Hashtags in Twitter

Today's blog entry is about the use of hashtags in twitter. Hashtags are reported to be amongst the most confusing aspects of twitter. It is however, a simple concept and definitely worth understanding.

Twitter does not yet, have a way to classify messages into categories. For example, there isn't a way to mark a bunch of messages as belonging to a specific category or event. To workaround this, twitter users use hashtags. A hashtag is basically a term prefixed with the # symbol. Example - #tech, #news, #anything …

Software professionals call the '#' symbol as a hash. When the hash symbol is combined with a term which is used to tag twitter messages, it is called a hashtag. When an user wants to classify related messages around an item, say news about apple, the user might come up with a hash tag as #apple and put it in their message. Then other users add the same hashtag to their messages about the similar subject. You can search messages based on hashtags.

While hashtags help identify events, they can also be used to denote messages from specific groups of people. People of a particular community might want to tag their messages with a common hashtag so it is easily identified and search-able. Some hashtags can be used to cross-post messages to both twitter and non-twitter applications such as Facebook (using hashtag “#fb”), Linkedin (using hashtag “#in”), etc.

To find messages classified with a particular hashtag, visit  http://search.twitter.com and query for the hashtag. Hashtags can be used for various purposes. A few tips are listed below.
  • Use to collect ideas / crowd-sourcing – you can ask questions on twitter and give a hashtag that other twitter users can use to tag their answers to your question. That way you can quickly identify the responses
  • Use to have a group discussion – you can have folks located anywhere on the planet, participate in discussions. Put out a hashtag that folks participating in the discussion can use. Formal discussions may be arranged in advance to occur at a specific time.  There are third party tools that allow you to collect messages that use the particular hashtag and aggregate them in the form of a conversation
  • Use to share thoughts / experiences on any subject – unhappy about a product or service you received ? Use a hashtag along with your message. Generally, many people would be participating / using most common hashtags. You might want to check if a hashtag is being used on twitter search and also the conversations around those hashtags
Hopefully, this helps clarify the use of hashtags in Twitter.