News of the Tweet: Hashtags

The evolution of hashtags, the demise of mankind and more.

By Seb Kemp

Twitter is still absolutely awash with Lance's dirty laundry, but I don't want to go three weeks on the trot retweeting the world's doping-related tweets. Instead, let's look at another social phenomena: the hashtag.

We have discussed the use of hashtags in previous NOTT's, but hashtags are evolving at an alarming rate. They are becoming something more than innocent search terms or whispering insights and have, instead, been dragged out of the virtual graveyard like brain-munching zombies and into the real world of real people with real brains. Fortunately, the kind of people that are dancing with this particular devil are brainless twonks, as highlighted in this horrific video that Joey Schusler, this year's Collegiate National Omnium champion, found and shared.

I warn you, what you are about to see may cause intense irritation to your eyes and ears. It may also reduce your chances (or desire) to produce offspring while simultaneously increasing your desire to punch babies.

Now I understand why some people are so pessimistic about the future of mankind.

#SorryI'mNotSorry…that you will probably choke on the wrong end of your cutlery.

Twitter hashtags are created by putting a "#" in front of a word or phrase, without spaces. The idea behind hashtags is to get people using the same one when talking about a specific topic: using #NOTT to form a discussion around News Of The Tweet, for instance. They were created organically by the Twitter community to better categorize tweets. A hashtag is really just a way of categorizing your tweets so that they are part of a narrowed conversation and they're easier to find in Twitter search.

Hashtags can be used in this way, as Dissent Labs highlights, in order to be gathered up in the bigger picture and be seen by more people and therefore followed more widely. This isn't a direct result of using hashtags, but rather a consequence – by using hashtags, you put your tweets in front of people who are interested in them, which often leads to an increase in followers. The more targeted and accurate your hashtag use, the more targeted followers you're likely to accumulate.
If you include a hashtag in your tweet, people who search for that hashtag will see what you tweeted. This puts your thoughts into context – it lets your followers and those browsing search results know that you want your tweet to be associated with a specific topic.

Not only can hashtags help you target a topic, but they can also help you target your audience, as well. If you are a freelance photographer, for instance, you might want to tag those tweets that contain tips for fellow photographers with #knowitallphotog. This will show your followers that you're writing for a specific audience, and it will help them sort through the tweets that are relevant to them by searching for that hashtag.

Oklahoma State used hashtags to try and market themselves. By getting people to include the hashtag #GoPokes when discussing the game or the team it makes it much easier for people to pull up tweets about Oklahoma State or people to decipher such tweets on their feed.

Some hashtags are pretty evident and become ubiquitous. #mtb is obvious. As is #skateboarders.

But then there are other less obvious hashtags that take on a life of their own. Warning: not for young audiences or those with a weak ticker.

The other way hashtags are used is to turn conversation into a form of disconnected and demented words and phrases.

140 characters isn't much space to really pour your heart out and make sense of what you want to communicate, so hashtags give you the option to not bother trying. Or in the case of brunette brain surgeon Bethany Motta in the above vacuous excuse for entertainment, figuring out the puzzle of convoluted hashtags when someone extracted the spaces between words and, in most cases, any semblance of sense, is a fun game. Like beating your head against a wall, for fun.

Or has it happened already?

But not everyone is into hashtags as much as the giggling, dribbling embryonic morons in the above video.

Hashtags: useful filing system for the social media age or brain-feasting demonic apparition?