Hash Tags = Twitter Groupings

Chris Messina has outlined (in a fairly voluminous way) a proposal for the use of hash tags (strings like “#tag”) as a way to help make sense of the noise within Twitter. He enumerates different sorts of “groups” that could be supported in Twitter, and then takes my concept of ‘groupings’ – ad hoc assemblages of people sharing a common interest implied by a tag – and runs with it:

[from Groups for Twitter; or A Proposal for Twitter Tag Channels]


The type that I’m most interested in, and am prepared to offer a concrete proposal on, is actually of a fourth kind, most closely related to Stowe’s “groupings”, but with a slightly different lean, primarily in the model of how the grouping is established. In the cases presented above, there are very explicit approaches taken, since it’s somewhat taken for granted that groups imply a kind of management. Whether you’re dealing with public groups that you create, join and then promote or contact groups that you ultimately must manage like any kind of mailing list, they imply an order of magnitude of work that would ultimately work against the adoption of the whole grouping premise and thereby minimize any benefits to a select group of hyper-dedicated process-followers.

I’m more interested in simply having a better eavesdropping experience on Twitter.

I support the details of Chris’ spec. My sense is that tags in Twitter, as elsewhere, define shared experience of some kind, involving all those using the tag. And the use can be either actively putting a hash tag (like “#hashtag”) into a tweet, or more passively opting to follow a stream of tweets related to a tagged theme.

This accords exactly with the idea of groupings. I am increasingly uninterested in traditional groups in social apps: where members ‘join’, perhaps following a required invitation, and someone ‘owns’ and ‘manages’ the group. Groups have their place in the work context, but are less relevant in open socializing of individuals. Groupings can be wonderful for serendipity: consider the grouping of all people within Last.fm who have listened to a particular musician recently, or the clutch of people who have tagged a blog post with the term ‘Twitter’.

Just in passing: the failure of Technorati to make something out of the millions of groupings lost within their map of the blogosphere baffles me. I hope that some enterprising entrepreneurs begin to think about the meta-groupings that could be found across these various applications, across these apparently unrelated social media streams. A new angle for MyBlogLog, perhaps?

Tagspaces could be interesting and rich shared experiences, but no one seems to be really exploring that side of their existence. Del.icio.us has trained us to think of tags as metadata for bookmarks, and blogs have trained us to view them as metadata for posts. But tags imply communities, and no one is doing much to let those communities find themselves. Twitter hash tags could help.

[PS I looked, and the domain “www.twittosphere.com” is already taken, damn it.]

[original comments copied from Wayback Machine:

Hey Stowe, thanks for trudging through my post and inspiring large portions of it! I find that I blog so little these days, relying primarily on Twitter and Screenshots, that when I do, I often carry on with myself for days! (aside: I really need an editor!).

Anyway, I think you’re exactly right about tags. Before I wrote the post, I spent some time chatting with Thomas Vander Wal about his “come to me web” and his notion of tags. It’s identical to the one that you envisaged. I can say proudly that I finally “get it” about tags.

And you’re totally right about Technorati. If anyone could have, they had the chance to build the “come to me web” from the longtail. Instead, we have Facebook, a monolithic silo of data meted out in dollops and doses that they decide on, rather than in the rough-and-tumble, but close to humanity, way of the open web.

I think I’ve learned something here – and I think from now on, I’m going to advocate for the dissolution of hardened groups within social networks. For a long time I’ve felt that natural, organic decay is needed in these networks for them to work long term. Without death, there is no evolution. Thus, “groups” should be born the moment someone uses a tag and die the moment there’s a sustained silence in that tag’s life. What a fantastic model!

Oh, and love the new design!

Posted by: Chris Messina | August 26, 2007 at 10:42 AM

Thanks for the mention Stowe. MyBlogLog is already headed down the path you suggest with the use of groupings suggested by our users when they place tags on other members and sites.

Our search box on mybloglog.com now supports searching across the tags and adding them to the weighting and the initial results look promising for finding relevant sites that may have trouble breaking into the big search engine listings.

Check out searches for “aviation” or “hiking” for example.

Posted by: Ian Kennedy | August 26, 2007 at 10:58 AM

Hi Stowe,

Maybe you should try www.tweetosphere.com or www.tweettag.com for it relates to tweets nor twits. I still think you need a definition for these. Another option would be to use / create a tag and share it with your friends. The tag would have a unique number which may be public or private which could tie back to some definition. That way people could share the same tag for different meanings. Your twitterific or tweet-r would simply convert your #tag to the number or a tiny url to a wiki etc. Let me know what you think. 


Posted by: stuart | August 26, 2007 at 01:03 PM

I agree that ad-hoc groupings are more interesting that explicit membership based groups. Using explicit tags may help within a Twitter stream, but I’m more in favor of implicit means to tag yourself and your experiences.

(The new design generally looks good, but the photo with your face chopped in half is disconcerting, but i’m not an artist…)

Posted by: Mike | August 28, 2007 at 10:57 PM


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