Hashtags, or as you and I used to know them as “number sign” or the “pound key” on our phones, are being used with more and more frequency on Twitter. But often, with a wink to the reader, a sardonic word or phrase is thrown in to illustrate their “real” (read: ironic) mood or thoughts.
One recent example of this was @charliesheen using #winning, which was easily one of the most used hashtags for weeks on end (Charlie’s still using it, but like most trends, it will fade away soon enough).
The possibilities are endless – in glancing at just a few tweets, I came across #humpday, #singleforever and #ineedadrink. And just this past week, this came into effect from the MTV Video Music Awards –#ifbiebermetgaga. You see where this can lead to.
Originally used to both organize information as well as get the word out about a fire in San Diego, there are people who are usually them properly, such as tweeting about a specific event or conference. They are especially useful if you want up-to-the-second information, such as the ones used in the recent Toronto elections – #cdnpoli and #elxn41 – or the Japan crisis (#prayforjapan is just one of many being used).
I think that like with all parts of language, you have to allow for room to grow, for people to explore it and see how it fits for them. The constant evolution of Twitter is as exciting as what people are writing about. And while it might be annoying to see hashtags misused, if we can gather like-minded people together to help do good things, make a difference, then it is worth minor irritations such as #sarahpalin2012 and “#worstpickuplines.”
That being said, a recent article in the New York Times reveals that a study shows that the bad ones are being used more than the good ones. Perhaps that because people are just lazy or that they are ill informed. Here are a few things that might help cull the perpetrators:
Sites such as Hashtags.org offer information not only on topics that are trending, but which user has used them – in real time. You can also look at the trending topics on the Twitter.com home page (Remember that what location you have it set to with radically alter the results. In a recent search under United States, #10confessions was the top topic, while #ourwar was the topic of choice for the United Kingdom).
Things to keep in mind when using hashtags:
As mentioned by Twitter themselves, “If you tweet with a hashtag on a public account, anyone who does a search for that hashtag may find your Tweet.”
And you want to keep your hashtags to 3 at most, with one or two being perfectly acceptable.
Unless they are of #doesthislookinfected variety.
(Full-disclosure: I have used hashtags occasionally to try and be funny. After writing this article, I’m going to cease. Or at least cut down.)