Hashtags as Social Networks
A Return to Authenticity
I first signed up for Facebook in 2005. I had just started at the University of Waterloo when the new social network rolled out for students at the school. Overnight, everyone was on it. It was like one big group, with everyone sharing pictures, making jokes, and coordinating plans. It was amazing.
But then everyone else showed up. Family, colleagues, acquaintances. All of a sudden, I had to censor myself. ‘Does this post make me look cool? Okay, good. But not too cool, right?’ Facebook went from being a place for connecting with friends to a place for collecting comments and likes. What happened?
It wasn’t until 2010 that Paul Adams, then at Google, published his now tech-famous slide deck, The Real Life Social Network. In real life, he explained, we have diverse groups of friends from school, work, and family, and we interact with each of them in different contexts. But on Facebook they’re all mashed together.
“We could no longer be ourselves — we had to be one thing to everyone”
Of course, this situation quickly became ridiculous. We could no longer be ourselves on Facebook — we had to be one thing to everyone, never saying the wrong thing, only sharing the right things, and staying out of trouble with grandma. Somewhere in there, something truly social was lost: the ability to be authentic.
At Kik, we’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be social. We believe that one of the key things is being able to play different roles with different groups of friends. That’s just fundamental to our way of life. And today we’re launching a new type of social network within chat that we think gets it right. It’s as simple as a hashtag.
Hashtags on Kik allow you to spin up your own chat rooms in a matter of seconds. Want to create a mobile chat room for your family? #livingstonfamilychat. Want to create a chat room for your work friends? #kikemployees. Want to create a chat room for your dodgeball team? #waterloododgeball. You no longer have to manually add everyone to a group chat — you just yell out a hashtag and people can add themselves.
Another cool thing is that you can reach people outside your personal network who share your interests. If you want to invite people to a conversation about your local community, you can tweet the Kik hashtag #waterloocitychat. If you want to chat to people about the photo of the drone you just published to Instagram, you can post the Kik hashtag #mydronechat. Kik accounts are based on usernames, not phone numbers, so you don’t have to worry about giving out too much personal information, and you can always block any unwanted contact.
Hashtags aren’t new, of course. Twitter’s hashtags give you access to a series of disparate and often redundant comments related to a particular topic. They’re like mini broadcasts, and for the most part you’re just a by-stander, occasionally shouting into the wind as a rush of tweets whirl by. On Facebook, hashtags serve as portals to more streams of content produced by other people. Again, you’re just a by-stander. And on Instagram, hashtags are a way of connecting photos to a theme or place (or linking them to an ad campaign).
But on Kik, hashtags are doorways to new conversations, of which you can be a real part — personal, intimate, social. It’s a way to let you be whoever you want to be, with whoever wants to talk to you. It’s a way to be authentic without having to worry about upsetting your parents or looking uncool in front of your friends. It’s a social network on your terms. It’s a chat network.