Ben Zimmer notices Chris Messina’s use of #hashtagiversary in a post about the use of -(i)versary as a free-floating language element:
The second is from Chris Messina, a.k.a. the hashtag godfather, on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of his proposal of the hashtag convention on Twitter:
BTW, little secret: TODAY is the 6th #hashtagiversary. I totally punk’d CNBC. DON’T TELL ANYONE!!!!!!!— Chris Messina™ (@chrismessina)
(Messina didn’t actually coin hashtag on that fateful day in 2007 — that was done a few days later by Stowe Boyd, another early Twitter adopter. See the Spring 2013 installment of “Among the New Words” in American Speech [pdf], which I co-wrote with Charles Carson, as well as Boyd’s own recent post on the subject.)
Benjamin Zimmer and Charles Carson of the American Dialect Society have released Among The New Words (American Speech, Vol. 88, No. 1, Spring 2013), and which lays down the lineaments of the invention and naming of the now mainstream hashtag.
Benjamin Zimmer, Charles Carson, Among The New Words
Hashtag represented the third time in the last four years that the WoTY winner has come from the world of technology: tweet was selected for 2009 and app for 2010. The convention of the hashtag (a word or phrase pre- ceded by the hash symbol #) has, since its inception on Twitter in 2007, grown into a powerful organizer for online talk. but beyond simply keeping track of the flow of conversation, the hashtag has been applied to a multitude of other discursive functions, including self-mockery (Ben Zimmer, “#languagenerdalert: A New Tool for Self-Deprecation,” Boston Globe, Sept. 25, 2011, K2).
Befitting such a flexible conversational tool, the term hashtag itself has flourished with multiple meanings. Whereas it has typically referred to a string of characters prefixed by the hash symbol, now it often gets used for the symbol itself. And it has crept into oral use, in a spoken equivalent of the Twitter convention, as in “hashtag fail” or “hashtag Yolo.” Such oral hashtagging, while linguistically notable, does not appear destined for success if it remains a self-conscious callback to the online form. overuse for marketing purposes does little to help the term’s long-term fortunes, either: while hosting the 2013 Grammys, ll Cool j took the trend to absurd levels by using hashtag six times in 20 seconds (“i’ve been backstage reading all your tweets about hashtag Grammys… we’re going to see hashtag Carrie Underwood, hashtag jack White, hashtag Kelly Clarkson, hashtag bruno mars, and hashtag Sting”).
Hashtag also illustrates how even very new terms are prey to faulty or incomplete memories about their origins. While Chris Messina is recognized as the “hashtag godfather” for first proposing the convention in online discussions among early adopters of Twitter in August 2007, he did not come up with the term hashtag himself. Messina made the suggestion of using the hash symbol in a tweet on August 23; two days later, he followed up with a post on his FactoryCity blog in which he dubbed his creation “channel tags” or “tag channels.” Another participant in these early discussions, Stowe Boyd, tweeted his approval on August 25: “I support the hash tag convention.” After that first attributive usage, Boyd continued using the term hash tag (written as two words) on his blog on August 26. Messina and Boyd did not fully recall this sequence of events when asked about it on Twitter. Fortunately, it is possible to reconstruct such cyberhistory thanks to archived tweets and blog posts.
It’s worthwhile to note that others — like Anil Dash — did recall the sequence of events involved in the reuse of IRC chat tags in Twitter by Chris Messina, and my calling it a hashtag.
It’s also worth noting that Messina and I were involved at the time in a Twitter and blog-based discussion about membership in groups versus what I call ‘groupings’. In a post at the time, Messina specifically referenced my writings on groupings. A grouping is a collection of people that share attributes in common, like the use of a certain tag on their blog posts, or frequent a certain bar, or study a particular martial art. So the set of people that have written about ‘Hemingway’ are a grouping, or those that have tagged a photo ‘Golden Gate Bridge’. So these people form a sort of a group, but one they weren’t invited to: their own actions make them a member of the grouping.
My argument then (see Hash Tags = Twitter Groupings) was that tags in Twitter would wind up being used in the same way: an indication of the nature of the contents of the tweet. But in aggregate, everyone that uses the hashtag ‘TEDx’ are a grouping, and that self-selected identification could be an important cultural marker. And that’s pretty much what happened.
Chris was trying to suggest that tags could be used to direct tweets to specific defined groups of people (‘channels’), more like Google+ Circles than the way that hashtags are generally used. But he is the guy that started the convention, and I completely forgot that I named it, until Ben Zimmer’s research turned it up.
I also coined the term ‘microsyntax’ to represent the use of special characters, acronyms and keywords in Twitter and elsewhere as syntactic markers (like ‘#’, ‘@’, and ‘RT’), but that term hasn’t become widely used.
