I’m old enough to remember the days when the # symbol was called a “pound sign” or “number sign.” And while I’m not very musically inclined, if I saw it on some sheet music I’d be able to identify it as a “sharp.”
While I’m aware that the symbol has a centuries-long history and has been employed in various ways to denote various things, I’ve never quite understood its role as a “hashtag.” I see them everywhere online, especially on Facebook posts and tweets, but I never considered them more than annoying typographical litter.
From what I’ve found online by Googling “history of hashtags,” they came into popular use in 2007 when a guy named Chris Messina used one on Twitter, suggesting it as an electronic way to categorize tweets by topics. At the time it was dismissed as being nerdy, but it somehow caught on.
Before long, hashtags began to appear everywhere online, like so many squashed bugs on Web pages. Even the marketing geniuses at Honda began to write them into their TV commercials, with actors saying “hashtag stupid car” or “hashtag YEAHHHH.”
Toyota followed suit, with actors saying, “hashtag sweet deal” and “hashtag I’m telling everybody.” One 30-second spot includes the actors making hashtag gestures with their fingers while saying “hashtag” whatever no fewer than seven times.
I pretty much ignored hashtags and ignored them as probably nothing more than a digital fad… that is until I was enlightened by Holly Odgers, a staff member of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation. I was tagging along with her during the recent Lake Hopatcong Lake-Wide Cleanup while she hunted down cleanup teams around the lake.
Holly’s job was to take pictures and notes for posting on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, anywhere that would help the LHF publicize the massive volunteer effort that was being made to pull trash from the shoreline during the quinquennial lowering of the lake’s water level.
Since it would have been an impossibility to find her way around to all 40 access points around the lake in one morning, an important part of her job was to get volunteers to take their own pictures and videos and post them online. Holly repeatedly requested they use #LakeCleanup2018 on their posts.
Still thinking the use of hashtags was simply silly, I asked her to explain what the big deal was about having people use #LakeCleanup2018 on everything they posted. Frankly, I thought the volunteers would think it was obnoxious.
That’s when Holly gave me a one-minute tutorial on one very worthwhile reason to use a common hashtag. When she wanted to see everyone else’s posts about the cleanup and, perhaps, be able to share their photos and videos, all she’d have to do was search for #LakeCleanup2018. As long as people used the common hashtag, it would be easier to find those posts in her search results.
I was able to start thinking of hashtags as a very efficient online filing system, one that could make Holly’s job far easier to manage. If someone failed to include a hashtag on a post, well … their post was likely to get lost or, at least, have a much more limited audience.
So, now I get it. And now I have a certain respect for hashtags and their usefulness. I’m sure there’s more to hashtags and the ways in which they can be used, but Holly’s primer was good enough for me, even if I only use them for Lake Hopatcong Foundation-related posts.
#NowIGetIt #ThanksHolly #UseHashtags