Hashtags: What the # does that mean?
If you are new to Twitter, social media or the coming of the digital age and short-attention span of American consumers, you may start seeing words preceded by a number sign: #. While your grandparents may interpret it as a number sign, it's time that generation baby boomer, X and Y see it for what it is: an identifier. Just as twitter handles have become a part of our vocabulary, so will hashtags on twitter, email or web.
The New York Times wrote an interesting article last Friday about the rising of Twitter hashtags, calling it Twitter's "Secret Handshake." While it may seem like code to those who are unfamiliar with it, the article explains the meaning and use of hashtags for an unbeliever. Made most popular by Charlie Sheen's madness and mental breakdown to the belief that his state of delusion was considered "#winning," overnight the hashtag became much wider known. Personally, it was around that time that it started appearing in mass quantities across my twitter horizon. The article goes on to explain the origins and uses. The hashtag has become an idiom to express full emotions and mental states alongside tweets. Adding #fail or #winning or #yourtaxdollarsatwork next to a tweet about the massive construction causing hours-long traffic delays can completely change the meaning and inject a bit of personality into every tweet. (Read the full story from the New York Times here.)
What the article fails to mention is the pitfalls of #hashtags. Unfortunately, like the breakdown of every great digital invention of recent times, misuse can lead to confusion, annoyance and general avoidance in general. Exhibit A is MySpace, a once popular social media that has fallen into spamming and antiquity other than for bands and artists. While hastags can simplify a constantly updated medium by providing a way to declutter and focus on one conversation, frequent misuse can discourage users from the hashtag or twitter in general. When every word of a tweet is a conversation hashtag, it becomes a detriment instead of an asset. Just as posting to twitter every minute on the minute of every day can scare followers away, overuse of the hashtag will drive twitter followers away from specific users, news sources and even Twitter.
A word to the wise about using hashtags: For events, conversation topics and adding some occassional flavor to a tweet, they are an excellent resource for personal, business and informational use. However, for the sake of everyone who Twitters, don't overuse it or spam through it - and for goodness sake, just because you can #hashtag #every #word - doesn't mean you should.