In that tweet I used ‘hash tag’ but in the post referenced I didn’t. Still, I am betting this is the first use of the term ‘hash tag’.
I’ve informed Ben Zimmer of the American Dialect Society whose research suggested that a post of mine (Hash Tags = Twitter Groupings) from 26 Aug 2007 was the first use.
Note that Chris Messina was the guy proposing the use of the hash (‘#’) to precede a term to tag things — in fact these tweets and posts were part of an intense dicussion that he and I and others were involved in that week in August. Chris was exploring a way to create something like Google+ Circles, which he was calling ‘channels’, using the ‘#word’ approach derived from IRC chat. His goal was to use channels as a way to direct where tweets are sent — a group DM, or mailing list, if you will — which didn’t happen.
My thinking at the time was around what I call ‘groupings’: free form communities of people who share the characteristic of using a shared tag, like all the folks who have tagged something ‘social business’ is a fast and loose definition of the ‘social business’ community. My thinking was that the tag should indicate topical metadata about the tweet, and implicit metadata — grouping membership — about the tweet’s author. Which is pretty much how they are used today.
At any rate, interesting support for Ben’s research on ‘#hashtag’.
Thanks,@DonMacAskill, for the sleuthing.
I was involved in a twitter thread today with Ben Zimmer, who is a well-known lexicographer, and chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. He has been researching the Twitter hashtag, which was recently selected as Word Of The Year:
In its 23rd annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted “hashtag” as the word of the year for 2012. Hashtag refers to the practice used on Twitter for marking topics or making commentary by means of a hash symbol (#) followed by a word or phrase.
Presiding at the Jan. 4 voting session were ADS Executive Secretary Allan Metcalf of MacMurray College, and Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society and executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com. Zimmer is also a language columnist for the Boston Globe.
“This was the year when the hashtag became a ubiquitous phenomenon in online talk,” Zimmer said. “In the Twittersphere and elsewhere, hashtags have created instant social trends, spreading bite-sized viral messages on topics ranging from politics to pop culture.”
Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item” — not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year. The vote is the longest-running such vote anywhere, the only one not tied to commercial interests, and the word-of-the-year event up to which all others lead. It is fully informed by the members’ expertise in the study of words, but it is far from a solemn occasion. Members in the 124-year-old organization include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining.
One interesting wrinkle is that Zimmer contends that I was the first to use the term ‘hashtag’ back in a post on 26 August 2007. My use was a response to Chris Messina’s proposal for so-called Twitter ‘channels’, which had the form of hashtags today (like ‘#hashtag’), but apparently I was the first to use the term hashtag to denote them. I also coined the term ‘microsyntax’ to represent the developing use of symbols — like ‘@mentions’, ‘#hashtags’, ‘RT”, ‘$ticker’ — in Twitter and related apps. (I still haven’t been successful in getting '/geotags' implemented.)
I didn’t even have that post up on my blog. I moved my blog several times since 2007, from Typepad (where it was called /Message), to Squarespace, and then to Tumblr. And I hadn’t reposted all the older posts, since it has to be done manually. I reposted that piece today, copying the text from the Wayback Machine.
Chris Messina, well known for creating the hashtag (see Chris Messina on Twitter Tags) has some more ideas up his sleeve. Recall that when Chris suggested the hashtag, back in 2007, he intended to be used in a somewhat different way than it has evolved to: these things rapidly grown out of our hands, once they start to grow in the wild.
Chris suggests using the slash character, ‘/’, as a general indicator of metadata, as well as introducing a number of English prepositions, as what he calls ‘pointers’, but which are intended as prepositions.
[via New microsyntax for Twitter: three pointers and the slasher]
First, I’ve decided to migrate from encapsulating my metadata in parentheses to using a slash delimiter (”/”), which, for shits and giggles, we’ll call “the slasher”. This saves you ONE character, but hey, those singletons add up!
Now, the pointers. “Pointers” are short words with different
intentions. A group of pointers should typically be prefixed by ONE
slasher character. You can daisy-chain multiple pointer phrases
together, padded on both sides with one whitespace character. There
should be NO space following the slasher. Hashtags should be appended
to the very end of a tweet, except when they are part of the content of
the message itself and indicate some proper name or abbreviation.
Normal words that would be part of the content of a tweet anyway SHOULD NOT be hashed.
So Chris is suggesting a sort of fixed syntax for tweets, where non-encoded information would be at the start, then a ‘/’ would set off the back end of the tweet with various prepositions and nouns, and all hashtags neatly stacked at the end. Chris also makes a plea that ‘normal words’ should not be hashtagged.
