Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Book Tag Trackback

After being tagged myself, I tagged (among other people) Andrew Spicer to talk about his books. After sarcastically thanking me (and the others who tagged him) he asked (I think rhetorically), who started this thing?

A few days later, the pesky part of my brain that's always causing trouble pointed out that it shouldn't (theoretically) be that hard to figure it out - Just track backwards from tag to tag until you get to the beginning (or a dead end).

So let's see. I was tagged by Greg at Sinister Thoughts.

He was tagged by Damian at Babbling Brooks.

Damian was tagged by Alan at Occam's Carbuncle

Alan was tagged by Jay at the Freedom to Serfdom

Jay was tagged by Freeman, Libertarian Critter

Freeman was tagged twice, so for now I'm just going to go with the first one listed, which was Wally Conger at Out of Step.

Wally was tagged by Thomas Knapp of 'Knappster: Blog Naked for Jesus'

Thomas was tagged by Thomas Luongo of Being Thomas Luongo

Alas, Thomas only says that he is writing as a favour to his friend the e-e and doesn't provide a link. This cryptic reference is resolved by Thomas Knapp who notes that the tag was in relation to a project of the Eclectic Econoclast.

The Econoclast was tagged by Peter Mork at Economics With a Face

Peter was tagged by Tim Sandefur at Freespace.

Tim was tagged by John at TexasBestGrok

John was tagged by Rob at The Llama Butchers

Rob was tagged by The Irish Elk

The Irish Elk was tagged by Father Ethan at Diary of a Suburban Priest.

Ethan was tagged by Zadok the Roman at 'The Commonplace Book of Zadok the Roman'

Zadok was tagged by Lauren at Cnytr

Aside: I'm starting to wonder if it's just bloggers all the way down.

Lauren was tagged by Cole at Deo Gratias

Cole was tagged by Epiphany at Minivan Mom

Note: A few days later, Epiphany links to Craig Canton (June 6 entry. no permalinks) who had the same idea I did. He tracked this chain back a few more links from Minivan Mom but hits a dead end at Sarcastic Kitty who doesn't provide a link to who tagged her.

Although - she does name the site, and with some digging, it is here - but it's password protected. So there you go, Andrew - someone doesn't want you to know who started this...

Let's try a different branch.

Freeman was tagged twice, so let's track back from his other tag, from Kristen at 'Enjoy Every Sandwich' - no this chain goes quickly back to Wally Conger.


Hmm, if we really want to find out where this started we need to employ some technology on our behalf, specifically Technorati.

After doing some digging, it seems that sarcastic kitty must have either been the first blog to use this particular meme or else changed the wording of the first question, since that wording 'number of books you've (or I've) owned' has no Technorati references (that I can see) prior to mid-May when the Kitty entry appeared.


Looking around more, I see that a slightly different version (which asks 'how many books do you have 'in your house') has been slowly winding it's way through the seemingly large and insular world of knitting blogs for quite a while now - although it seems to be finally dying.

I tracked the knitting thread back to a dead end on April 15 at Stitch but, looking at Technorati it appears that this particular version arose out of the murky, poorly linked depths of live journal sometime in last February (with a few comments suggesting it jumped to there from mailing lists). See here for an entry from Feb 25.


Meanwhile, from March 31, here's a version which asks how many books you've read in the last year.

This version tracks back into French

And it looks like we can actually track this one back to its source at L'Atelier D'Anne on March 4th. This version of the quiz appears to die in early April in English, but is still going strong in French.

Note: Miss Vicky received both this version and the 'how many books do you own' version.


So to summarize, there was a version which asked for the 'Number of books you have in your house' which seemed to emerge out of livejournal in late February but is now dying.

Meanwhile, there was a separate version which asked 'How Many books do your read a year' which started from a French website. This version crossed over into English but died (in English) in early April.

The original 'How many books in your house' may or may not have mutated at some point into 'How Many Books You've Owned' (which suddenly appeared seemingly in many placs at once in mid-May) which mostly likely evolved into 'How Many Books You Own' and then 'How Many Books I Own' - the version I received and the one most active currently. Alas, I haven't found any of the 'missing links' which would show where these mutations occurred, so it's possible that the newer versions were just 'designed' by some 'God'-like being. Or not. But they seemed to emerge around mid-May with an improved reproductive strategy of a specific request to 'tag' 5 more people as opposed to just passing it on to 3.

Finally, via Bound by Gravity I see that Robot Guy tracked a parallel book meme (which asked about Fahrenheit 451) to a source at the Pink Bee on March 4th. Interestingly, the 451 meme spread and died much quicker than the 'how many books' variants. I originally just thought the 451 meme was totally separate, but given the similarity of the last line (Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?) to the late Feb. livejournal entries, it is likely that the 451 meme was also a mutation of this earlier meme (or maybe that's just a standard final line of a meme and they did have separate origins).


Do you ever start something, thinking it will be simple only to end up spending way more time on it that you expected? Anyway, I guess that doesn't really answer your question Andrew, but I gave it a shot.

Labels: , ,


  • Good detective work, Agent Declan.

    There's got to be some way to classify this using population theory. Mutating from 3 to 5 tags was certainly a good survival strategy. Hmmmm.

    Jennie's working all night tonight - perhaps I'll kill off my free time.

    By Blogger Andrew, at 3:40 AM  

  • There's a fabulous article a ways back in Scientific American about a similar project involving chain letter emails. They used a brilliantly simple trick to classify the degree of similarly of the meme, effectively using PKZip as a Fourier analysis tool.

    (Take the text of two chain letters A and B. Zip A, zip B separately, and also zip them both together. Compare file sizes. If they're identical then zipA + zipB = 2*zip(A+B). If they're completely unrelated then zipA + zipB = zip(A+B). Turn that into a percentage similarity. The neat thing is that it's independent of size, content, or anything else.)

    Not needed for this project, unless it gets a lot more depth, but a fascinating read.

    By Blogger Harlequin, at 8:27 AM  

  • Great work -- I had wondered where it started, too.
    Its a little like "six degrees of separation" isn't it? I tagged Sean Incognito, who you also tagged, so that led me to this post. I found it interesting that it apparently started in France, because one of the people I tagged is a British blogger -- I had thought it might be a new thing over there, but maybe not.

    By Blogger Cathie from Canada, at 10:01 PM  

  • Thanks Andrew.

    harlequin - I'm not sure that trick would work in this instance since the variable length of reply to the questions would throw off the algorithm. I think it would be more interesting (in this case) to look for instances of mutation of meaning - i.e. from how many books in your house to how many books do you own as the meme moves into an older population...)

    Interesting blog by the way. Game design is certainly an interesting topic (for me) so I'll have to go back and read more when I have more time.

    Cathie - thanks, i'm pretty sure the French version died before it got to us and we got the american version, but it's hard to say for certain.

    I saw some Australian blogs in my digging but don't specifically remember any english ones - maybe you could infect the whole U.K....

    By Blogger Declan, at 12:14 AM  

  • Wow. Nice work.

    I very much wonder how many blogs in toto got involved in the "book tag" game.

    By Blogger VW, at 6:32 AM  

  • Wouldn't be too hard to estimate (roughly).

    Just do a technorati search for phrases which uniquely identify each of the various book memes count the entries (poosibly scanning a subset to figure out the percentage of results which are not relevant) and then scale up based on an estimate of what percent of blog entries are captured by technorati.

    Off the top of my head I'd guess 10 - 20 thousand.

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:45 AM  

  • I traced it back a little further than you. From 'A mere girl' to someone called D'anerah, to 'desire at dawn', to a now defunct blog called 'shack'n up with Caz' Using google cache, she got it from someone named 'brian -- but there the trail goes cold.

    Can anyone do better?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:44 AM  

  • thanks anon., nice work. I looked up Mr. Brian and checked the blogs on his 'regular read' list and there is a book meme entry here:

    ..from May 10, the day before Brian made his post. So perhaps it's another trail which leads into the hard to track land of livejournal ( I could only follow it back to here:

    By Blogger Declan, at 1:12 PM  

  • Nice!
    I am the "french version".

    By the way, did you know that Paul Wells got Adrian clarkson to answer that?

    By Blogger Philippe-A., at 1:39 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home