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The rise (and rise) of the hashtag

When, in 2007, Twitter brought hashtags to the masses it was as an aside; it wasn’t core to the Twitter experience. Besides, it wasn’t an original idea – hashtags go back to the 1990s and was used in chat rooms, bulletin boards and forums.

How the world has changed: Hashtags now drive key media events, broadcast catastrophes world-wide, influence political thinking and some the hub of celebrity chatter to such an extent that any self-respecting social platform has them baked-in. Or, in the case of Facebook, added as an afterthought to ride on the back of Twitter’s success.

The odd, slightly leaning, noughts and crosses symbol doesn’t have a primary use anywhere else. One of the reasons its used is actually its relative obscurity and it’s unlikely to be used for anything else. The only place I can recall seeing it used everywhere is on a telephone key pad, used as a way to complete entries for online banking or select main menu options. Maybe that’s why it’s a “shifted” character on the keyboard, and how frustrating is that for a symbol that is now used so heavily.

Twitter describes it as the thing which can “Instantly connect to what’s most important to you”. So, its a way to congregate similar posts and tweets into single themes but there is most definitely more to the funny little character than that. Big data.If you want to mine huge amounts of data from millions of people you’ll need a pretty powerful server farm and some natty semantic comprehension all integrated into a huge digital trawling device. Or you can search Twitter (and now Facebook) in a few seconds on your iPad.

The use is now pandemic with Twitter, Tout, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, Google+ and Facebook all using the same basic hashtag approach. Searching across platforms may never have been so simple. With Facebook finally succumbing to the grid character I expect we can see it become the default to group together views, share opinions and add humour. There is even an entire search engine built just to mine and manage hashtags.

Happy hashing, folks