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Explained: Hashtags

Before The "#" Became The Hashtag

The "#" (number sign/hash/pound) existed long before the "invention" of Social Media. While most countries somewhat neglected the "#" sign, it was incredibly successful in the English-speaking world, such as a prefixed indicator for numbers in an 1853 treatise by bookkeepers. There are theories, however, that claim that the hash developed from the ligature "lb" for pound (℔ for lat. "Libra," meaning "pound weight"). 

But one must keep in mind that there are also signs and symbols out there that, although they resemble the hash/pound, still differ and have entirely different meanings. Those symbols include f.e. the "accidental," a note of a pitch used in musical notation that raises a note by a semitone. 

Credits: 20px

How The Hashtag Conquered The Internet

The word "Hashtag" is a combination of the word "hash," one of the original names for the "#," and "tag" for marking or catchphrase. The Hashtag in its current meaning was born on August 23, 2007: A little more than a year after the start of Twitter, Internet activist Chris Messina suggested in a tweet: "How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?"

The idea came from Internet chat rooms with a hash/pound symbol in front of them to use it as a form of group organizing framework. From that point on, the Hashtag's success story for easier linking and finding search terms on Twitter was as steep as that of the short message service itself. But it still took almost two years for Twitter to link hashtags automatically.

The very ephemerality of hashtags is what makes them easy and compelling to use in a fast-moving communication medium like Twitter.

Chris Messina

Starting from Twitter, the symbol continued its triumphant advance, and nowadays, there's hardly a social network that can do without Hashtags. Especially Instagram would be hard to imagine without those little symbols. If you don't give your pictures the right keywords, you drastically decrease your post's potential reach.

What Hashtags Mean To Us

There is something suggestive about hashtags. People use them to express a mood or an attitude towards life. It became an indispensable tool in digital communication. Long gone are the days when Hashtags only marked groups and discussions as initially intended by Messina. Whatever is moving the world right now - there's a Hashtag for it. Of course, Hashtags have long since made their way into advertising and politics since it became a powerful tool to market a business, product, service, message, or idea. 

A look at the "trending topics" is an excellent radar system with which you can often discover important topics earlier. But you shouldn't report on matters just because they made it on the list of the hashtags mentioned above. Be creative and mindful with your Hashtag, but most of all, keep up the original spirit of the Hashtag: staying connected with people worldwide, no matter the distance.

I didn't create this idea for Twitter. I created this idea for the Internet and I wanted anybody who could write text on the Internet to be able to participate in global conversations.

Chris Messina

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