The various ‘pointers’ he suggests are things like ‘by’, ‘via’, and ‘cc’. A post following these conventions might look like this:
This is history. /via @barackobama cc @chrismessina #election2008
While a more casual twitter might be this:
This is history. via @barackobama cc @chrismessina #election2008
Messina’s proposal has some merit, since it could lead to some increase in clarity. But I don’t think the ‘/’ character adds much to the inherent meaning of the prepositions, which are, after just English words used in pretty much their usual way. These won’t easily pass to other language groups.
It may be that ‘via’ and ‘cc’ could be better represented by some shorter microsyntax, one indicating a source and one indicating a target for information transfer, but what I have seen emerge are the words themselves. Various schemes for the use of ‘>’ or ‘<’ seem arbitrary — which is pointing to and which from the author? — and nothing consistent seems to have come up.
There is a fledgling use of various characters that set off an original comment or tweet, and a comment attached to that:
This is history. -@barackobama | A great day! #election2008 @chrismessina
I have seen other characters used, like ‘»’, but the idea is that the original, leftmost part was said by someone other than the author of the tweet, but the rightmost part, following the ‘|’, is the opinion of the author.
I also used the ‘-’ to represent ‘by’ or ‘via’ when preceding an @username, which I think is both shorter and language nuetral.
And the ‘cc’ idea is captured by putting the names of users at the end of the post, which is sort of cc-ish and doesn’t require new microsyntax: the ‘@’ is doing the work, really.
One thing that Chris doesn’t mention is that I suggested the use of the ‘/’ or ‘Geoslash’ character to represent geolocation (see Geoslash), and that has been implemented by a few tool vendors, like Nearyoo. With the folks at Twitter hatching their own geolocation plans, we’ll have to see where all that leads.
It’s clear that there is a real difference between this —
I will be landing in /New York City:tomorrow:8:00pm/ Hope to see you @chrismessina #w2e
— and the geolocation of where I was sitting when I posted that tweet, which is what Twitter’s geolocation is going to capture.
So, despite my avid support for microsyntax.org emerging as it is needed, I think we should have only as much as we need, and no more.
Steve Hodson asks:
[…] my main question is if this is suppose to be a way to identify a group or conversation thread within Twitter would you want to be able to know if the tag was being used in the wider public timeline or just your friends timeline.
The other question is how would be best to present these conversation threads as I have seen in some tweets multiple tags being used. Would your post be presented for each of the tags or just how would that be worked out.
I think people might want both: to be able to pull tweets from the public timeline or their buddylist using a #hashtag, or a boolean formula of #hashtags. By boolean formula I mean that a query like “all tweets tagged ‘#chewy’ but not ‘#gooey’” might be represented as “search +#chewy -#gooey”.
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
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
Tara and Chris join me on /Talkshow this week to discuss community, co-working, and new modes of consulting. 10:30am PT. Dial (718) 508-9560 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (718) 508-9560 end_of_the_skype_highlighting if you’d like to join the show with questions.
Some people have mentioned problems with the streaming audio from the show. Installing Flip4Mac seems to have helped some issues on the Mac for some people, but not all. (http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/player/wmcomponents.mspx).tags: /talkshow, flip4mac, chris+messina, tara+hunt
Since the interview I had with Chris Messina, he has left Flock, but the arguments he makes for socializing the experience of browsing — which is the driving force behind that company’s Firefox-based browser — still stand up. A great guy, and I am sure he will be doing great things elsewhere. Check out his blog at FactoryJoe.
The New Visionary series is sponsored by podcast.com : the home of podcasting.
Mark your calendars for the upcoming (and rescheduled) mesh — Canada’s web 2.0 conference - Toronto May 15 & 16. mesh will bring together great keynotes and speakers, including Om Malik, Paul Kedrosky, Andrew Coyne, Michael Geist, Tara Hunt, Paul Wells, Steve Rubel, Jason Fried, Stowe Boyd (yes, me), Amber McArthur, Ren Bucholz, Andrew Baron, Chris Messina, David Crow (whew!) and many others. Organizers include Rob Hyndman, Matthew Ingram, Mike McDerment, Stuart MacDonald, and Mark Evans.
Looks like a great conference, and a great venue. Toronto is a fabulous city.
[Long aside: I truly love Canada: even before my sister moved there and became a ‘landed’ immigrant after living in Toronto 20-odd years, I had traveled much of the country. In the past few decades, I have been to the country literally a hundred times or so, and I am increasingly enamored of this very foreign country so close by. I also hope that if I continue to say nice things, I will be allowed to emigrate, which looks like a better and better idea considering America’s political situation and progressive global warming. Although Toronto may be one day be under water as the Great Lakes slowly turn into a giant inland ocean.