A hashtag is a word or an unspaced phrase prefixed with the number sign ("
#"). It is a form of metadata tag. Words in messages on microblogging and social networking services such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, VK or Instagram may be tagged by putting "#" before them, either as they appear in a sentence, (e.g., "New artists announced for #SXSW2014 Music Festival") or appended to it.
Hashtags make it possible to group such messages, since one can search for the hashtag and get the set of messages that contain it. A hashtag is only connected to a specific medium and can therefore not be linked and connected to pictures or messages from different platforms.
Because of its widespread use, the word was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2014, defined as: hashtag n. (on social media web sites and applications) a word or phrase preceded by a hash and used to identify messages relating to a specific topic; (also) the hash symbol itself, when used in this way.
The hash symbol was often used in information technology to highlight a special meaning. In 1970 for example, the hash symbol was used to denote immediate address mode in the assembly language of the PDP-11 when placed next to a symbol or a number. In 1978, Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie used # in the C programming language for special keywords that had to be processed first by the C preprocessor.
The hash symbol then appeared and was used within IRC networks to label groups and topics. Channels or topics that are available across an entire IRC network are prefixed with a hash symbol # (as opposed to those local to a server, which use an ampersand '&').
The use of the hash symbol in IRC inspired Chris Messina to propose a similar system to be used on Twitter to tag topics of interest on the microblogging network. He posted the first hashtag on Twitter:
|“||how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?||”|
—Chris Messina, ("factoryjoe"), August 23, 2007
Internationally, the hashtag became a practice of writing style for Twitter posts during the 2009–2010 Iranian election protests, as both English- and Persian-language hashtags became useful for Twitter users inside and outside Iran.
The first use of the term "hash tag" was in a blog post by Stowe Boyd, "Hash Tags = Twitter Groupings," on 26 August 2007, according to lexicographer Ben Zimmer, chair of the American Dialect Society's New Words Committee.
Beginning July 2, 2009, Twitter began to hyperlink all hashtags in tweets to Twitter search results for the hashtagged word (and for the standard spelling of commonly misspelled words). In 2010, Twitter introduced "Trending Topics" on the Twitter front page, displaying hashtags that are rapidly becoming popular.
On microblogging or social networking sites, hashtags can be inserted anywhere within a post: before the body of a post, within the body of a post (usually as part of the body, as in "This is a #hashtag" or "This is #CamelCase") or after the body of a post as a postscript.
The quantity of hashtags used in a post or tweet is just as important as the type of hashtags used. It is currently considered acceptable to tag a post once when contributing to a specific conversation. Two hashtags are considered acceptable when adding a location to the conversation. Three hashtags are seen by some as the "absolute maximum", and any contribution exceeding this risks “raising the ire of the community.”
As well as frustrating other users, the misuse of hashtags can lead to account suspensions. Twitter warns that adding hashtags to unrelated tweets, or repeated use of a same hashtag without adding to a conversation, could cause an account to be filtered from search, or even suspended.
In response to the often misused and misunderstood usage of hashtags, Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake performed a spoof for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon which aired on September 24, 2013.
Hashtags are mostly used as unmoderated ad hoc discussion forums; any combination of characters led by a hash symbol is a hashtag, and any hashtag, if promoted by enough individuals, can "trend" and attract more individual users to discussion using the hashtag. On Twitter, when a hashtag becomes extremely popular, it will appear in the "Trending Topics" area of a user's homepage. The trending topics can be organized by geographic area or by all of Twitter. Hashtags are neither registered nor controlled by any one user or group of users, and neither can they be "retired" from public usage, meaning that hashtags can be used in theoretical perpetuity depending upon the longevity of the word or set of characters in a written language. They also do not contain any set definitions, meaning that a single hashtag can be used for any number of purposes as espoused by those who make use of them.
Hashtags intended for discussion of a particular event tend to use an obscure wording to avoid being caught up with generic conversations on similar subjects, such as a cake festival using "#cakefestival" rather than simply "#cake". However, this can also make it difficult for topics to become "trending topics" because people often use different spelling or words to refer to the same topic. In order for topics to trend, there has to be a consensus, whether silent or stated, that the hashtag refers to that specific topic.
Hashtags also function as beacons in order for users to find and "follow" (subscribe) or "list" (organize into public contact lists) other users of similar interest.
Hashtags can be used on the social network Instagram, by posting pictures and hashtagging it with its subject. As an example, a photo of oneself and a friend posted to the social network can be hashtagged #bffl or #friends. Instagram has banned certain hashtags, some because they are too generic like #photography #iPhone #iphoneography and therefore do not fulfil a purpose. They have also blocked hashtags that can be linked to illegal activities, such as drug use.
