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Tracking a Political Meme: McCain vs Paris Hilton

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, September 25 2008

Ever wanted to be able to show someone exactly how a "meme" moves across the web in real-time? Anthony Hamelle of Linkfluence has posted a video doing exactly that. He zeroes in on two political videos that made a big splash at the height of summer: the McCain campaign's successful viral attack on Barack Obama as a "Celeb," which compared him to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in the wake of his European tour and scored well over a million views; and Paris Hilton's snarky response, which ultimately overtook McCain with something over three million views.

Hamelle is working with the same map of the US political blogosphere that he demo-ed this June at PdF, but in this video you can get a sense of the power of the underlying diagnostic tools at his disposal.

As Hamelle notes in a blog post about this analysis, you can answer several vital questions about how an idea or meme spreads online using Linkfluence:

- “Who’s most likely to have started this rumour?” [all content is indexed and time-stamped, making it easy to spot the “fire-starter” blog at the onset of the animation* and track propagation henceforth]
- “Who or what is exerting most influence?” [everyone’s got their own ‘secret sauce’ to determine influence on the web. Ours is called the “linkfluence score” which is essentially based on one’s site relative position of authority within its community (see this primer for more details)]
- “Who should we add to our list of key contacts / influencers?” [here again, visualization comes in handy: key influencers don’t exist in a vacuum, they are positioned at the center of their own community of readers and peers. They are first and foremost, hubs of information absorption and dissemination, showing up as large ‘nodes’ (larger dots) in the social graph.]

Here's a screenshot of the tool in action, showing the 24-hour period when the most blogs were posting about the Hilton video. There's a list on the left, and each blog is also highlighted in the graphic (though I'm sure that's probably hard to really see).

The same "best 24-hour" period of linkage by political blogs to the original McCain video is not nearly as rich in links.