one of female empowerment. New campaigns from companies like Dove and SK-II are now telling us that we are all beautiful, independent ladies just the way we are, all while still managing to sell us their products.

Not that I’m complaining. I much prefer this class of advertising over the pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards. And ultimately, I think these brands are doing so much more than selling us a product or even an idea. As opposed to hopeless dreams and unattainable aspirations, these brands are selling us truth. Instead of telling us you could have this, they’re saying you know what, you’ve already got it. When you think about it, it’s actually a pretty radical concept. Here are brands that are basically telling you that you don’t need their product to feel good about yourself.  And somehow that makes me want their products even more.

Snapchat Is More Than Social Media: A team of climbers is currently ascending Mount Everest using brand new satellite technology. While Everest is one of the most well-known mountain ranges in the world, not many people know what it’s actually like to climb the highest peak on Earth. But now you can. The climbing team is documenting their entire climb, from prep to finish, via their Snapchat handle, EverestNoFilter.

I don’t know why I’m so intrigued by this method of storytelling, as one of Snapchat’s main features is its “Stories” section. However, this is one of the first instances (that I’ve heard of) of the platform telling one cohesive story from start to finish. As a hybrid of reality TV show programming and documentary filmmaking, Snapchat stories transcend traditional video storytelling platforms because of their low barrier to entry. Now anyone with a mobile phone can broadcast their story to millions of viewers for free.

The Game of Chat: When Facebook invited companies to create chatbots for its messenger platform, most could immediately see the value for customer service purposes like booking airline tickets and reserving restaurant tables. But PullString had a different vision. They decided to create a Facebook Messenger chatbot game called Humani: Jessie’s Story. Rod Humble, the game developer who created Jessie, has previously worked on similar virtual reality games like Second Life and the Sims. When the game begins, Jessie has just lost her job and her apartment. You talk her through first dates, job interviews and other life events. According to Danielle Frimer, one of the writers behind Jessie’s Story, “It’s a media that requires something of you. It requires you to use your imagination; to use your intellect to engage with characters as opposed to just consuming.”

I love that with every new technology humans create, we always find a way to use it to tell a story.

Stay classy, nerds.

The Enigma of Snapchat, Modern Diction and Other Things

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Gif via Giphy

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How Snapchat Built a Business by Confusing Olds: This article delves into the mystery that is Snapchat, a platform founded by some kids in college to securely send impermanent photos (yes, like nudes) that has transformed into a major media source whose content is both nonsensical and outrageously popular. Much to the confusion of older generations, this user-unfriendly messaging app is widely used among millennials. Celebrity Snapchatters like DJ Khaled frequently share content that gets about as many views as popular television programs, such as The Big Bang Theory. While the cost for advertising is significantly higher than Facebook, marketers are seeing a lot of success reaching audiences on Snapchat. In fact, Tastemade, a brand who has a coveted spot among the Discover page, completely reoriented itself after finding success on the app, increasing its company size and amassing an extra $40 million in venture capital. While analytics remains a weak point for the platform, Snapchat announced in February that it plans to provide detailed demographic information to advertisers through Nielsen’s digital ratings service. tl;dr – It’s time to get your brand on Snapchat.

The Atlantic Is Killin’ it with Diction Analysis: Why do so many digital assistants have feminine names? This article set out to examine the gender disparity in naming conventions for AI systems like Siri, Cortana and Alexa. One explanation is that the patriarchy is just doing what it does best: objectifying women and belittling them to inferior roles, like secretaries. Another explanation, however, is that people take orders better from female voices. Naturally, I hope it’s the latter because ladies are boss bitches who deserve their due cred. Unfortunately, it’s probably just because the makers of anthropomorphic technologies (mainly men), view women as not fully human beings.

This article, also published in the Atlantic, examines the phenomenon of the transformation of “LOL” into a punctuation mark. Instead of literally meaning “laughing out loud,” the abbreviation is now left dangling at the end of a sentence to signify irony, sarcasm or ambivalence. In fact, rarely does LOL suggest actual laughter of any kind when used today, according to e-laughing data from Facebook. But LOL is far from extinction—it’s still used frequently in conversation. LOL just doesn’t mean “funny” anymore. Take this example from an essay by the linguist John McWhorter:

“Jocelyn texts ‘where have you been?’ and Annabelle texts back ‘LOL at the library studying for two hours.’ How funny is that, really?” (Not very.) Instead, McWhorter argued, the “LOL” in the women’s exchange is standing in as, effectively, a marker for empathy. It is replacing the things that can be achieved in an in-person conversation—the nodding of the head, the contact of the eyes, the tiny gestures that together lend the “L” to the “IRL”—with a three-letter symbol. “LOL,” McWhorter put it, “no longer ‘means’ anything. Rather, it ‘does something’—conveying an attitude—just as the ending ‘ed’ doesn’t ‘mean’ anything but conveys past tense. LOL is, of all things, grammar.”

