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.



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