DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

social media

Aug 25 2017

Hashtag This…

by Camille B

TH_hashtag politics_hands

Remember when the hashtag was just that plain old number sign on your keyboard? Or as some would call it, the pound sign? You would press pound for further options on your phone, or even use the enlarged symbol to play a fierce game of tic-tac-toe with a friend?

Well who would have thought that this seemingly insignificant symbol would play such an important role in social media today?

I have to admit that I’ve never used a hashtag before, but I’ve always been curious about who does, when and where they use it, and for what purpose?

As it turns out I wasn’t alone. Searching showed that there were many who were asking the same questions, wanting to know what a hashtag was, how it was used, why it was called a hashtag, and who or what started it?

At a glance it seems like the phenomenon popped up overnight doesn’t it? One minute it didn’t exist at all, and the next it was hashtag this and hashtag that. Well the inventor, Chris Messina, would be the first to tell you that it wasn’t quite that simple and the idea was initially dismissed by most of the tech community when he first pitched it.

This is his first, now famous tweet, using a hashtag:  how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in [msg]?

He felt that the pound sign at the beginning of a relevant word or phrase would be an easy way to bring people together who were discussing the same topic online. He said he chose the # symbol because that character was easy to reach on his 2007 Nokia feature phone.  Two days later another friend, Stowe Boyd, suggested the name hashtag for the symbol because it was catchier.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Messina said that Twitter totally rejected the idea. “They told me flat out, ‘These things are for nerds. They’re never going to catch on.'” Can you imagine?

Well, what did they know? Today the hashtag is being used not only by Twitter, but other social networking sites including Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr. It picked up slowly as Messina used the hashtag in his own tweets and encouraged friends to do the same.

The really seismic shift came during the 2007 San Diego fire when people were tracking the fire using a system set up by Twitter. The spaces between the words San Diego and fire made the tracking difficult, so Messina suggested that they use the hashtag with no spaces. “That caused other people to see that behavior and it kind of continued in that form. At that point it became easier to use.”

In 2008 conservative groups began to use the symbol to encourage Congress to vote on an energy bill and the jump from the tech crowd to the political one, he said, was a huge one. By 2009, Twitter adopted the idea and that’s when it’s usage skyrocketed.

You can place hashtags anywhere in your posts on social media, linking similar conversations by different users together. You can then find these related topics by clicking on the hashtag symbol. How helpful is any of this? It depends. To some it seems to be a bit of an annoyance, one  journalist even referring to it as an eyesore and incredibly lazy.

Yet others find it quite handy for keeping up with news stories and events as well as a promotional tool for business and services. In recent years the hashtag has been used in some of the most publicized events around the world including the death of Michael Jackson, Hurricane Sandy and the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William.

So how much money did Messina make with his invention? None. He never patented it. He felt that a government-granted monopoly would have inhibited their adoption, which was the opposite of what he wanted. “They are born of the internet and should be owned by no one. The value and satisfaction I derive from seeing my funny little hack used as widely as it is today is valuable enough for me to be relieved that I had the foresight not to try to lock down this stupidly simple but effective idea.”

 

Brush up on your social media at DCPL:

The Twitter Book– Tim O’Reilly

AARP Facebook: tech to connect– Marsha Collier

Facebook & Twitter for seniors for dummies- Marsha Collier

 

 

{ 1 comment }