The Hash-Dash Syntax

For tweeting at conferences.

One of the great things about conferences like MCN and Museums and the Web is the flurry of Twitter conversations that happen as they unfold. I love catching up on sessions I miss, or following along when I’m not able to make the trip.

Everyone dutifully uses the conference hashtag too, which makes it easy to jump into the flow of things. But what if you want to zero in on a specific session days or months after it occurs?

If you’re like me, you might try to scrape tweets into a Google Sheet, then pump them into an AirTable and build a relational database of people, conferences, events and tweets:

But let’s be honest— no one’s got time for that. I gave up halfway through. It shouldn’t be this hard, right?

So what’s the solution?

Session-specific hashtags? No.

Having a hashtag for each session would be cumbersome and waste valuable tweet characters. People would forget to use both too. Not a good solution.

Mentions? Another no.

Another way would be to tweet at the speaker of the session, but that can take up a lot of space too. Another non-starter.

What about a compound hashtag? Yes!

Appending a session tag suffix to the conference tag is the way to go.

Annotated screenshot illustrating an example of the hash dash syntax. The example is “#mw2017–1A”. Twitter only links the text before the hyphen, preserving the integrity of the conference hashtag.

Due to the way Twitter’s hashtags work, only the text before the dash will be recognized as a hashtag. This preserves the integrity of the conference hashtag.

But the power of this approach is that users can easily search Twitter for the full hash-dash tag, which will surface all tweets from that session. Pretty great right?

So what needs to happen?

It starts with the conference organizers.

Organizers should assign each session a specific suffix. An easy way would be number/letter combinations, where the number refers to the conference day and the letter refers the sessions order in the day.

A tweet from the third session on the second day of Museums and the Web 2017 could appear as —

Woah! Amazing DAMS integration allowing art objects to be used on blog posts, event pages, etc. #wordpress #ftw #mw2017–2c

Organizers should notify presenters of their session tag when their session is accepted.

Presenters must reinforce it.

Presenters should include their full session tag in the beginning of their presentation.

Title slide of a presentation with a dark blue background and white text that reads: Tackling Complex Web Projects, #MW2016–3D, Museums and the Web 2016, Sean O’Shea, 1.

This is all it would take for the sea of conference tweets to be a meaningfully searchable archive of the conference. As archivers and historians, we should be chronicling and cataloging these discussions. These are the artifacts of museums’ evolution into the digital age!


Sean O’Shea is the Manager of UX Design and Strategy at Cuberis, a web design firm in North Carolina that works with museums and cultural institutions.