Somewhere in the history of the internet, cats became its rulers.
Simultaneously aloof, amusing and a bit weird, cats seemed the natural choice as the web’s unofficial mascot. From Lolcats to keyboard cat, our feline friends were quickly everywhere. But as the internet has aged and changed, another animal has gained ground. Could the cat finally be dethroned, and at the paws of its sworn enemy no less? Is the dawn of the dog upon us?
Now don’t get me wrong, cats on the internet, at least Western, English-speaking internet, are still very much a thing. Grumpy Cat’s still going strong and Maru the cat’s still being watched climbing into boxes. But dogs are increasingly the subject of memes and weird internet obsessions. They are very much on the cats’ territory.
Kabosu the shiba inu, also known as Doge. Photograph: Atsuko Sato/http://kabosu112.exblog.jp/
Take Doge – the quizzical-looking shiba inu. It was such a successful meme, even the BBC’s flagship highbrow radio news programme, Today, had an entire item dedicated to “the grammar of Doge”.
More recently, a slew of popular Twitter accounts dedicated to posting only pictures or videos of dogs, every day, have cropped up. One of the best, We Rate Dogs, does just what it says on the tin.
Ohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboyohboy. 10/10 for all (by happytailsresort) pic.twitter.com/EY8kEFuzK7
August 5, 2016
In the age of “relatable” internet – where everything is tagged with the caption “me IRL” or “same” – goofy dogs appear more in tune with the internet’s psyche than too-cool-for-you cats.
the middle dog is me pic.twitter.com/Cb6iTIsewW
March 16, 2016
And, in the same way as LolCats had their own dialect, which shaped some early online communications, so too do the internet’s dog enthusiasts. Dogs become “doggo”, “floofs” and “puppers” and they “bork” rather than bark.
me vs the pupper she tells me not to worry about pic.twitter.com/7E8IrIpLkz
August 24, 2016
Weighing up the popularity of dogs v cats on the internet is more of an art than a science, so I spoke to some experts.
Enter Jason Eppink. Last year, he curated How Cats Took Over the Internet at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image. He documented the online feline’s history, from LolCats to Keyboard Cat, sifting through posts on various platforms. Here’s the thing: he found, in terms of posts correctly tagged “cats” or “dogs”, the numbers are actually fairly close. On four of the five platforms he looked at, it was pretty much equal between the two. Tumblr was the only place where cats outnumbered dogs, 3:1.
Lil’ Bub, one of the internet’s most famous cats.
If that’s the case, how did cats become synonymous with the internet in the first place?
He says: “In the West at least, cat ownership has been looked down on. We have this really pejorative term ‘crazy cat lady’, which is also gendered.
“We don’t have a term for that about people who own dogs.
“I read a lot and heard a lot from people who felt shamed about their passion for their cat and have said that this attention and this ability to be passionate about their pet online has allowed them to be more vocal about it.”
‘I can has cheezburger?’ – the original Lolcat. Photograph: http://icanhas.cheezburger.com/
In 2014, BuzzFeed’s Jack Shepherd described the internet as a “virtual cat park” when asking why content related to cats seems to gain so much traction online (he conceded animal writers such as himself may have helped perpetuate the cat hype). If anyone knows which animal curries the internet’s favour, it’s Tumblr’s Amanda Brennan. She has become known as the Meme Librarian for her work at the microblogging company and at Know Your Meme. For her, the virtual cat park theory definitely has merit. “Cat content does dominate because you get to see inside these people’s homes,” she says. “If you want to see weird things dogs do, you just walk outside.”
Since the days of I Can Haz Cheezburger around a decade ago, there have been two big changes. One: the rise of autoplaying video; two: the age of the smartphone.
“You take your dog outside, of course you’re going to have your phone with you. You’re going to want to catch that great moment of your dog doing something cool,” she says.
While there are, of course, great cat videos, Brennan believes dogs are just so much better suited to video. “I do believe that video is the tipping point. Cats are so weird – their personalities tend to come across better in still images.
“My default idea of a dog is something that’s super hyper, jumping around and very excited. A cat is like laying around and doing weird things.
“To experience the dog, sometimes you need the video.”
dog is showering in my sink again 🙄 pic.twitter.com/2MTg4UMWaQ
April 19, 2016
There’s another theory. When people decided cats = the internet, it was a very different place. It was much smaller, for starters. It wasn’t mainstreamed in the way it is today.
Back in 2011, games and culture writer Leigh Alexander wrote a piece called “Why the internet chose cats” where she argued dogs weren’t as widely celebrated on the image boards where memes often spring from.
Five years on, things are very different. Nowadays, the internet’s a lot more mainstream.
Dogspotting is a group on Facebook entirely dedicated to taking pictures of dogs seen out and about. It has more than 270,000 members. Photograph: Facebook
“I never thought Facebook would become the home of the most cutting edge memes while underground image boards became nerdy and tired,” says Alexander.
“I think the rise of the dog – friendly, warm, human’s best friend, who people can love earnestly and sincerely and without fear of being made fun of for the sentiment – is a good representation of the mainstreaming of the internet.”
Dogs on Facebook are truly having a moment. There’s an enthusiastic community called Dogspotting, with strict rules and even its own mock court for the rulebreakers. Elsewhere, the Facebook page of a sanctuary for old dogs in Tennessee gained a lot of attention earlier this year for being generally delightful.
Alexander says: “Back when I was growing up online, everything had to be weird, gross, uncomfortable or indirect, because only people who were uncomfortable with normal social stuff were on the internet.
dalton (dī(ə)l tōn)
when u do not view yr fears as a trap which restrains u but as a vehicle which u must use to navigate the world pic.twitter.com/x2YgNvYOfM
February 16, 2016
“Cute, furry, smiley things belonged to the real world. But now the internet is the real world, and dogs are as beloved online as they are anywhere!”
Then again, cats have the upper hand of a long-association with the internet, which could be hard to shake.
there is nothing more pure or beautiful than the comments on this dog’s picture pic.twitter.com/U9FYqe2NE6
January 28, 2016
“Cats = the internet is always going to be around,” says Brennan. “It’s kind of how meme culture started.
“Doge gave us a different kind of language, but without lolcats, we never would have had Doge.”
So there we have it. The next time you assume the internet belongs to cats, maybe think again.
Or perhaps all this talk of cats and dogs is very 2015 and actually that era is gone. Maybe the internet truly belongs to gorillas now.
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