Saturday, November 10, 2012

In Praise of the Hashtag

The New York Times waxes eloquent.

From the story...

In the early days, hashtags were primarily functional — a way of categorizing tweets by topic so that members of the Twittersphere could follow conversations of interest to them by searching for a list of similarly tagged tweets. The first hashtag, proposed by the user Chris Messina, was intended to collate conversations about the tech conference BarCamp, so the hashtag was #barcamp. Other tags in the early days served as straightforward metadata, directing people to tweets about news, events and user interests: #sandiegofires, #roseparade, #education and so on. 

Over time, though, the hashtag has evolved into something else — a form that allows for humor, darkness, wordplay and, yes, even poetry. During this same period, Twitter as a corporation recognized the power of the hashtag, which has now become a part of the site’s design, lingo and sales pitch to advertisers. Your particular hashtag, for example, can let the whole world know who’s talking about the release of #Halo4. 

As a result, we’ve arrived at a strange moment for the hashtag. The people at Twitter are fond of saying that the hashtag is the new URL — and it’s true that you’re just as likely to see the former as the latter these days on-screen at the end of a movie trailer. 

Yet the rise of the hashtag’s commercial possibilities shouldn’t lead us to overlook what is truly remarkable about it. This bit of utilitarian Web ephemera, invented with functionality squarely in mind, has blossomed into a marvelous and underappreciated literary device.

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