What hashtags are *really* for

I was pointed towards an article yesterday about the futility of hashtags. My view is that it misses the point.

There are, in my mind, three purposes for hashtags:

Let’s take these in order. For a hashtag to be of any use in aggregating tweets, it needs to be relatively niche. Given that it’s made up of a single word or string, and given the manner in which tweets are structured and consumed, there’s little search engines can do to make tweets relating to the #SuperBowl or the #budget2013 of any use to either man or beast. So the event needs to be more targeted to be of any use here.

Second, people can use them for suppression. If I have a lot of followees watching the Uefa Champions League, and for whatever reason I don’t give two hoots about it, I can filter out all tweets mentioning the #ucl hashtag. This I see as useful.

Third, irony. It’s not a traditional use of a hashtag; but it’s one I like. I often use hashtags in Facebook updates. I occasionally use them in emails, sometimes in the workplace. If I still wrote letters by hand, I’d use them there too. (Hell. I may even use one as a reference for #HMRC to use when I pay my corporation tax later today.) I know they’re neither clickable nor useful. But they can add humour. Even on Twitter, I’ll use hashtags that are useless for humour value.

Wife watching programme about women who were convicted of the murder of their husbands. She is criticising them for being “sloppy”. #nervous

So to me, the article missed the point of the hashtag entirely. They’re a wonderful introduction that adds playfulness to the English language.


Boris Johnson: disbelief

I met Boris Johnson once. Indeed, I presented to him.

It was 1998, if I remember. I was in my mid-twenties. We’d undertaken a survey of the Spectator magazine’s readership base. And I had analysed the responses.

I arrived by cab with a couple of colleagues at a little terraced house north of Chancery Lane, the Spectator’s offices. And we were shuffled off into a room that might arguably be advertised as a bedroom, were the property put on the market as a family house.

We set up the projector, and various people shuffled in, columnists and the like. There were probably six or seven of the Spectator’s elite, all here to listen to what I had to say. Amongst them: Boris Johnson and Petronella Wyatt. This all before their affair hit the papers in 2004.

And it was all rather surreal. I wasn’t fazed in the slightest. I simply reported on what their readers had told us they liked, disliked, read, didn’t read in their beloved magazine. And as I remember, the response rate was phenomenal, such was the loyalty and commitment of its readership.

And no one believed a word I had to say. They all knew better about what the readers liked than the data suggested. I particularly remember Boris huffing and puffing over readers’ alleged favourite columns. And then it was over. Boris left early, either to attend another appointment or in utter disgust at what I had to say. The former, I hope.

Watching him on TV this evening, his manner hasn’t changed a jot.

Ryan Giggs’ longevity

So, with Ryan Giggs having made his 1,000th professional appearance the other night, I thought it an opportune moment to post this, a chart showing his Manchester United longevity.

Quite impressive on all counts, I’d say, particularly with at least a year left to run. Remember: this only shows players with 100+ caps. Click through to see it full-size.

Ryan Giggs