Monday, December 9, 2013

Hashtag History

Hashtag History
Hashtag History
Hashtags are now used regularly by millions of social media users, especially among members of the largest micro-blogging community Twitter. Many are curious what the very first hashtag was and how it spread quickly across the internet. A hashtag is created by online users to discuss specific events and relevant issues. These are categorically arranged so that other online users can easily search for the topic and participate in the conversation, no matter where they are in the world. Information is updated and shared by social media users. Following in Twitter’s footsteps, Facebook incorporated the hashtag this year. And a March 2013 survey by RadiumOne found that more than half of mobile-device owners regularly use hashtags. So it’s hard to believe that at one time, hashtags weren’t a part of the Twitter lexicon. Not only that, but Twitter initially rejected the idea of hashtags.

The First Hashtag

Chris Messina, a social technology expert, is credited to have come up with the very first hashtag on Twitter.
He first posted the hashtag #barcamp in August 2007. The whole tweet appeared like this:

“how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?”

Messina came up with the hashtag with the purpose of gathering discussions and online exchanges regarding Barcamp, a technology unconference gathering activity that spans worldwide. His handle is @MrMessina. Since then, hashtags have spread to other social media sites and all over the internet to become one of the most widely used functions. According to reports, Evan Williams, Twitter founder, actually shared to Messina that he didn’t think that hashtags were going to be very popular because of their very technical approach. Messina said that IRC influenced this pioneering concept. Hashtags were rather common in IRC before Twitter came into existence and dominated the way people communicated online. Messina posted “Whispering Tweets” on Twitter on August 25, 2007 with the idea of creating inner circles on the website. The goal was to provide users the proper restrictions that would limit conversations to more specific ones that would only relate to a particular audience. He shared how tweets should target certain members of the inner circle so that people can easily respond to these. Creating the inner circles would also lead to targeted users and avoid random visits from individuals who may not be truly interested in a particular issue or topic. In the blog post, Messina elaborated what he wanted these “channel tags” to do:

“What’s really interesting, however, i[s] how these channels can be used as tags within Twitter to open up entirely new possibilities.

Every time someone uses a channel tag to mark a status, not only do we know something specific about that status, but others can eavesdrop on the context of it and then join in the channel and contribute as well. Rather than trying to ping-pong discussion between one or more individuals with daisy-chained @replies, using a simple #reply means that people not in the @reply queue will be able to follow along, as people do with Flickr or Delicious tags. Furthermore, topics that enter into existing channels will become visible to those who have previously joined in the discussion.”

Hashtags Today

Today, hashtags are created by several social media experts, educators, institutions and major companies from all around the world to bring in more followers and increase brand recognition. You can check how well a hashtag is doing by exposing it to analytics tools that will tell you how many tweets are being made with it, how many impressions it is making online, who are talking about it, what other hashtags are being used and what people are saying exactly. These have shown to be one of the most useful features on Twitter and other social media platforms to bring in relevant audiences that will help spread information about related products and services. Hashtags or chats are regularly held to keep targeted audiences informed and for companies to get actual feedback.

The use of hashtags became mainstream after October 2007, when citizen journalists used them to give updates about a series of forest fires in San Diego. Messina said he sent a private message to one of the men covering the fire, Nate Ritter, asking him to use the hashtag #sandiegofire.

“That was one of the really great examples of citizen journalism aided by the use of the hashtag,” Messina said. In 2008, conservative politicians in the U.S. started using the hashtag #dontgo to keep Congress in session to vote on an energy bill. Now, Twitter has a whole guide on how to use hashtags. The company doesn’t mention Messina but says the hashtag “was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.” Twitter wouldn’t formally comment on hashtags.

“Maybe 20 years from now hashtags will seem quaint, but they’re solving an important problem today,” Messina said, “allowing people to express more about the content they share in order to connect with more people.”

Hashtags are now used to chronicle events from Syria to the Emmys, to the SuperBowl to the government shutdown. When Kate Middleton went into the hospital to deliver the #royalbaby, the hashtag was used more than 900,000 times, according to Twitter.They have also spread to other social networks, like Google+ and Facebook, something Messina said he is happy to see.

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