Chris Messina, a developer advocate at Google, wanted to introduce two friends over e-mail, he wrote #Introduction in the subject line. No need, he explained, for a long preamble when a quick, to-the-point hashtag would do.
Then again, Mr. Messina is no ordinary Twitter user. The self-described “hash godfather,” he officially invented the Twitter hashtag in August 2007, when he sent out a Twitter message suggesting that the pound symbol be used for organizing groups on Twitter. (For example, if attendees at the South by Southwest music and technology conference all add #sxsw to their messages, they can more easily search and sort themselves on Twitter.) Though the idea took awhile to catch on, it quickly snowballed — on Twitter and offline.
To deftly deploy a hashtag, after all, you need to understand the culture, said Susan Herring, a professor of information science and linguistics at Indiana University-Bloomington.
“It’s initially used self-consciously in a way that says, ‘I’m on Twitter, I’m cool, I know that this is used on Twitter so I’m using this someplace else,’ so it’s conveying a meta-message that you are a Twitter-savvy person,” Ms. Herring said, adding that it’s “almost as if there are air quotes around it.”
Meet the Inventor of Twitter Hashtags, Chris Messina (a Googler)
Gary Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.