#HashtagsLive vs #HashtagsAreOver

Why Hashtags Are Still Highly Relevant and Useful

HashtagsLive or HashtagsAreOverI was checking my Google+ feed today and I read something that sparked my nerd rage. Ben Rimalower published a piece on HuffingtonPost.com entitled “Hashtags Are Over” that, though I bear no negative feelings towards the guy, I felt was so unfounded that I knew I wouldn’t be able to achieve any modicum of productivity until I got this retort out.

Rimalower’s claim that hashtags are over is based on some questionable logic, in my professional opinion. Below are some of the the more notable things in his post that I disagree with.

  • Hashtags were a trend.
  • Hashtags were contrived to account for Twitter’s poor search engine and, since their engine is now better, hashtags are deprecated.
  • People posting hashtags on their Facebook timeline is a valid reason to discount their utility.
  • Auto-posting between social networks is another valid reason to discount hashtags’ utility.
  • Only people who are new to Twitter and “anybody trying to make a buck off of this Internet thing” use hashtags.

Yes, I understand that posts like these are meant to be controversial. But that doesn’t give any credibility to the argument. First, I don’t believe Hashtags can be considered a trend unless you consider Twitter, as a whole, to be a trend. Hashtags are an important part of Twitter’s core functionality; always have been and always will be for the people that use them correctly. From the beginning, Twitter was programmed to use hashtags to group pieces of similar content. To reject hashtags is to reject Twitter as a social network.

Rimalower also claims that hashtags were only used to account for Twitter’s unsophisticated internal search engine in the social network’s infancy and, now that Twitter’s internal search is more advanced, hashtags are no longer needed. When’s the last time you used Twitter’s search functionality? It’s terrible. I’d argue that your search results are dictated by 1) exact keyword match, 2) recency, and 3) whether or not there’s a promoted tweet for the keyword you searched for. A Twitter search can pull in all kinds of random crap as long as it’s recent and contains your keyword. Now if you click on, or search for, a hashtag, do you know what you get? A selection of recent Tweets from only the users who have intentionally added a specific hashtag to their content. Even though you can still potentially get a ton of spam there, it’s much more curated. Please let me know if your experience is different, but I find there’s much less noise when using hashtags rather than Twitter search.

Another proposed reason to reject the hashtag is because it shows up on Facebook and isn’t linked (Facebook does not support hashtags). If a user that you are friends with on Facebook is posting updates that include hashtags, it’s either because that was their conscious choice or because they are auto-posting from another social network or social network tool. In either case, don’t blame the hashtag! Blame the users you’ve allowed into your network who either don’t understand the different uses for specific social networks or who are just plain annoying.

Ben also claims that your social networks are all linked whether or not you chose to synchronize them. This is, of course, patently false and requires no further discussion.

Finally, Ben claims that only users new to Twitter and users trying to game the system to make a buck use hashtags these days. Without concrete data on hashtag usage among Twitter users, we won’t ever have an objective answer. However, I can say from my personal and professional experience that I see a growing volume of proper hashtag usage compared to what I saw five or even two years ago. Sure people are trying to make money by abusing hashtags, but what social network isn’t ridiculously abused by misguided affiliate marketers? We all know what happens to those accounts over time: people get sick of it, unfollow/unfriend/decircle them, and they fall off the map.

Regarding the statement that only new Twitter users using hashtags, well, I’ve been Tweeting since August of 2008 (@benrimalower’s been doing it since May 2009, but who’s counting). I use hashtags with greater frequency than I ever did before.

So why do I think hashtags are not over and are still worth using?

  • Hashtags allow you to assign a concise theme to a piece of content.
  • Hashtags allow you to quickly access similar information on Twitter and do it better than Twitter search.
  • A sub-point of the above, hashtags are amazing for events and groups that need a quick reference for relevant tweets.
  • I just plain enjoy #hashtags and I do, in fact, really appreciate the humor in using ridiculous hashtags from time to time.

Rimalower’s post has already set much of the Twittersphere (and Google+ circle-system) on fire. Perhaps this response didn’t need to be written, or maybe it did. Either way, I needed a new post on my blog, so thanks Ben for inspiring me. I feel like sparking a debate may have been the intention, at least partly, so great job! Let me know if you agree with me or Ben in the comments or on Twitter. #HashtagsLive #BestResponseToRimalowerEver