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What the Hashtag?
By: Brett Moneta
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They’ve crept up everywhere. Sometimes they’re not even where they’re supposed to be. Some say they’re overused and others love them. Regardless of whether you like them or not, they baffle a lot of people. And as a result, I think they’re starting to get out of control.

They’re hashtags.

Here’s Twitter’s definition of the term "hashtag":

Definition: The “#” symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages. People use the hashtag symbol # before relevant keywords in their Tweet to categorize those Tweets to show more easily in Twitter Search.

  • Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows you all other Tweets in that category.
  • Hashtags can occur anywhere in a Tweet.
  • Hashtagged words that become very popular are often Trending Topics.

Example: “Need #vegan choices at your favorite restaurant? Ask for them!”

Basically, hashtags are used to group, spread, and track topics that are important to people on Twitter. Instead of just searching for a word, the hashtag assures you’ll find the topic you want. It will also help you share your message. Others who see your tweet and like it will use the same hashtag. And they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on…

The first noted public use of a hashtag was during the San Diego forest fires in 2007, when a guy named Nate Ritter used the hashtag "#sandiegofire" to identify his updates related to the disaster. And the hashtag took flight. Today, there are regular hashtags like #followfriday, #jobs, #fb and others.

So, now that we know what a hashtag is used for, please know that I’m a Twitter lover and hashtag defender, but lately things are getting ridiculous. Either people don’t understand the hashtag or they’ve just gone batshit crazy.

People are starting to put hashtags on EVERY SINGLE tweet. That’s the first no-no. Second, they're including a hash on #every #single #word #in #their #tweets. Why? It doesn't make you any more important. Finally, they’re just making up hashtags that mean nothing to anyone. And that no one will track. For example, tweeting “I’m so tired #IthinkIllgotosleep” is a complete waste of yours and everyone else’s time and a bad use of hashtags.

And yet, people are doing it all over the place. I guess it's inevitable. When human beings find something we like, we completely ruin it beyond repair. We just can't help ourselves.

It’s bad enough that we have to hear what you ate for your 3:25 snack every day, or that you unlocked a “3rd sidewalk square on the east side of my favorite Starbucks,” square on GetGlue. Don’t try to make yourself more important by adding #Starbucks. It’s pointless, useless, and no one is impressed. If everyone joins your bandwagon, hashtags will become another SPAM like annoyance.

So use hashtags wisely. Don’t overuse them, don’t make every word a hashtag, and quit trying to create acronyms that haven’t been created. 

And at least have a reason to use them. It doesn’t have to even be a good reason, as today’s trending topic, #puttwowordstogethertomakeaninsult clearly proves.

So have fun with your #hashtags, but don't blow it for the rest of us. We like them too.

Remember: a meme is a terrible thing to waste.

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About the Author
Brett Moneta has been playing in the digital world since 1996. He’s worked for companies like AOL, Avenue A | Razorfish, and Omnicom, developing content strategy and consulting on usability for companies in IT, consumer electronics, retail, healthcare, energy, and more. You can follow his tweets and read his blog too. Find him online here.
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