Two weeks and 8,000 likes later, the growth of Facebook page U of T Memes shows no signs of slowing down, but links to third-party sites on the page have some fans raising eyebrows.Created on January 25 by former University of Guelph student Saif Altimimi — co-founder and CEO of note-sharing website NoteWagon — and former NoteWagon campus ambassador and U of T student Khaled Hashem, the page quickly went viral. Last week alone, 230,000 unique Facebook users read the memes, images that have captions commenting on certain topics.Starting from the University of Waterloo, Altimimi and his friends set off to create the meme pages of other North American universities and campuses, such as UTM, the University of Guelph, McGill University, University of Michgan, and Boston University, which were all received with equal enthusiasm by students.Altimimi told StartupStats, a blog about early stage startup companies, that although others are following his lead, he still owns about 80 per cent of the post-secondary meme pages on Facebook.Nick O’Neil, the author of the blog post, wrote, “It isn’t as much about NoteWagon as it is about a clever marketing campaign that the company’s CEO came up with. I wouldn’t be surprised to see millions of college students interacting with pages.”Along with the overnight popularity, however, come the hiccups.Buried in the endless image macros of UBC’s meme page is one student’s comment: “Can I be the first to say how tacky it is that you are attempting to leverage the popularity of this page for your own personal gain?”He was referring to NoteWagon’s nation-wide meme contest, where the contributors of the top four most-liked entries posted between February 2 and February 7 would win $50 cash.Students from other Canadian schools including those from U of T participated in the contest.Altimimi, however, pointed out that although he co-created some of the meme pages, they remain community pages.“I just thought it was a cool project to work on personally with a few friends. It has nothing to do with NoteWagon,” said Altimimi, who is also one of the early founders of BroTips.com, a male-oriented advice-giving site backed by media mogul Mark Cuban.He added that NoteWagon toned down the contest’s advertising after participation went off the chart.“We decided it might not be a smart move to keep pushing it, because we only have so much control over the memes page,” he said.NoteWagon, a Waterloo startup that appeared on CBC’s Dragon’s Den last October and later moved to the Silicon Valley, updated its Facebook page on February 9 saying that the organizers were still finalizing the winners due to the sheer amount of entries.While fans of these meme pages are still growing, Altimimi and his team are designing another hub of Internet subculture for the same audience.Launched on February 9, CampusMemes.com indexes memes according to different post-secondary institutions across North America. It allows users to pass or fail memes and share them on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit.The team is also building its own meme generator, after the third-party website MemeGenerator.net — used by many meme creators — crashed several times due to heavy traffic.“I knew for a fact [memes] are going to be huge in every single campus,” said the young entrepreneur from San Francisco, shortly before the website’s launch. “It captures campus subtleties so well.”A day after its launch, however, Campus Memes — along with other meme pages for American schools — became the target of a raid by the infamous /b/ board of 4chan, a message-sharing platform known to initiate many high-profile Internet hacking attacks.Dubbed as “Operation Higher Education a.k.a The Day /b/ Destroyed University Meme Pages,” the group spammed Campus Memes’ Facebook wall with offensive memes and encouraged users to post memes promoting violence, gore, and racism. Users were also asked to screenshot these posts, email them to the administration and have the pages taken down.Campus Memes’ postings were temporarily disabled. Two hours later, the site went back on with an added moderation feature.Altimimi was not available for comment after the website’s launch.Back to U of T Memes’ home front, co-creator Khaled Hashem, a third-year industrial engineering student, is also planning to launch a similar website that invites U of T meme fans to create content.He hopes that EpicMemeTime.com, a project that he started with fourth-year student Bilal Khartabil to categorize, promote and moderate memes, will de-clutter Facebook users’ news feeds.Hashem said there wouldn’t be too much competition between Epic Meme Time and Campus Memes, as they target different audiences.On February 10, U of T Memes updated its status and said the page has partnered with Campus Memes and “memes submitted on both this page and on CampusMemes.com will be considered for publishing.”Student Taleen Karnieg commented, “Even this became all about advertising? When will it end?!!!!”Hashem said he is less involved with the Canadian startup since it moved south of the border earlier this year. Both the Facebook pages and the upcoming website are personal projects by him and his friends.“If we ever become anything big, there are going to be costs that go up to the thousands. Obviously we are going to offset those costs,” he said. “But the initial stage is definitely not [for profit]. We are just in there ourselves for fun.”He said he was taken by surprise by the page’s popularity and the amount of submissions both in email and on Facebook. He and a group of his friends are now performing the administrative jobs of moderating and organizing content to remove spam and tasteless posts.“Some of them can be quite harsh,” he said.Hashem added that U of T’s meme enthusiasts can expect Epic Meme Time to be operating sometime soon and he welcomes students to join what he fondly calls the “Dream Meme Team” to help out with the Facebook page and the new website or to “just enjoy a good laugh.” Update: Yousef Khraibut, president of Brotips Media, emailed The Varsity denying Saif Altimimi’s involvement in his company. Khraibut said that “Altmimi did not start Brotips, and was in no way or form a founding member.” The Varsity was told by Altmimi that he is “one of the early founders” of Brotips.
Published: 5:50 am, 13 February 2012
Modified: 6:39 pm, 20 February 2012