Social networking’s much loved and hated octothorpe (the technical term for the “number symbol”) made its clickable debut on Facebook last week. Facebook said that the adoption of the hashtag will provide users with “a simple way to see the larger view of what's happening or what people are talking about.” Until now, hashtagging was limited to services such as Twitter, Facebook-owned Instagram, Tumblr and Pinterest.
Chris Messina, a Google developer and self-described “hashtag godfather,” invented the hashtag as we know it in 2007. His hope was that adding a “#” before a word or phrase when tweeting would allow those ideas to be organized and searchable by other Twitter users. “The hashtag has proven to be a handy system for social networking users to join online conversations as events unfold in real-time, such as political debates, television shows and sports,” said Yahoo News’ Alexei Oreskovic. Following trending topics will now be just a click of a hashtag away for Facebook users too.
For example, attendees at last week’s E3 video-gaming conference could add #E32013 to their status update to find general information about the event, or to simply see who else might be in attendance. If someone was interested in one specific game on display at the expo, say Battlefield 4, they could search for “#BF4 #E32013” to narrow down the results.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
The hashtag has come a long way since its humble beginnings on Twitter, and it took a few years to really catch on in mainstream popular culture. “At first, people who weren’t using Twitter were saying: ‘What’s this pound sign? Why am I seeing it?’” Ginger Wilcox, founder of the Social Media Marketing Institute, told the New York Times.
Charlie Sheen may be the individual to most thank (or blame, depending on how much you like adding # to your thoughts) for a major spike in hashtag popularity. After his very public meltdown in early 2011, Sheen took to Twitter with his catchphrase “#winning.” On a far more serious note, #Egypt and #Japan were among the most popular hashtags that same year, according to Twitter, following the Arab Spring revolution and deadly tsunami. Before long, the social networking masses – from power users to casual commentators – were rounding out their 140 character posts with hashtags.
Whether users are happy with the change or annoyed by it, there are some big reasons for Facebook to adopt the hashtag. For one, Facebook will be able to steal traffic from sites that already use hashtagging. Many people share tweets or Instagram photos that include hashtags on their Facebook pages. Now that they are clickable, users will be redirected to a feed that aggregates that topic within Facebook itself. Additionally, and undoubtedly the most important to investors, hashtags will make it easier for advertisers to target a more specific audience.
Only time will tell if Facebook hashtags will enhance the world’s biggest social network or degrade it. When used properly, hastags have the potential to make finding and organizing information quicker and easier – all while giving a glimpse of trending topics in the ever-evolving digital world.
“But at their most annoying,” wrote Gizmodo’s Sam Biddle, “the colloquial hashtag has burst out of its use as a sorting tool and become a linguistic tumor—a tic more irritating than any banal link or lazy image meme.”
Are you excited about the implementation of hashtags on Facebook, or is it already #drivingyoucrazy? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.