Cool Happenings: Giphy’s Gif Editor lets you add stickers and text to existing gifs, there’s a Chrome extension that automatically clicks “Continue watching” for you on Netflix, today is March 31.

Stay classy, nerds.

Tumblr Teens, BuzzFeed Video, AMP and Crowdcultures

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Image via New Republic

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The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens: This is the story of how a group of teens on Tumblr became famous for writing internet jokes, recruited a few hundred kids, gained an estimated 35 millions followers and earned millions of dollars. These are the kids that the head of Tumblr’s culture and trends called “the most brilliant digital strategists” and “better marketers than anyone in the game right now.” Yes, I said teenagers. Here’s an excerpt:

Tumblr teens need to be sophisticated about making money, and they have clever tactics to increase traffic and followers and revenue, often helping each other to game Google AdSense. Why game AdSense? Tumblr users are allowed to put banner ads on their sites, but most users access Tumblr through the dashboard feed, where only Tumblr’s sponsored posts can go. So that means most eyes, and the most dedicated fans, rarely if ever see those banner ads.

I Changed My Mind: You know how I’ve been writing that Facebook is taking steps towards total world domination? I changed my mind. It’s BuzzFeed. It’s really no surprise because Jonah Peretti is a content mastermind (see also: instant articles). Now BuzzFeed has launched a new video app, aptly named BuzzFeed Video. It’s super straightforward: just a feed of the site’s top short videos. It’s so simple, it’s genius.

You’ll Never Believe This—Google Wants Users to Stay on Google: To encourage web users to stay on the web (as opposed to switching over to apps), Google will now start giving preference to pages built with its fast-loading technology, Accelerated Mobile Pages or AMP. Guess who’s already working with Google on the AMP rollout? BuzzFeed.

Marketing in the Age of Social Media: This piece in the HBR posits that crowdcultures, the phenomenon of digital crowds serving as innovators of culture, are driving marketing wins in the age of social media. The article’s author Douglas Holt argues that branded content used to work in the age of print and TV because competition was limited. Now that social media has entered the game, however, anyone can produce content, so the competition is much higher, not to mention users can actively choose not to view your content. Holt asserts that in the age of social media, brands succeed when they embrace a specific ideology, sustaining cultural relevance by playing off of contentious topics. Here’s an excerpt:

To brand effectively with social media, companies should target crowdcultures. Today, in pursuit of relevance, most brands chase after trends. But this is a commodity approach to branding: Hundreds of companies are doing exactly the same thing with the same generic list of trends. It’s no wonder consumers don’t pay attention. By targeting novel ideologies flowing out of crowdcultures, brands can assert a point of view that stands out in the overstuffed media environment.

The article goes on to provide examples of how brands in the personal care category—Dove, Axe and Old Spice—have excelled with consumers by advocating for specific gender ideologies. Holt ends with a poignant warning: “Companies need to shift their focus away from the platforms themselves and toward the real locus of digital power—crowdcultures.”

I think this is an important reminder as to why we need to stay up to date on more than just industry trends. We need to listen to what people are actually talking about. Every single brand is jumping on what’s “trending.” What can we say that’s truly adding value to the cultural conversation?

Stay classy, nerds.

Tumblr, More Tumblr, Bernie, Nick Offerman and Girls

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Gif via Nike Women Tumblr

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Fandom in the Social Age: Yesterday I sat in on an Adweek webinar on Lessons in Millennial Engagement from Tumblr, MTV and Coca-Cola. I’ve always been interested in the history of internet culture, from Lolcats to Anonymous to social media as a form of political discourse. This webinar was an interesting look into the evolution of internet culture in today’s social age. Tumblr, my personal favorite social media platform, has emerged as the social epicenter of fandom today because it gives users the ability to create, remix and recap the things that they’re most passionate about. Unlike many other social platforms, Tumblr does not try to contain its users in neat, white and blue boxes. Tumblr and its community of wonderfully weird individuals encourage and support creativity. This freedom of expression has allowed the birth of fandoms in a way that it totally unique to Tumblr.

