Fifteen years ago if someone had said the word “hashtag,” they would be met with blank stares and asked if they were referring to fried breakfast potatoes. Today, hashtags are deeply ingrained into our popular culture. “They have helped shape elections, launch social movements, and transcended their meaning as a mere keystroke to become a defining symbol of the digital age.” From the #MeToo movement to #ThrowbackThursday to #FakeNews, hashtags can be found across all major social media channels and are often used in casual conversation as depicted in this Jimmy Fallon-Justin Timberlake short. How did this symbol come to be? How has it evolved? #LetsExploreThatShallWe
Unbeknownst to most, the hashtag (artist formerly known as Pound) got it’s humble beginnings back in 1988 on a platform known as Internet Relay Chat or IRC where internet enthusiast and Twitter OG Chris Messina frequented. On these chatrooms, hashtags were used much like they are today, for grouping messages, images, content, and video into categories called channels. He saw a need for similar organization on the infantile but rapidly growing platform, Twitter. On August 23, 2007, he tweeted out a simple suggestion, that changed the internet as we know it.
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?
— Chris Messina (@chrismessina) August 23, 2007
He proposed the idea to Twitter executives and peers in the tech community but was shot down as they felt creating channels would be “nerdy” and not widely embraced. Two days later, his buddy and fellow techie, Stowe Boyd, echoed Chris’ thoughts and suggested that they call the symbol a “hashtag” as it sounded cooler than “pound” or “channel.” Messina began using hashtags in his tweets, eventually convincing friends to do so as well. On October 20, 2007, wildfires broke out in San Diego, another friend of Messina, Nate Ritter (@nateritter), started monitoring news media sources and live tweeting his findings. Messina suggested he appendage his tweets with #sandiegofire.
#sandiegofire south shores, ski beach open to motor homes. fiesta island is open to first 500 livestock that come in.
— ɴᴀᴛᴇ ʀɪᴛᴛᴇʀ (@nateritter) October 22, 2007
After 50+ tweets from Nate regarding the fire, other Twitter users caught on and decided to join the conversation, using the hashtag to tweet out their own thoughts on the event.
I’m incompetent with a camera trying to photo my latest info product. I’m incompetent with a camera!#sandiegofire All classes at SDSU
— biz_line (@biz_line) October 23, 2007
#sandiegofire if anyone in the twitterverse has specific info on fallbrook rice canyon fire msg me plz thanks
— Duncan Rawlinson (@thelastminute) October 23, 2007
“The fact that other people actually emulated him in real time during those fires gave me a sense that this could actually work,” Messina said. “It turned out that lots of people wanted to have their voices heard and participate in a global conversation.” As the idea caught on, Twitter decided to adopt the practice, grouping relevant content and allowing users to search for hashtags in 2009 and then introducing “Trending Topics” (a sidebar on the site that features the most popular tags at a given time) the following year.
From there, hashtags were widely embraced by other internet social hubs with #yolo taking off on the new application, Instagram, in 2010 and Facebook introducing hashtags to its entities in 2013. Present day, there are billions of hashtags in existence with thousands more created daily. So that, my friends, is how a simple suggestion from one person became a social phenomenon. #CrazyRight #TheMoreYouKnow