Hashtag History 101

Organising Information Since 1988

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The first appearance of the # on the internet was as metadata tags in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) as early as 1988. In IRC the symbol was used to categorise channels, making it easier for users to find what they were looking for – they eventually settled on calling them Hashtags. And this is still the way it is done on IRC today:

5 top IRC #channels

In 2007 open source advocate Chris Messina suggested using hashtags on Twitter, and his idea fell on fertile ground. However, instead of groups which would be somewhat exclusive and require moderation, hashtags on Twitter were being used to gather and categorise conversations:

Thus the Hashtag was reborn. In 2009 Twitter reacted officially and started hyperlinking Hashtags to search results. And soon other Social Networking sites started implementing them as well. Networks like Facebook, Google+, Instagram and Tumblr followed suit, all with varying degrees of success – and with a strong focus on advertising. On this Messina has said in a post on his blog: “It’s totally logical to find ways to capitalize and embrace emergent user behavior.”

Hashtags make social media more social

Mostly Hashtags are used to make information easily accessible and searchable. They are created by companies, social causes or even just plain user power. They can bring together attendees of a single event, aggregate online memes, and embellish tweets. The #IfIWasGunnedDown hashtag has been aggregating reactions to the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, MO in August 2014 while on the other end of the spectrum #tbt bundles Instagram photos in the ongoing Throwback Thursday meme.
Sometimes hashtags even bleed into real life. In April 2014 countless people showed online outrage over the disappearance of 200 girls in Nigeria. They used the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls and soon celebrities like Salma Hayek or Emma Watson joined in by tweeting photos like these:

Without rhyme or reason

But for years Twitter users have also been coming up with fun ways to use hashtags. Their often wordy creations were never meant to spread something, but are simply a part of twitter lingo and used to make more or less clever utterances. Why are we telling you this? #BecauseReasons.

Nowadays a lot of teenagers have taken this to the next (arguably somewhat annoying) level by #hashtagging #every #single #word – especially on Instagram where they’re unhindered by character limits. This is rather useless because most of their hashtagged words are not in the least bit unique and thus not searchable. Also, have we mentioned it is terribly annoying? Or maybe we’re just too old to get it…

David Tennant, Doctor Who, Ninehundred and three years old

#doctor #doctorwho #socool #sobritish #brits #scifi #timelord #davidtennant #ten #tenthdoctor #hashtag #canwestopnowplease #begging

The good news is that even with people flooding the Internet with an overabundance of often useless hashtags, it doesn’t really curb companies’ chances to create hashtags for marketing purposes. It just takes a bit of skill and the willingness to weed out the chaff. If you want to learn more about how to  use hashtags with purpose and effect, you can read up on that in our recent post about hashtag marketing.

So what kind of hashtagger are you? Let us know in the comments!

More from our series about hashtag campaigns:

  1. The History of Hashtags
  2. What is a hashtag campaign and what can I do with it?
  3. How to Find the Perfect Hashtag for Your Marketing Campaign
  4. Back up your hashtag campaign with good customer service