Friday, August 26, 2011

What are Hashtags #Definition #Examples

There it was. The big news of the day. More Facebook changes? Steve Jobs resigning? Hurricane Irene hitting land? Gaddafi finally cornered?

Nope. It was the fourth anniversary of the invention of the #hashtag!

What the heck is a hashtag you ask? Well, that is what we will explore in this column. Accomplished social media gurus, techies and geeks can stop reading now. #YouAlreadyKnow  But for the rest of you, as if all these social networks aren't confusing enough, the hashtag can add yet another layer of complexity to using them.

Actually, the notion of a hashtag is quite simple. In SQL database parlance they would be called descriptors. It is an additional "tag," a descriptive word or phrase that will enable people to group similar or related things together. For example, take a Twitter tweet or blog entry about football, baseball, basketball, tennis or hockey. We could add the hashtag "Sports" to all of them. All but hockey might include #PlayedWithBalls . All but tennis might get #TeamSports. You get the idea.

Tags have been around for a while. They are used in database applications and variety of other places. Look back at previous View from the Bridge columns and you will see they all contain tags. These make it easy to find all the columns that deal with specific topics such as "mobile" or "social" networks. Notice some will have more than one tag. Library science would refer to this as cross referencing.

The use of hashtags originated with Twitter where the convention of leading with the # symbol was established.  There is an interesting bit of history HERE. The idea was Tweets could have these additional keywords allowing people to group Tweets by hashtag independent of author. In Twitter you "follow" people which means you choose to receive their Tweets. You only get Tweets from the people you follow and conversely, only people who follow you see your Tweets.



But hang a hashtag on the end and anyone can find your Tweet by looking for all Tweets with that tag. For example, if you attend a conference, concerts or other major event there is often a hashtag assigned by the organizers or one that emerges as the tag to tie everyone's comments together. You don't have to be following everyone in the audience to see what they Tweet about the event. You can show all Tweets for that specific hashtag.


There is no taxonomy of hashtags. In other words, you don't have to look up the right tag to use. There is no correct tag, you make them up. Unless provided, as in the cases described above, it is up to you to create a tag or tags that would make sense and help interested parties find your contribution. Comment on the HBO series #Entourage or mention a candidate in #Election2012. Listen to a great song on #Pandora or #Spotify.


Accomplished Twitterati also use hashtags in very clever ways. It can introduce humor or sarcasm to a Tweet and is even the basis for word games. The hashtag #StarWarsTVShows was invented to evoke humorous titles based on real TV shows and the movies. A search returns dozens of titles like the ones you see above.

Now all you amateur tweeters and bloggers understand hashtags. #SoGetToIt #ThanksForReading

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC