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Ever wondered how did hashtags come about?

Chris Messina, is the brilliant creator behind it.

chris messina

Chris Messina is the San Francisco-based Head of Community and Growth at NeonMob, a market for digital art. Prior to joining the company, Chris was at Google leading developer relations for the short-lived Google Buzz product. In recent years, he had worked on user experience design on the Google+ team. 

Here are Chris’ responses to why he invented hashtag and why he did not patent it. Both answers are originally posted on popular online Q&A site Quora:

Why hashtag was invented via Quora

I created the first hashtag on August 23, 2007 and explained the process and rationale in this blog post.

Essentially there was a widespread desire in the early Twitter community to provide some means for groups to organize themselves. Many looked to the model of Flickr and other standard web-based group systems as inspiration. It occurred to me, however, that a significant amount of Twitter usage occurred over SMS or other low-bandwidth channels, making group management tedious, if not impossible. Discovery of groups while on the go was another problem.

Thus, the simplest solution was to embed the group token in the tweet itself and use functionality like ‘track’ to follow the topic (Twitter removed the track feature long ago, but trending topics injected new life and relevance into hashtags).

Thus any user could create a new group simply by tweeting with a word — however, there needed to be a way to separate the “meta from the meat”. I chose the hash symbol because it was a convention already established in IRC channels and on Jaiku. Any user could then “join” a group conversation simply by appending a given hashtag to their tweets.

If spammers ended up taking over a hashtag due to popularity, the ease with which hashtags are created enabled non-spammers to abandon the hashtag and move on quickly. Indeed, the very ephemerality of hashtags is what makes them easy and compelling to use in a fast-moving communication medium like Twitter.

FWIW, I never imagined that hashtags would catch on as they did — especially since Ev specifically told me that Twitter would instead use machine learning to group tweets and that hashtags were too “nerdy” to ever go mainstream.


Why the hashtag wasn’t patented via Quora

For two reasons, primarily:

  1. claiming a government-granted monopoly on the use of hashtags would have likely inhibited their adoption, which was the antithesis of what I was hoping for, which was broad-based adoption and support — across networks and mediums.
  2. I had no interest in making money (directly) off hashtags. They are born of the Internet, and should be owned by no one. The value and satisfaction I derive from seeing my funny little hack used as widely as it is today is valuable enough for me to be relieved that I had the foresight not to try to lock down this stupidly simple but effective idea.

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Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)