Hashtags are also used informally to express context around a given message, with no intent to actually categorize the message for later searching, sharing, or other reasons. This can help express humor, excitement, sadness or other contextual cues, for example, "Just found out my mom is my health teacher. #awkward" or "It's Monday!! #excited #sarcasm"
The feature has been added to other, non-short-message-oriented services, such as the user comment systems on YouTube and Gawker Media; in the case of the latter, hashtags for blog comments and directly submitted comments are used to maintain a more constant rate of user activity even when paid employees are not logged into the website. Real-time search aggregators such as the former Google Real-Time Search also support hashtags in syndicated posts, meaning that hashtags inserted into Twitter posts can be hyperlinked to incoming posts falling under that same hashtag; this has further enabled a view of the "river" of Twitter posts which can result from search terms or hashtags.
||This section contains embedded lists that may be poorly defined, unverified or indiscriminate. (May 2014)|
One phenomenon specific to the Twitter system are micro-memes, which are emergent topics for which a hashtag is created, used widely for a few days, then disappear. These hashtags also show up in a number of trending topics websites, including Twitter's own front page.
Some websites, such as hashtag.org, have attempted to provide live definitions for hashtags.
The hashtag phenomenon has also been harvested for advertisement, promotion and contingency coordination. Most larger organizations will only focus on one or a small number of hashtags. However some individuals and organizations use a large number of hashtags to emphasise the broad range of concepts in which they are interested. The decision on whether to specialise in particular hashtags or promote a range depends on the marketing strategy of those involved.
Mass broadcast media
Since 2010, television series on various television channels promote themselves through "branded" hashtag bugs. This is used as a means of promoting a backchannel of online side-discussion before, during and after an episode broadcast. Hashtag bugs appear on either corner of the screen, or they may appear at the end of an advertisement (for example, a motion picture trailer).
While personalities associated with broadcasts, such as hosts and correspondents, also promote their corporate or personal Twitter usernames in order to receive mentions and replies to posts, usage of related or "branded" hashtags alongside Twitter usernames (e.g., #edshow as well as @edshow) is increasingly encouraged as a microblogging style in order to "trend" the hashtag (and, hence, the discussion topic) in Twitter and other search engines. Broadcasters also make use of such a style in order to index select posts for live broadcast. Chloe Sladden, Twitter's director of media partnerships, identified two types of television-formatted usage of hashtags: hashtags which identify a series being broadcast (i.e. #SunnyFX) and instantaneous, "temporary" hashtags issued by television personalities to gauge topical responses from viewers during broadcasts. Some have speculated that hashtags might take the place of (or co-exist with) the Nielsen television ratings system.
The increased usage of hashtags as brand promotion devices has been compared to the promotion of branded "keywords" by AOL in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as such keywords were also promoted at the end of commercials and series episodes.
Since February 2013 there is a collaboration between the social networking site Twitter and American Express that makes it possible to buy discounted goods online by tweeting a special hashtag. American Express members can sync their card with Twitter and use the offers by tweeting and look for a response in a tweet with the confirmation from American Express.
Organized real-world events have also made use of hashtags and ad hoc lists for discussion and promotion among participants. Hashtags are used as beacons by event participants in order to find each other on both Twitter and, in many cases, in real life during events.
Companies and advocacy organizations have taken advantage of hashtag-based discussions for promotion of their products, services or campaigns.
Political protests and campaigns in the early 2010s, such as #OccupyWallStreet and #LibyaFeb17, have been organized around hashtags or have made extensive usage of hashtags for the promotion of discussion.
Hashtags are often used by consumers on social media platforms in order to complain about the customer service experience with large companies. The term "bashtag" has been created to describe situations in which a corporate social media hashtag is used to criticise the company or to tell others about poor customer service. For example, in January 2012, McDonald's created the #McDStories hashtag so customers could share positive experiences about the restaurant chain. The marketing effort was cancelled after just two hours when McDonald's received numerous complaint tweets rather than the positive stories they were expecting.
The use of hashtags also reveals things about the sentiment an author attaches to a statement. This can range from the obvious, where a hashtag directly describes the state of mind, to the less obvious. For example, words in hashtags are the strongest predictor of whether or not a statement is sarcastic—a difficult AI problem.
In popular culture
During the April 2011 Canadian party leader debate, then-leader of the New Democratic Party Jack Layton referred to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's crime policies as "a hashtag fail" (presumably "#fail").
The term "hashtag rap", coined by Kanye West, was developed in the 2010s to describe a style of rapping which, according to Rizoh of Houston Press, uses "three main ingredients: a metaphor, a pause, and a one-word punch line, often placed at the end of a rhyme". Rappers Nicki Minaj, Big Sean, Drake and Lil Wayne are credited with the popularization of hashtag rap, while the style has been criticized by Ludacris, The Lonely Island and various music writers.
In July 2012, Twitter adapted the hashtag style to make company ticker symbols preceded by the dollar sign clickable (as in $AAPL), a method that Twitter dubbed the "cashtag". This is intended to allow users to search posts discussing companies and their stocks.
In August 2012, British journalist Tom Meltzer reported in The Guardian about a new hand gesture that mimicked the hashtag, sometimes called the "finger hashtag", in which both hands form a peace sign, and then the fingers are crossed to form the symbol of a hashtag. The emerging gesture was reported about in Wired by Nimrod Kamer, and during 2013 it was seen on TV used by Jimmy Fallon, and on The Colbert Report among other places.
In 2010, Twitter introduced "hashflags" during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. They reintroduced the feature on June 10, 2014, in time for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. When a user tweets a hashtag consisting of the three letter country code of any of the 32 countries represented in the tournament, Twitter automatically embeds a flag emoticon for that country.
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