Wanting to engage with this creative community of millennials, Coca-Cola teamed up with MTV for their Share a Coke Campaign. Coke specifically designed the Fandom Awards for the Tumblr community around the idea of “shippers.” A version of the word “relationship,” shippers are diehard fans of popular television shows who desperately want two characters to get together (if you listen to the “X-Files Files” podcast, you’ll be familiar with the message board shippers who scrutinize every close touch between Scully and Mulder). Shippers are especially active on Tumblr, sharing fan art, memes and gifs of their favorite television relationship hopefuls. Coke asked shippers to vote for their favorite couple to be awarded the “Ship of the Year” award at the MTV Fandom Awards. Coke and MTV used a cross-platform strategy, which included Tumblr promoted posts, a team of social influencers, on-air content and an experiential festival and sampling. The campaign went viral, resulting in 28 million votes.

What I love about this idea is that it was designed for not only a specific social media platform, but also a specific subset of individuals active on that platform. The idea appealed to millennials’ desire for authenticity because the Coke team found an activity they were already naturally participating in and expanded upon it. Sometimes the best ideas aren’t new.

Speaking of Tumblr: Look to the Nike Women account for inspiration. They have content exclusively created for Tumblr based on what’s currently trending in the platform—quirky gifs, colorful collages and detailed illustrations. This is the next step I would like to take in social. Instead of repurposing content across platforms, we should be creating different content for each.

Is Bernie Crazy?: Regardless of who you’re voting for in the upcoming primaries, there’s no denying the beauty of this website, created by the animation and digital storytelling agency Oxbow. True to Bernie’s trademark campaign style of sticking to the facts, the site boils down complex issues in a fun, engaging way.

Take That Airbnb!: This clever HomeAway ad, narrated by the delightful Nick Offerman, is a not-so-subtle poke at the sharing economy.

Girl Power: Vimeo announced Share the Screen, an initiative to fund, teach and promote female filmmakers.

Stay classy, nerds.

Much Social, So Holiday, Such Snapchat, Wow

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Image via Tumblr

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Candidates on Social: The 2016 presidential candidates are working to reach voters through social beyond just Facebook and Twitter. This article highlights the top users on Periscope (Hillary), Instagram (Trump) and Pinterest (Hillary), plus calls out candidates making use of Snapchat (Hillary) and Tumblr (Bernie). Obviously the White House hopefuls are striving to reach millennials on these popular platforms, but what I think is most interesting is how the candidates have branded themselves. Hillary appeals strongly to women, with a Snapchat of a pup in a cup and boards for family photos and gift ideas for her granddaughter on Pinterest. Bernie uses his Tumblr to boil down complex issues into photos and gifs and adds a touch of humor to appeal to young voters. I’m also impressed by how smoothly and effectively these candidates have jumped on social trends and think we could learn from them to transition more brands onto new social platforms.

Holiday Roundup: Consumers have shifted more and more to choosing fresh over artificial, handmade over mass-produced and locally-owned over chain. Etsy has naturally been a popular place to purchase unique, handcrafted items. Now, the retail site is promoting local boutiques as well with their city guides. Holiday shoppers can support both artists within the Etsy community and local shops using these guides for shops that feature independent makers in your area. In the age of digital, Google is going print with Google Doodle, a collection of paper dolls you can print out and play with. AT&T has released an emotional and all-too-familiar holiday spot that actually encourages families to get off their phones and be present.

Advertisers Look to Snapchat: As the fastest growing social network with the highest percentage of millennial users, it should come as no surprise that Snapchat has become an important player in the social advertising space. There’s nothing incredibly surprising in this article, however, I think the point about the intimacy Snapchat offers will only become more significant. Many advertising publications have predicted the rise of social messaging services in 2016, as consumers become more attracted to one-on-one interactions in contrast with the aggressive and intrusive techniques favored by some platforms (cough, Facebook).

Every Tumblr Meme from 2015: A few women staffers at the Washington Post were interested in showing how memes spread and thought hey, why don’t we make a timeline of every single Tumblr meme from the entire year? Sources have confirmed that these women are not insane, just really awesome. Check out the incredible timeline they created with the help of the Meme Documentation Tumblr account and Tumblr’s in-house meme librarian (yes, that is a real job), Amanda Brennan.

Happy Holidays!