On August 23, 2007, Chris Messina (@ChrisMessina) suggested the use of the hashtag sign ‘for groups on Twitter’. The rest is history.
The hashtag has become an integral part of social media trends across a number of platforms, not just Twitter. It’s used to rally supporters and opponents to a cause or product, with 125 million of them shared daily on Twitter alone.
The first ever Twitter hashtag, which was suggested by product designer Chris Messina, was ‘barcamp’, which he tweeted as: “how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?”
That tweet has since received over 302,000 replies, over 4 million retweets, and over 8 million likes; as users (including myself) continue to pay homage to the origin of the hashtag. It took a while, but the term was finally added to the Webster Dictionary in 2014.
Amazingly, Messina decided not to patent this idea once he saw it catching on, which would have made him a rich man. He said hashtags were born of the Internet, and should be owned by no one. “The value and satisfaction I derive from seeing my funny little hack used as widely as it is today is valuable enough for me to be relieved that I had the foresight not to try to lock down this stupidly simple but effective idea,” he said.
If you really think about it, the creation of the hashtag is the first example of ‘life hacking’ on Twittter and probably one of the first ever such cases for social media.
So, one has to wonder if we have been #blessed or #cursed by hashtags. Like anything else, hashtags resemble a reflection of the best and worst in the human race. Do you remember the top hashtag of 2015, #TheDress, as millions were uselessly wondering what was its color? Every year, just like the top Google searches indicate what was going on in the world, so do hashtags.
Hashtags created with good intentions can often go bad, which highlights the short-sightedness and gullibility of hashtag creators; the majority of whom are supposed to be qualified and trained marketers. Usually, a hashtag can be hijacked by opponents to tweet negative news about the product, or cause, by basically riding on the hashtags popularity to ensure their opposition shows up in social feeds. Another frequent problem is due to the similarity of words and phrases. For example, #Therapist can also be read, and spoofed, as #TheRapist. But that’s a whole other story for another article.
As I write at the end of August, the trending hashtags on Twitter for Amman include the usual mix of useful and ridiculous. Interestingly, Arabic hashtags dominate the list. The most popular on weekends is Jum’ah Mubarakahwhich is the Arabic culture’s equivalent of the world’s most popular regularly used hashtag, #FF , which stands for #FollowFriday, that has been used more than half a billion times since it was first tweeted in 2009.
Regardless of language, hashtags are now part of the digital media business. Not realizing this or capitalizing on them would be a definite case of #Fail.
#Success is best resembled by the attitude of the father of the Hashtag, as he elegantly sums up the situation saying “it’s thrilling to see how this little idea that came out of a very specific moment in the evolution of the Internet took off and has grown into something far bigger than me, bigger than Twitter or Instagram, and that will hopefully maintain its relevance for a long time to come.”