The Hashtag: A word or phrase preceded by a hash mark (#), used within a message to identify a keyword or topic of interest and facilitate a search for it.
It seems, within today’s modern world, the idea of a society which is not completely interconnected and collectively influential is unfathomable and even somewhat frightening. What was the world without internet? What was a day without cell phones or computers? How did people communicate, or meet, or get directions, or stay entertained?
We have adapted to our modern world with ease, familiarizing ourselves with new technologies and social impacts every day. Certain trends have faded into the world of retro-vintage ancient history, while others have stood the test of time. Since the recent dawn of social media, the world has become significantly smaller. And when Twitter introduced the hashtag in 2007, a new trend was born. It was arguably the most powerful tool on the internet, and perhaps still is.
Chris Messina, co-founder of the company BarCamp, was officially the first Twitter user to introduce and to actively “use” the hashtag as a means for guiding conversations among groups of people. The concept was initially frowned upon, both by general consumer consensus and by Twitter founders Ev Williams and Biz Stone themselves. The founders were uncertain of the potential for the emblem’s impact. They didn’t wholly believe it would catch on. “That stuff is never going to catch on,” they said. “We’re going to build algorithms, we’re going to figure it out, and you won’t have to use hashtags at all. We got it covered.” As it turns out, the hashtag proved itself a worthy tool when friend of Messina Nate Ritter used the hashtag to tweet about the spread of 2007 San Diego forest fires. The trend caught on. Rather than simply existing as a social-circle engine, the hashtag became a source of live news coverage. It proved itself.
From there the hashtag only grew, becoming a worldwide phenomenon. The tool was used to collectively have a conversation about what was important to us, or what was popular in the world. The hashtag was certainly not under-appreciated once it became commonplace. Advertisers began to see the massive potential of the tool. Using the hashtag to follow what was popular among consumers was only the beginning. Soon companies began to pay for their hashtags to become viral, hoping to promote their products or services on a grand scale. It worked. The hashtag became a common visual piece on everyone’s texts. Our tweets were retweeted more. Our followers grew. Other companies, such as Instagram and Facebook began to use the hashtag, utilizing to its full potential the powerful keystroke. Television shows present hashtags during airtime, hoping to grab a larger audience. Some websites, like hashtracking.com, even offer services with which you can track the most influential tags at any given time.
What exists today is a sort of new universal language, so-to-speak. Using a hashtag can instantaneously connect you with people on the other side of the world. People can quite literally become famous using a single hashtag. This article itself could go viral just because of the hashtags used in its publication on twitter. It is quite arguably the most powerful tool in mainstream technology today. Governments certainly have begun to use the tool to their advantage as well, be it for the benefit of society, or for other sinister intentions. It’s important to pay attention now, with the strength behind this emblem, to the way we use it. As technology advances further, and the world becomes even smaller, everything we say, and everything we tag, belongs to the entire civilized world.