Chris Messina is coming to Sydney as keynote speaker for Web Directions Summit 17 on 9-10 November. One of his claims to fame, the hashtag, just turned 10.
This has attracted a great deal of attention, not just in web tech circles but also in the mainstream media.
Chris himself published an article on Medium on 23 August 2017, the 10th anniversary of the first use of the # symbol being attached to the front of a keyword on Twitter to indicate a group, so let’s start there.
What the hashtag means to me 10 years after its invention
On August 23, 2007 at 12:25PM PST, I tweeted a simple idea that would change how we use social media and communicate, possibly forever:
Two days later, I published a lengthy proposal clarifying my intention, with suggestions for how Twitter might adopt the idea, even though I never worked for Twitter. Instead, I was an early user and a fan, and a believer in the power of the internet coupled with free/libre technologies to bring people together.
Read the rest of the article at https://medium.com/chris-messina/hashtag10-8e114c382b06
Chris had presented the idea to Twitter earlier without receiving a very enthusiastic response, as Twitter founder Biz Stone acknowledged in his blog post published on the same day last week:
In the summer of 2007, a web marketing specialist and avid user of Twitter, Chris Messina walked into our grungy office at 164 South Park (yes, people would just walk in back then) and made a suggestion to me and a few other Twitter employees who were sitting nearby. We were working frantically to fix a tech issue that had brought Twitter down, as was often the case in those early days.
Many iconic features of Twitter have been created over the years by listening and watching what people who use Twitter do with it and then working to make it easier and better for them—we still do this today. Back in those early days, Jack and I even published our phone numbers on the front page. So, although we were somewhat frenzied, we wanted to give Chris a few minutes and hear him out.
His proposal was simple, useful, and fun—just like Twitter. Because brevity is essential on Twitter, he suggested using the “pound” or “hash” character common on phones (this was pre-iPhone) to create groups of related Tweets. It was an undeniably elegant proposal, but I really needed to get back to work. I turned back to my computer screen to help get Twitter back up and running, hurriedly ending the conversation with a sarcastic, “Sure, we’ll get right on that.”
Thankfully, Chris didn’t take offense to my reaction, he simply started doing what he had proposed.
There’s actually been quite a lot of commentary in the past week about what the hashtag is, its purpose, impact and what it represents.
Here are three of our favourite articles that offer some interesting perspective:
Andreas Sandre, Hackernoon
Chris launched the idea of using the pound symbol for groups in a tweet 10 years ago today. The hashtag was born August 23, 2007 — and forever it changed social media and the way we engage online. [ … ]
Anyhow, when I interviewed Chris for my book, the conversation not only explored the evolution of the hashtag, but also its use and mis-use, and the nature of the hashtag. [ … ]
He told me: “Like most technologies, the hashtag itself is a neutral amplifier.”
“Wielded effectively — he said — it can spark conversations or revolutions, or can be used to mislead or obfuscate. Therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that social media is a reflection of the people who use it and the contexts in which they’re found.”
Talking about the nature of the hashtag, he said: “Broadly speaking, any technology that helps give a larger number of people a voice efficiently and economically is a good thing; then, once it’s been adopted widely, the challenge is to hone its use to increase social and cultural benefit.”
Karissa Bell, Mashable Australia
Twitter’s most iconic feature is celebrating a big birthday today. Exactly 10 years ago, before there were iPhones, Android phones, or a Twitter app, one Twitter user came up with the idea of using the “#” symbol to group tweets together.
That early Twitter user was Chris Messina, who has said the idea originally stemmed from what are now two major throwbacks from the early days of the Internet: IRC and T-9.
IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, is an old web standard that enabled messaging via group chat rooms. The format we now know as a hashtag, where similar messages are grouped together using the # sign, was already a well-established part of IRC in 2007, so it made some sense to bring the same dynamic to Twitter.
It was also, as Messina points out, easier to type on old phones that used T-9, an early form of predictive text when you still had to tap out messages via your phone’s keypad. (Texting was hard before touchscreens!)
Edward Helmore, The Guardian
“They are 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.”
A decade on, and Messina describes the adoption of this simple system of information collection (globally, an average of 125m hashtags are shared daily on Twitter alone) as humbling.
“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,” he told the Australian.
But for all their benefits, hashtags have also proved a minefield for inattentive creators. The identity marketing blog loginradius draws attention to a number of miscued, careless or otherwise unfortunate hashtag misfires.
First among them is the hashtag created for British singer Susan Boyle #susanalbumparty. “Su’s anal bum party” caught on for obvious but unintended reasons. Loginradius points out that capitalizing each word – #SusanAlbumParty – would have solved the problem.
Chris Messina will be a keynote speaker at Web Directions Summit 17 in Sydney on 9-10 November, a hugely influential two-day two-track conference for designers, developers and other professionals working in web and digital. Registration for Summit is now open (Early Bird until 15 September).