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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Let's All Start Using Twitter Hashtags Properly

The more useful Twitter becomes, the more important it is not to impede the service’s greatest strength: scanability.

  • August 9, 2011

Update: Chris Messina, inventor of the hashtag, weighs in on this debate. Spoiler: he agrees with me.

There are things in this world about which intelligent people are allowed to politely disagree, and then there is the improper use of Twitter hashtags.

The scannability of Twitter is challenging enough enough when your stream is populated by business like this:

“RT @monkeybrains @gregorianmonkface Thx for pointing this out –> RT @smarmalade Craziness in Ibizan goat markets right now http://t.co/48SuOhx

But it’s even #worse when #tweets are #populated #with #hash #tags mid-sentence.

Let’s be real: it’s enough of a problem that hashtags themselves have are used sarcastically as often as they’re used in earnest. Even that’s going too far for some of you.

Why, then, do some continue to insist on populating their tweets with them? At a meeting, or when rounding up tweets on a specific happening, there are plenty of good reasons to use a hashtag at the end of a tweet. They’re a built-in search when accessing Twitter via a mobile, they can disambiguate conversations about homonyms or common terms, and they’re a way to limit your Twitter searches to just those who use them, though there’s no evidence they’re a savvier bunch than everyone who doesn’t.

But using hashtags mid-sentence? That’s primarily a historical artifact of how hashtags were once used – back when they were new and shiny and marketers realized that people might be searching for them.

Continuing to use them in this way is fundamentally selfish. In the name of surfacing a tweet on a handful of searches – or the Tweetdeck panels of a few Twitter power users – writers are willing to sacrifice exactly what makes Twitter so valuable: scanability. If a hashtag can’t be fit into the postscript of a Tweet, it’s got to be left out – for the same reasons we hold back from tweeting too often, or too self-indulgently. At the end of the day, if you can’t manage it, Twitter’s still got that unfollow button – by why force your readers to go for the nuclear option?

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