The economy of memes is unforgiving. One minute you're riding high with a funny green frog and the next it's been appropriated by Nazis. Market crash. Don't beat yourself up about it, kid—can I interest you in this parrot on YouTube?
At least, that's what I'd say if I were a chain-smoking stock market trader, but for memes. For a while now, this mental image has been the running gag behind popular subreddit "/r/MemeEconomy." On the forum, users jokingly speculate about which memes are on the rise, and which should be dumped before they take down your entire portfolio by making it into a "normie" publication. You know, like this one.
But thanks to a recently launched Android app called MemeBroker, the meme economy is finally real.
"I think it's the natural progression for memes as they continue to progress into a more satirical and self-aware context over time," Micah Prince, the 20-year-old South African developer who made MemeBroker, told me over email.
MemeBroker uses the Reddit API to let you swipe through all the memes being posted to various subreddits, "buying" ones that you think could make it big. Once you buy a meme, which costs a certain amount of "Pepes" (MemeBroker's currency), it goes into your meme portfolio. Then, you wait for the value of your meme portfolio to rise or fall.
The value of your portfolio in Pepes is a function of the number and rate of upvotes a meme gets on Reddit, and the Pepes you spent on the meme are deducted from its final worth. At any point, you can sell off your portfolio to cut your losses if you get a bad vibe from a risky meme you invested in.
So, basically, if you buy a new or unpopular meme and it becomes a sensation, you just made some money, bucko. If you buy a meme and it's a lemon, maybe don't quit your day job.
The app isn't perfect, and some users have reported breaking it by making too many Pepes. "I'll probably need to tweak it somehow though because people have been making absurd amounts of Pepes," Prince wrote me.
MemeBroker is pretty damn fun, but if you need a little help, you could always get some tips from Meme Insider, a trade publication that emerged from /r/MemeEconomy. I definitely didn't get anywhere near the number of Pepes needed to break the app.
Prince posted that his app has received more than 1000 downloads in the short time it's been available. The app's success is perhaps unsurprising. MemeBroker isn't the first attempt to make the meme economy real, but it is the first endeavor to succeed. A separate group calling themselves NASDANQ has reportedly been trying to figure out how to make the meme economy real, but haven't released anything yet.
MemeBroker will stay Android-only for the foreseeable future, Prince wrote, because it would require rewriting the app and getting new developer permissions to bring it to the iPhone. Prince also said that his iOS developer skills aren't quite up to snuff just yet. Still, "I'm sure I could make it work," he wrote.
Then, everyone will be able to participate equally in the meme economy.
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