Hashtags: A History

Think: the pound sign.

Hashtags via The Marketoonist

A symbol used for the designation of a number, commonly found on your phone’s keypad or a sheet of paper illustrating a playful game of tic-tac-toe.

Well, that used to be the primary definition. What’s the first thing you think of when you see the pound sign? Certainly not tic-tac-toe. You think hashtag.

2007 was the year when pound signs first started transitioning into what we use them for today on social media. It was Twitter user Chris Messina who unknowingly started the now world-wide trend of using the pound sign on Twitter to sort tweets into groups.

Hashtags a History

Messina doesn’t get all the credit, however, as he was inspired by Internet Relay Chat (IRC), an application layer protocol that facilitates communication in the form of text, designed for group communication in discussion forums. The chat process works on a client/server networking model, with the clients being computer programs that a user can install on their system. These clients communicate with chat servers to transfer messages to other clients. Very 80’s.

IRC was created by Jarkko Oikarinen in August 1988. Once an invaluable way of communicating with people all over the world, IRC has dropped in popularity; an unfortunate reality made clear by the fact that it has lost 60% of its users since 2003.

Anyway, the way “#” was used on IRC was to precede the names of chat groups and discussion topics. (sound familiar?)

Fast forward to 2007 again, when Stowe Boyd (a self-described futurist, researcher, and edgling) declared the name “hashtag” be used in reference to the grouping symbol on Twitter that works to “make sense of the noise,” as Boyd said.

Enter the year 2009. Twitter officially adopts the use of hashtags into their code, automatically hyperlinking terms appended with “#.” The following year, Trending Topics was introduced on the homepage as a way to organize and highlight hashtags by popularity.

And of course, as hashtags made their way into the mainstream, everyone started using them. And overusing them.

While Twitter was the first to adopt hashtags into their platform, essentially every other social media platform quickly followed.

Today, hashtags are a cyber-appendage donned by every social media marketer. They’re used in various ways as a tool to amplify your brand, target your audience, expand your content’s reach, and analyze the effectiveness of your content strategy. And if you want to play tic-tac-toe.