Hwang concedes the metajoke aspect of that first conference in 2008: wouldn’t it be funny and weird to create an event about things on the Internet that are funny and weird? The punch line is that their idea was prescient. Moot, the 4Chan.org founder, who has since revealed his name as Christopher Poole, recently gave a talk at a TED Conference, a gathering of tech and business insiders. There, he explained the origins of Internet foolishness like Lolcats and Rickrolling to its well-heeled, big-thinking audience. Hwang spoke at this year’s South by Southwest Music and Media Conference on the subject of “homemade-flamethrower videos” on YouTube. The department of media, culture and communication at New York University brought in a trio of performers for the main event at its undergraduate conference this winter to give a presentation called MemeFactory, a fast-paced talk with three slide projectors running simultaneously, addressing practically every stupid joke — or Internet meme, to use the common catch-all term — that’s ricocheted across the Web in the past 10 years.

Like practically everything else, people fooling around is transformed by the online context. Consider Rickrolling. As many (but probably not all) of you know, this involves suggesting that a point being made online will be backed up, or refuted, if you click on what appears to be a relevant link; instead, the link takes you to a video for Rick Astley’s 1987 hit, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” This prank became such a fad that it was referenced in the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, with Astley himself on hand to live-Rickroll the audience. Or consider Lolcats (LOL meaning “laugh out loud”), which even the most casual Internet user has probably come across: funny pictures of cats, made funnier by a pidgin-English phrase in big block letters, joined in what’s referred to as “image macro.” The Mona Lisa (or maybe the Duchamp “Fountain”) of Lolcats shows a chubby feline with a plaintive expression, asking, “I can has cheezburger?” A Seattle entrepreneur named Ben Huh, who now owns icanhascheezburger.com, has made Lolcats the cornerstone of a multimillion-dollar business, producing several books and a slew of similar sites. Not coincidentally, mainstream publishers have paid six-figure advances to total unknowns in hopes of converting ROFL to revenue; CBS is turning some guy’s crude-humor Twitter feed into a sitcom.

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