Cheezburger Snaps Up Know Your Meme, Planting a Foothold in New York City

3/28/11Follow @curtwoodward

Hey Big Apple: Ready for some Cheezburger? Seattle-based Cheezburger Network, the holding pen for online humor sites like I Can Has Cheezburger and Fail Blog, has acquired the Internet-culture trackback site Know Your Meme. It’s the first big acquisition move that we’ve seen Cheezburger make since securing $30 million round of venture financing early this year.

Cheezburger CEO Ben Huh notes that the Know Your Meme acquisition represents not just a good fit in terms of content, but an opportunity for his profitable humor-website factory to expand into the biggest media market of them all—New York. The Know Your Meme team is now the “Cheezburger East” office, and the company plans to add staff there, Huh says.

“It’s a great place for Internet culture,” Huh tells Xconomy. “It seems there are a lot of people who are interested in this there—even more so than Seattle, which is kind of odd.” Huh says he might have thought the quirky viral humor behind Cheezburger’s success was a little more West Coast in flavor. But for whatever reason, he says it seems to translate across any major regional differences.

Know Your Meme, which says it reaches about 2.5 million people a month, is based around the idea of treating online pop culture as the subject of a fast-moving anthropology exercise. The site tracks the origins and evolution of all the flotsam, mashups and mini-celebrities churned out by our “Check this out!” online impulses. The appeal of this site is pretty obvious to me. When I wanted to tell my wife about Internet sensation Antoine Dodson’s unlikely path to becoming wildly popular, I directed her to the Know Your Meme page on that topic.

Although the video presentations tracing the lifespan of particular items are pretty tongue-in-cheek—fun background music paired with ironic white lab coats—the documentation process is logical and straightforward, even bordering on serious.

Huh says the deal was effective last Monday. Financial terms weren’t disclosed. Tubefilter, which appears to be the first to report the news, points out that Know Your Meme’s previous owner blogged that it was a “super seven figure deal,” whatever that means.

Know Your Meme was created by Rocketboom, which also feasts on Internet pop culture with TV news anchor-style video reports on a variety of topics. Meme, for those who don’t know, is a neologism that refers to the passed-around bits of content that underlie a lot of the mass-sourced time-waster entertainment online.

Cheezburger’s various sites basically operate as repositories of different types of memes—the prime example being bizarrely captioned cat photos that appear on the namesake site “I Can Has Cheezburger?”

Huh built his his online humor empire partly through shrewd acquisitions, and he says Know Your Meme is another good addition because it can pretty seamlessly provide context to the funny thing you’re looking at for the moment.

“You’ll see something and it has no context. It’s like, why’s this funny?” Huh says. “It’s an area that we’re missing, that can really benefit a lot of the users who want to know more about this stuff.” Huh adds that, in a weird way, this completes a circle. The humor culture of the Internet, he says, does a great job of taking things out of context and rearranging them into something new. Know Your Meme adds back some of the context behind that remixing exercise.

When Xconomy’s Luke Timmerman spoke to Huh in January after Cheezburger’s big Series A round, Huh said quite frankly that one pitfall of taking that much money could be getting “indigestion” from acquiring too many properties and losing focus. Huh says that’s still on his mind. “We don’t expect to do a lot of acquisitions. In fact, we’re not talking to anyone else right now,” he says. “This isn’t something like we have a war chest and we’re going to go spend it.”

Huh also says previously stated hiring plans for the Seattle office are progressing, even though he’s among those who say it’s becoming harder to find enough tech talent to fuel rapid growth. “We are actually hiring pretty actively,” he says. “We’re up to 58 people now.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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