When Twitter launched in 2006, no-one could have predicted the internet storm that has been caused by the now all-too common ‘hashtagging’ feature over the last few years.
Hashtags, an entirely user-based evolution
With over 200 million active, multi-lingual users, Twitter has become the easiest and most concise way to express yourself on the internet. What some people used to use as a platform to post ‘statuses I couldn’t post on Facebook’ has now become one of the ten biggest websites in the world, and has played an integral role in the digital marketing efforts of agencies and brands worldwide.
‘Hashtagging’ has gained popularity in recent years, not only on Twitter, but also Google+, Instagram, Facebook and even in spoken word. The use of a hashtag (#) in front of a word or phrase to add weight or important to a term is an entirely user-based evolution, with the now – possibly – most well-know feature of Twitter coming from its registered users, not from the team behind the site. Open Source Advocate Chris Messina is credited with introducing the idea of using a hashtag in order to group tweets of a similar subject 6 years ago.
However, whilst the now famous #flight1549 user-created hashtag did allow Twitter users interested in or affected by the US Airways plane that crash landed into the Hudson River in New York in early 2009 to keep up to date with the safety and rescue of those on board, the informative use of the hashtag is being seemingly swamped by terms such as #firstworldproblems #awkward and the incredibly disturbing #cutforbieber.
Hashtagging became so popular that both Google+ and Facebook saw the need to integrate the feature into their online offerings, as so many users were using the # symbol regardless of its original ties to Twitter. However, once Facebook started using integrated hashtags to drive users to collected and collective content, their widespread use largely decreased. The popularity of the ‘ironic hashtag’ – actually pronounced as ‘hashtag,’ as opposed to the written ‘#’ – in spoken conversation seems to be rising exponentially, much to the dismay of, well, everyone who doesn’t do it. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake recently filmed a short sketch about the overuse of hashtagging, which, for the most part, is worryingly accurate for a large number of people worldwide. Its is inevitable that not every person who ‘hashtags’ in their daily spoken word also has an active Twitter account, and many won’t know the origin of this cultural reference. A quick Twitter search for the term ‘hashtag’ just threw up this genuine tweet: “Hashtag coffee hashtag caramelo hashtag i have bo’s bcoz mo starbucks hashtag we so cool.” Not only do I have no idea what she’s saying, she’s also not even hashtagging properly. #cringe or #ironic?