The rise and fall of the #
Go ahead, say something then tell me how you really feel with your hashtag. “Hashtag” has received lots of attention – first donned as the 2012 word of the year, and now the hashtag is (for real for real) on Facebook.
It had to have been late 2011/early 2012 where we started seeing the hashtag showing up on Facebook. Whether in someone’s Twitter stream connected through to their FB account, or via the Twitter (Instagram, Tumblr, etc.) culture seeping it’s way into the blue and white land of “what’s on your mind?” status updates. So, while confusion ensued from hardcore Facebook-lings, sarcastic hashtagging also hit the scene.
Words running into words
The hashtag’s purpose was never clearly defined (like much of the wild wild interwebs) – perhaps implied, but there was a time when it was more useful and reliable.
I miss the not-so-distant days of the hashtags personal usefulness. A way to find photos of a great camp spot, or check how packed a show is before heading to the venue. Additionally, the hashtag for communications professionals in the social realm was (is it too soon to past tense?) a great metric and tool to monitor their organization, and what users were saying about it – but more than anything else a way to make connections and segments. Much more than a cultural phenomenon, hashtag-based searches were/are a valuable tool no matter who you are.
The hashtag also opened up a way for users to find out specifics – from restaurants and retailers to scholarly publishing, the list goes on. The hashtag opened up a portal to find out what other people have to say about what you’re interested in right then.
What has happened is the hashtag has become an inside joke about itself, and nothing more to most. The mainstream will continue to use the hashtag for “ironic” afterthoughts. You know you’ve seen them, they’re rampant: “Having a great time at the post office #soslow”, or “This guy pulled up next to me blasting country music in his PT Cruiser #HOT”. What the heck do we make of that?
How much longer will it still be “cool” to wait to say what you’re really thinking until it’s placed after a “#”?
Will ” * ” be the next hashtag?
Will the # survive? Or will it be made the laughingstock of its family of characters for another year or two, then fade into the background while another character rises? Perhaps a new character will once again allow users to point back to all things that used to represent something (at least a bit more)?
I sympathize for organizations such as Artsy (and even Kleenex) with names also used to represent something else (sometimes a number of things). Managing what is being said is tough as it is, let alone having to sift through what’s really being discussed, felt or asked about them. I predict the hashtag will output watered down analytics, and provide mere half baked analysis.
Could the star character be the new trend people use and forgo that old hashtag (except for those that just utilize Facebook)?
Maybe we as a culture need a character to help us say how we really feel, and maybe that should be the hashtag. But we’ll still need a way to get away from anything that smells of mediocre data analysis we end up giving our CEO.
Or, here’s a long shot: Could we begin to write in characters? The hashtag, the star, the exclamation point and question mark?
Whatever happens, I feel sad for the #. It never meant (or probably wanted) to be such a middle-man.
P.S. One last point about you and your hashtagging: The overabundance of hashtagging is also a nuisance. Exhausting your friends and followers with 2-3+ hashtags is obnoxious, and not helpful to your personal brand, art, cause, etc.