Twitter’s hashtag turns 10: Are we #blessed or is it #gettingold?

It used to be called the pound sign, perhaps the number sign. Word nerds knew it as as the octothorpe. But today, 10 years after it was first used on Twitter, it’s most famous as hashtag.

Now the hashtag is used not only on Twitter (an average of 125 million times a day) but on Facebook, Instagram — and also spoken out loud, in everyday conversations.

Biz Stone, a Twitter co-founder, recounts how the hashtag came to be so iconic.

Web marketing specialist Chris Messina’s “proposal was simple, useful, and fun — just like Twitter,” Stone said in a blog post Wednesday. “Because brevity is essential on Twitter, he suggested using the ‘pound’ or ‘hash’ character common on phones (this was pre-iPhone) to create groups of related Tweets. It was an undeniably elegant proposal, but I really needed to get back to work. I turned back to my computer screen to help get Twitter back up and running, hurriedly ending the conversation with a sarcastic, ‘Sure, we’ll get right on that.’ ”

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It was a good thing Messina went ahead and did what he suggested, Stone said. The first Twitter hashtag was #barcamp.

Now, Stone says, “using hashtags on Twitter, people worldwide have made this platform their microphone, shaped culture, and changed the world.”

That’s not hyperbole. From #BlackLivesMatter to #ArabSpring to #BringBackOurGirls, hashtags have sparked social movements and marked revolutions. What started as a way to organize topics became a way to organize for a cause. Hashtag activism — like it or hate it — was born.

When city names become hashtags, it usually isn’t good news. Think #Charlottesville, #Ferguson and #PrayforOrlando. Another hashtag tied to a deadly event: #JeSuisCharlie.

Also, Thursdays and Fridays will never be the same: #ThrowbackThursday, a.k,a. #tbt, and #FollowFriday, a.k.a. #FF.

Watching TV and awards shows and the Super Bowl — that’s forever changed, too: After all, fans have to vote for #MTVHottest or comment on their favorite Super Bowl commercials with the most used sports-related hashtag in the United States, #SuperBowl.

Hashtags are huge in politics. #ThanksObama comes to mind — it was used sarcastically by detractors of the former president, and sincerely by his fans.

As for the current president of the United States, he wields hashtags as weapons to fire up his base, or to attack his “enemies.” Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great, became #MAGA. His tweets about the media are often punctuated with #fakenews.

#ThanksTwitter.

 

Photo by Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group

 

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