My love affair with hashtags (#itscomplicated)

I love hashtags. How did I ever live without them? They have become part of my internet language, a totally essential part of the way I communicate with people on social media.

But strangely, on the platform where the hashtag was born I find it a lot harder to use it.

I’m spoiled. I spend most of my online life on Google+, where we have no character limit, so we can ramble for as long as we like, and we can scatter as many hashtags as we like on our posts.

This can be useful for indexing purposes – a bit like tags on a blog post, I can include hashtags to help people find my post if they’re interested in a particular subject, so even if they don’t follow me they can see my post about #NorthPoleLemmings or #BaconFreeRecipes or #GingerCatPics. (not that I post about these subjects really, I hasten to add just in case anyone is thinking of following me on G+ just for that…)

But that sane and practical usage of hashtags is not the reason why I love them so much. As Gretchen McCulloch points out in her recent Mental Floss article, there are two kinds of hashtag usage, and it’s the second kind which gets my undying love – that second kind, the commentary hashtag, is what I meant when I said hashtags have become part of my internet language. And having been introduced to the hashtag on G+, where I can use it so freely, I find it really hard when I tweet and have to be so abstemious because of the character limit. Which feels ironic as Twitter is where the hashtag was born.

Back when this thing was invented (only eight years ago! #amazing) I was very very new to social media and very probably hadn’t even heard of Twitter. But in July 2011 I joined both Twitter and the very new Google+, and it was on G+ that I discovered the joys of using hashtags as a way of adding comments to what you’re saying – it feels like some kind of relative of the parentheses really, and if I knew how to explain the subtle difference I’d probably win some kind of linguistics prize, but all I can say is that somehow, at some deeply intuitive level, it feels different.

(Though I do also have a strong tendency towards parenthesis abuse, so…)

The people who brought the hashtag to G+ must have known it from Twitter (it was the users who introduced it first, before Google actually made it a feature), but for me the hashtag journey has gone in the opposite direction – though I had a Twitter account I wasn’t really actively using it until a few months ago, so I’m gradually learning (or trying to learn) how to adapt my social media habits from G+ to that strange 140-character universe, and finding that no, I can’t just casually add, say, #shortpeopleproblems at the end of a tweet if I’ve said a lot more than “hello”, because there’s just no room for all that. (Especially if I’m tweeting to someone, so their handle takes up space too.) (Not to mention links) (see what I meant about my #parenthesis habit?)

So I guess what I’m saying is: Twitter may be the hashtag’s birthplace, but it’s on G+ that this creature truly thrives. That’s where we can throw hashtag parties just for fun, invent longer and crazier ones – much to the disdain of the hashtag purists, who insist that indexing is the only appropriate hashtag usage and how dare we get playful :)

(to which I tend to respond with serious and mature hashtags, such as #blowingraspberries :P)

Questions? Thoughts? Talk to me - I don't bite :)

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