2010 Memology: Top Status Trends of the Year

By Lars Backstrom on Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 12:10am

Natural disasters and human triumphs made their mark in our 2010 list of top trends in status updates, but more than anything else people wanted to spend time with their friends and family. The fastest growing trend was the use of a new digital shorthand for people to ask their friends to hang out.


Whether looking for something to do or just getting off work, people began to add "HMU" to their status updates when they were ready to meet their friends. Standing for "hit me up," the acronym was barely used last year but grew suddenly and steadily throughout 2010, especially during summer breaks and weekends.


For our second Facebook Memology study, we looked at what terms grew the most in status updates in 2010 compared to the year before. The results reflect the highs and lows of world events that started a global conversation, new uses of language online and the sharing of popular culture between friends.


World Moments


Whether it be the tragedy of the Haitian earthquake or the heroic rescue of the Chilean miners ("mineros" in Spanish), global news events captured the world's attention. People shared their collective sadness, concern and hope. Some even let the world know what was happening on the ground in Haiti and Chile.


The world came together for the World Cup, with as many as a half of all status updates referring to the competition at some points during the games.


Say What?


While HMU made its debut, it wasn't the only digital vernacular to make the list. Talk about "airplanes" surged this year, not because people suddenly discovered travel but because they were citing lyrics from the hugely popular song "Airplanes" by B.o.B. "Barn raising" was the most popular phrase for the Games category as gamers on Facebook asked their friends to help them out on FarmVille.


Bieber Fever


Popular culture also shaped people's conversations with each other. Justin Bieber fans couldn't keep their enthusiasm to themselves, making him the only musician on the list. As popular movies such as "Toy Story 3" and "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" premiered, friends shared their opinions. And who didn't want to look hip by telling their friends about their new iPad or iPhone 4?


For this year's look at Memology, we analyzed status updates across 236 countries. We computed the rate at which each phrase occurred in 2010 and compared that to 2009, looking for ones that had increased by both a large percentage and a large volume (view last year's list). All personally identifiable information was removed from the status updates to conduct this analysis.


When the words and phrases we analyzed related to each other, we grouped them into categories for the global list that follows. 



1. HMU


The shorthand for "hit me up" was this year's biggest surprise. In early 2009, the acronym HMU was virtually unheard of. Only a few posts a day contained HMU, and half of them were probably typos. By May, however, it started to grow slowly and was averaging about 20 posts a day. The volume roughly doubled every month, and by the end of 2009 it had risen to 1,600 posts a day—too modest of a number to be on our radar for last year's list.


However, HMU continued to grow aggressively throughout 2010, increasing by about 75 percent each month. By the end of summer, HMU reached 80,000 mentions per day.


In early September, an interesting pattern emerged in how people use HMU. Until that point, it was spreading like wildfire, but was being used with roughly equal frequency throughout the week. In September this changed, as usage rates started going through huge swings from day to day. The reason? Before September the demographic most likely to ask their friends to "HMU" was on summer break and looking to hang out most nights. Then many of these folks headed back to school, and HMU became a weekend-oriented request.



2. World Cup


The World Cup was the biggest sporting event anywhere in 2010, and because of the global presence of Facebook people took to the virtual streets to cheer on their teams and boo their rivals.  The start of the games and the finals garnered the most attention, with 1.5 million and 1.3 million mentions, respectively, of "World Cup" and countless more mentions of teams and players. At key moments over the course of the games, as many as 50 percent of all status updates were related to them.  So big was this event that we collaborated with the New York Times to track mentions of every player in the games.


3. Movies


As with last year's list, big movies were much talked about. "Toy Story 3," "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," "Inception," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Iron Man 2" were the five most discussed (in that order).


It's fascinating to look in more depth at the opening weekend of "Toy Story 3." To do this, we divided updates between the web and mobile. As is typical, the movie opened on a Friday, but with midnight screenings in select U.S. locations. The showtime itself didn't elicit many posts, but we saw big spikes a couple of hours later, when the movie ended and movie-goers reported their opinions.  


Naturally, the people updating their status to report on the movie via their mobile phones were able to do so as soon as it ended, while the people reporting on their computers had to get home first. The difference in the spikes between mobile and web gives us an approximation of how long it takes people to get out of the theater, go home and fire up Facebook—about half an hour.


4. iPad and iPhone 4


In May, Apple surpassed long-time rival Microsoft in market capitalization, thanks in large part to two of the most discussed products of the year: the iPad and iPhone 4. These two products combined to account for over 25 million bragging, lusting or the occasional condemning posts during the year.


5. Haiti


The impact of the Jan. 12 earthquake was widely felt through status updates. Even though most people were far away, they shared the shock, concern and news both among their friends and to the world. One Boston woman was trapped with a group of 36 fellow travelers in Haiti and took to updating her status to find out from her friends what was happening and to let families know the group was safe.


Within one minute of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake's strike, status updates started rolling in. With the infrastructure in Haiti badly damaged, many of the first reports were from people in the nearby Dominican Republic (where earthquake is "terremoto"), who felt the powerful quake at a distance.  Firsthand reports peaked four minutes after the quake hit, at a rate of 120 a minute. It took another couple of hours for the world to learn of the disaster, and a day later people on Facebook were discussing it at a peak rate of 1,800 posts per minute. 



6. Justin Bieber


Bieber Fever struck before 2010, but by all accounts this was a standout year for the 15-year-old pop music star. The surge in mentions continued to grow throughout the year, largely following the rise in his career. He started 2010 with the release in January of his biggest hit, "Baby." His Sept. 12 debut on the MTV Video Music Awards attracted the most mentions of him.


7. Games on Facebook


Games are popular applications on Facebook, and references appeared throughout this year's list. The biggest trending phrase was "barn raising." No, there wasn't a mass exodus from cities to the country life among people on Facebook. Instead, they were recruiting their friends to virtual versions of the old-time tradition of a community event to build a new barn. This started when FarmVille launched a barn-raising feature in January. FrontierVille, launched in June, also grew in mentions.


8. Mineros/Miners


The story of the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days captivated the world. People globally watched the truly inspiring story unfold as they were rescued one by one after an unimaginable time underground.


Looking at the mentions of miners and the Spanish "mineros," we saw three distinct bursts of activity. The first one occurred exclusively in Chile in August, when the mine first collapsed and contact with the miners was lost. A week later, the miners were miraculously found alive and the rest of the world started to talk about them a little bit, but the story was still predominantly in Chile. Over the course of the next 60 days, the world watched the trials and tribulations as workers above ground scrambled to drill rescue shafts.


When the ordeal finally ended, millions of people posted about it. In fact, they watched so carefully that when we zoom in to look at posts during the rescue, we see 33 unique spikes in activity—one for each of the rescued miners.



9. Airplanes


Using the word "airplanes" is nothing new or noteworthy—most years. But in 2010, it burst onto the scene in status messages thanks to the catchy lyrics of the international hit song "Airplanes." A deeper look showed that people were specifically quoting the following line, often times to share a personal wish and sometimes when they were traveling.



10. 2011


Similar to last year, people talked frequently about years in their status updates. People are looking forward to big personal events in the coming year—perhaps a wedding or an expectant child. References to 2011 showed a big spike on Jan. 1, 2010, as people took the new year as an opportunity to look ahead another full year. As the date approaches, mentions have steadily increased, as people make more and more plans for the coming year.



Lars, a data scientist at Facebook, is starting a trend for next year's list by spreading new acronyms.