One of the things that amazes me about social media is how it can evolve in unexpected ways.
Online information sharing sparks ideas for new ways to ‘do it better’ and often platform designers themselves are surprised by what occurs (at least, I imagine they’re surprised. I hope they’re surprised).
The Twitter hashtag movement undoubtedly falls into this category. What I want to focus on, in this post, is the growing movement to register hashtags. (If you need a definition of hashtags first, see this blog post from my friend Lee Hopkins).
While it seems that many Twitter uses are adept at using hashtags and understand how useful they are, few actually register a hashtag or know that this option exists.
Over recent years, as hashtags have grown in use, online services have emerged which allow you to ‘register’ a hashtag and upload a definition. These include What The Hashtag, Twubs and Hashtag.Org. These handy services then provide user stats on the hashtags – all for free, in the tradition of social media. [Interesting note: What The Hashtag are selling the option to become a ‘featured hashtag‘ on the site].
I like What The Hashtag’s explanation for why you might want to register a hashtag:
“The idea for WTH?! was sparked by the fact that there was not one central place online where you could learn about what the hell different hashtags meant. There are plenty of ways to track them, but WTH?! exists to educate people about what the hashtags stand for and where users can find more information about them”.
Many Twitter users are frustrated when trying to find out the definition of a hashtag, when they aren’t blatantly obvious (such as hashtags for conference acronyms for example). When you’re not sure what a hashtag means, you can tweet the question, sure – but sometimes it takes a while for a response. So sites like WTH are handy.
The other thing I Iike about the WTH explanation is it doesn’t imply that anyone can ‘own’ a hashtag for some exclusive purpose – it’s about finding out what popular hashtags mean. Other sites are moving into different territory, reminiscent of trade marking.
“It minimizes the likelihood of using a hashtag that is already in use by another organization or event. Helps prevent other events or organizations from using your hashtag. Promoters of Twubs.com can effectively “own” their conversation, where appropriate. For example, Cisco should probably have a right to control content being displayed at Twubs.com that is related to #Cisco; whereas, the public should own other content like #wine or #CMS, etc..so, some Twubs that should be the “public’s domain will remain as such; but, organizations that own trademarks will be able to manage their branded hashtag appropriately.”
This is clearly taking hashtags a step further, suggesting some sort of ownership of a hashtag. Which is very tricky to claim. (Though the explanation does say ‘content being displayed at Twubs.com).
Unlike trademarks or domain name registrations, there is no official body governing ownership of hashtags. And I don’t think there should be. Today’s #Cisco for the electronics giant could be tomorrow’s newest-Mexican-sounding-band or a revival of the Cisco kid.
For my part, I like to register a hashtag that I have some investment in, like #socadl and #workwed. It doesn’t mean anything in a court of law (yet) but it sure is nice to tell the world what your hashtag means and demonstrate that somebody cares about it. (Hear that, hashtag spammers? There’s a topic for a future blog …)