The Hashtag

Ten years ago yesterday, August 23, 2007, Chris Messina suggested that using the # sign in a tweet could be used to group tweets about a thing (his example was barcamp).

Here is the tweet in which he made that suggestion.

There is so much I like about this story.

  1. A user suggestion became a feature simply by other users adopting it.
  2. Twitter took it a step further by recognizing the hashtag as a “thing” and making it hyperlinked in the service.
  3. The hashtag feature took off as Twitter users thought it was cool and started using it actively.
  4. Users showed that hashtags could be used for many more things than groups.
  5. The hashtag moved beyond Twitter into most popular social media applications (ie Instagram) and now has become the standard way for users to “tag” something.
  6. The hashtag has moved beyond software into our language and media.

I was an investor and board member in Twitter at the time and the Company was tiny, not more than twenty employees and probably a fair bit less. The engineering team was maybe half of that, led by Blaine Cook. They were struggling to keep up with all of the growth of the service and yet they had the foresight that the # and @ symbols that users had adopted organically were important. They prioritized recognizing them in their software. That was a big deal.

Biz Stone, now back at Twitter, blogged about how this happened yesterday and it is a short and good read.

The Twitter story is a complicated one, with lots of ups and downs, but I believe it has been and remains one of the most important services ever built on the Internet and hashtags is one of the many reasons that is so.