When technology inventor Chris Messina used the first ever hashtag on Twitter, he could not have known the phenomenon it would become. Apparently, it was #barcamp. Used in August 2007, #barcamp was intended to bundle discussions about a forum of the same name. The actual tweet was: “How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups? As in #barcamp [msg]?” Presumably, the response was good.
Twitter does not take credit for creating the hashtag, giving a hat tip to its users for creating the hashtag organically. Twitter recommends as best practice no more than two hashtags per tweet; a rule often honoured in the breach. When a lighter mood takes us, a skit by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake about what hashtags would sound like in real life is well worth a look (here on YouTube).
Hashtags trend and are therefore tracked. According to hashtagify, in the last month the number one hashtag worldwide was #mtvstars. Not all of the most popular hashtags are in English. Number three for the last month is said to be in Portugese (although looks pretty English to me): #EMABiggestFansJustinBieber.
When Twitter released its top hashtag trends for 2013 (see here), they would likely not surprise. They were about the things bringing us together as a global community. Some represented new beginnings. #RoyalBaby celebrated the birth of Prince George, the son of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.
Some hashtags were defiant. 27 million people used #BostonStrong after the Boston Marathon bombings.
Some were sublime, such as #SFBatkid, used to bring a 5 year old leukemia survivor’s wish of becoming Batkid to life, with San Francisco used as Gotham City.
Soon to be made into a documentary, Dana Nachman explains that thanks to social media, the support for Batkid went ballistic:
“The goal that first day was to get a couple hundred people to show up to support Miles Scott and his wish to become Batkid, after battling leukemia for more than half his short life.
“The thought was a crowd of 200 would seem huge to a five-year-old boy, but what happened next blew everyone’s minds.
“Instead of a few hundred, 25,000 people lined the streets to cheer Miles on as he saved Gotham. The superhero spirit spilled onto the Internet as news of Batkid’s heroics reached over 2 billion people, touching hearts around the world.”
Some hashtags help us through a time to grieve. Peaking at 400,000 retweets, the news that “Fast and Furious” star Paul Walker had died was the subject of #TeamPW in 2013.
Which brings us to #PutOutYourBats.
Who started this hashtag? They should get a medal. What a wonderful example of a simple hashtag enabling people to share their grief with others via social media. Even more powerful are the evocative gestures offline. Who could ever think a cricket bat could become such a touching and indefinable tribute?
Here are some lovely examples:
Vale Phil Hughes.