Do you ever have a good idea, but find yourself unable to execute it fully because the technology simply isn’t available? And, then, just a few short years later the technology appears and you squeal “Where Have You Been All My LIFE!”?
I’ve been having that relationship with the concept of hashtags.
A hashtag is a keyword, indicated by a hash symbol # that anchors the keyword to other information (in the manner of a bookmark) and allows that information to be searched and found by other people. Hashtags are metadata — data about data– that help us recall, locate, filter, and aggregate more granular data. The hashtag #favoritejaneaustenquotes helps you find any tweet in which someone mentions– you guessed it– her favorite Jane Austen quote.
With hashtags, you can find blog posts, tweets, and all manner of online data related to the idea captured by the hashtag. You can see who’s talking about something, what they are saying, and what it means to them.
Hashtags make conversations searchable — in real time, and historically. Hashtags also help us find other people who are interested in the same ideas.
Hashtags cohere conversations on social networks (like twitter) since people can locate, watch, and contribute to conversations by using the relevant hashtag(s). (A great example of the is #prstudchat – a weekly conversation for students of public relations.)
What are Hashtags really for?
Back in November of 2009, Baratunde Thurston shared a funny and provocative presentation at the Web 2.0 NY Expo: “There’s a #Hashtag for That.” Baratunde was riffing on the fun people have creating satirical hashtags and corresponding Twitter accounts (e.g., @swineflu, #swineflu) and using these as memes to provoke creativity, commentary and conversation across Twitter.
When I watched Baratunde’s talk, I wondered:
– What if we each had our own hashtag? Not a satirical one, but an authentic hashtag?
– What if we created and routinely used a hashtags to capture and communicate who we were, and what we cared about?
– What if we intentionally used these hashtags to communicate not only to other people, but also back to ourselves?
In addition to being meta-data that tell us what’s going on where, hashtags can also work at the personal, cognitive level. Online in the digital world, hashtags can work like mantras — like those words we choose each January to help us focus our goals for the year. As simple short reminders, hashtags can help us focus our efforts. Hashtags can help our selves pay attention. Hashtags can remind us what is important.
How can we use hashtags as tools for our “selves”?
We can also use hashtags as more than reminders of features, ideas, topics, attributes, sentiments and/or actions. We can actually use hashtags to create meaning, individually and collectively. Here’s how.
Hashtags Help Us Name “It”.
When you give a feature, idea, topic, attribute, sentiment and/or action an name, you make that thing visible to yourself and others. You show yourself and others that the concept exists. You create meaning by naming something previously unnamed.
For example, there’s an experience/sentiment that I have often, that doesn’t have a name. I’m currently on the hunt for a descriptive & evocative hashtag to capture it.
“It”, right now, is “ the experience of having linked/pinged/interacted digitally with ____, so that I now have an energy surge of purpose and support. “ Now that I’ve described this experience, you can recognize it. But if I could name it by hashtagging it, we could do even more with the concept.
Hashtags Help Us Claim It.
When we use a hashtag, we can make that thing our own. We can use the hashtag to note for ourselves (and others) every time that we’re feeling it, doing it, sending it, verbing it. And, when we attach a hashtag to our communications and our actions, we help people understand what we are experiencing, what we are trying to convey, and that this matters to us.
Hashtags Help Us Fame It.
When we use a hashtag, we not only name (capture) and claim (attach to us) a concept, we are also then able to promote that idea. We can share the idea, we can propagate the idea, and we can meme the idea.
You may not have thought of “the experience of having linked/pinged/interacted digitally with ____, so that I now have an energy surge of purpose and support” but as soon as I have a good hashtag and use it, you can spread that idea wherever you want. Because we’ll all be able to recognize it and share it.
Being a Hashtag
Naming, claiming and faming are all good — but they do not quite make the idea a part of you. To do that you actually have to “be” the hashtag. You have to take the whole idea one step further into your self.
To “Be” a Hashtag you have to activate it– you have to make that idea real in your words and your actions.
We may actively try to be or do something that’s important to us, without getting the kind of response we hope for. Even though we think actions speak louder than words, those actions aren’t always easy to interpret. When you use a hashtag next to an action, you give other people the meta-data to understand what you are doing.
- Why do you keep tweeting about getting women on tech panels?
Because you are all about #morevoices.
- What are these ten quotes about honesty?
You are reminding yourself (and us) that you’re working to be your #trueself.
- Why have you just sent a #ThursdayTxs to that follower?
Because you care about being @thoughtful, and you are showing this in your action.
In your relationships with others, being a hashtag makes your actions easier to interpret. You are more effective (especially with people who don’t know you well), because people know how to see you. You are more trustworthy, because people can see what you do and what you mean, and they know they can count on you for this.
Even more important, being a hashtag helps you enact that quality, that idea, more often. And the more often you enact it, the more it becomes a part of you. The more you “be” it, the more you become it.
I had a very busy session online this afternoon between a school play and a conference call, where for forty minutes or so I was tweeting and emailing four different tweeple about three different projects. With each interaction, I was _having_ “it”: “the experience of having linked/pinged/interacted digitally with ____, so that I now have an energy surge of purpose and support”.
But even better I was _being_ “it” — I was giving it back. I was intentionally responding to my colleagues in a way that sent “the energy of purpose and support” out to them and right back to me. And it was great.
And it was “me” — doing what’s important to me.
Now, if only I could find a hashtag for that.