Clarification: When I write, I don't prepare or organize my ideas, I just write what I would say if I was talking to you in person, so sometimes my blogs end up a little messy. I don't even proof-read what I write before posting it so you may find grammatical mistakes and poorly written sentences. Sometimes I'll read my blogs a day or two after publishing them and I may re-write things that weren't too clear and any embarrassing grammatical mistake. Also, English is not my first language, so I apologize if reading my blogs become a struggle. Of course, if this is the case, I would imagine you wouldn't continue reading.

May 27, 2012

I'm The Hashtag Police.

It's very likely I'm the only person in the world who gives a damn  about hashtags, or rather, their proper use, but wasting time thinking about useless stuff is not a new concept to me, as the two of you may have noticed. For a while now, I've been "correcting" people whenever they use hashtags wrong. The typical response I get is "I don't care and I use hashtags however I want", which is a fair point. I still think people should know how to use hashtags properly so I'm going to waste several minutes writing this article which no one will ever read or care about.

What are Hashtags? They are searchable terms or topics intended to facilitate the gathering of information on the sames terms or topics.

What are not Hashtags? They are not the title of your posts, or the topic of your posts, or the  elements in your posts/pictures, or a clever combination of words that describe or summarize your posts, or punchlines of your jokes.

I remember when hashtags were not linkable on Twitter, a long time ago. I think most people didn't even know what they were called, but they were used quite effectively during some of Twitter's popular weekly activities during those days, some even continue being used today. The oldest hashtag I can remember was the #FollowFriday and its shorter version #FF. This hashtag was used to look up all the people your friends on Twitter were recommending to follow in a simple way. I also used it to find out everyone who recommended me on #FollowFriday so I could thank them. Another hashtag from the same time was #MusicMonday, which would return lots of music recommendations if you did a search for it.

After some time of unofficial hashtaging the Twitter gods decided that it was worth integrating them into Twitter, and their use became wide spread. I remember that back then people used to play these "games" with them, I can't remember any specific hashtag, but they were something like #worst3wordsduringsex so you would write a post that included the three words someone could say during sex, like "can't feel anything", then add the hashtag and post it, and then a number of your followers would do the same, and after some time when you clicked on the hashtag you could read some really funny posts. There were always 2 or 3 of those "games" doing the rounds on Twitter back then.

The first major political event that had a world wide direct intervention from a social network, as far as I remember, was the Iran elections, which were  supposedly were fraudulent. Thousands of Iranians took the streets to protest and the Iranian government didn't like this too much so they started doing whatever they could to put an end to these protest, and this included brute force, abuse, jail, and violence, of course. But the Iranians resisted their government, at least for a little bit, and used Twitter to let the world know what was going on inside Iran. Otherwise, the world would have been completely oblivious. When you clicked on the hashtag #IranElections you got more information than any of the major news networks were providing, in fact, I think they were getting the information from Twitter too.

I think you might be getting an idea of what hashtags are and what are they used for.

At some point in time, people started abusing hashtags, or using them in completely  unnecessary situations. I suspect that it all started during the hashtag "games" I mentioned earlier. I think people thought these were individual posts that were given a "title" and not an agreement to write posts based on the hashtag. See, in a way, the hashtag is there before the post. I think the best way to explain is by checking some real examples. I just skimmed through my Twitter feed and collected a few real life examples of what I think are hashtags used improperly. Let's see:

Post 1, this could be a properly used hashtag, if it's used by Rangers fans to find one another. But I doubt this is the case, it looks more like a cheer than a search term. I could be wrong, but I'm willing to bet this person has never clicked on their own hashtag. Solution: use "Go Rangers!".

Post 2, very common mistake and one reminiscent to the early "hashtag games", however, in this case this probably the only time this hashtag was ever used. This is what I called the punchline hashtag. Solution: "And you wonder why you're still single?" or any other clever/funny phrase. It will also make it easier to read.

Post 3, I'm not sure, this could be a proper hashtag if it's used by other people, if not, it's just a hashtag used to describe something, maybe. Possible solution: "last mile was detox".

Post 4, this is a weird one. I'm not sure if the poster came up with the hashtag him/herself, or if other people have been using it. The info in the post doesn't seem to be relevant to other people using the Rosetta Stone system. It could be a advertizement, or at least that's what the hashtag became in this case. Possible solution: if you aren't already doing it, ask for money for product placement.

Post 5, completely wrong use of hashtags, the were just regular words that magically became hashtags. I can imagine the kind of random shit you will find if you ever click on those, it may be worth it. Solution: never use hashtags again.
Post 6, these hashtags were the topic or nature of the questions asked in the post. If they were real search terms, then they would be a little more unique, like all hashtags should be, since using extremely simple hashtags would return unwanted/unrelated results. Solution: "Dudas: tengo curiosidad de..." (Questions: I'm curious about...).

Post 7, the first hashtag is just a random word magically turned into a hashtag for no reason. The second one could be a proper hashtag, but it's just an ironic hashtag, which actually does work to add comedy to this post, but since the first hashtag made absolutely no sense, I'm not sure the poster thought about it this way. I'm confused myself.

Post 8, this hashtag has very good intentions, but it's completely useless. Solution: perhaps adding a hashtag like "WomenDirenting" or "directedbywomen" or "girlsonfilm", and encouraging other people to also use your hashtag could have more the desired effect.

So, do you understand hashtags now? Let's see some of the hashtags key points:

1. Unique terms work better.
2. If you are not going to click on your hashtag to look for more info on the subject, or if you don't care about spreading the information you're posting, then don't use hashtags.
3. Most times punchlines work the same way if the aren't hashtagized.
4. If you click on your hashtag and the only post you see is yours, then it was probably not needed, you probably don't even care about searchable terms anyway.
5. If we increase the size of the hashtag symbol by 1000%, we can play tic-tac-toe.
6. If you're going to start using a new hashtag, encourage other people to use it as well so it's easy to find information related to the hashtag.

And that's it. I personallly find improper hashtags annoying because they make the already cluttered Twitter feed even harder to read. We already have '@'s' and 'RT's' and ''s' everywhere we look on Twitter, we don't need hashtags to make things more complicated for us. But in the end everyone is free to use, abuse, misuse hashtags as they please. I'm just providing this information to those who don't know it, which I believe are quite a few. It's just like if I'm walking down the street and I see some kids trying to cut a tree with a guitar, I would stop and tell them what the guitar is and what it's used for, and also let them know that what they probably need is an axe (might have to take them to the store and show them), but if after I tell them they still want to use the guitar to cut the tree, then that's their problem.

One last thing, if you actually care about any of this, don't ever ever use a hashtag on Facebook.

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