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Making hashtags happen
Hey, Twitter users, here's a question for you: When's the last time you used a hashtag in a tweet? And, beyond that: Was it a "real" hashtag (in other words, something well recognized in Lawrence or even further afield, like #ksstorms or #kubball), or just a vaguely related string of characters for the sake of being funny or sarcastic (#icantbelieveiatethewholething)? Hashtags have been around almost as long as Twitter itself - Chris Messina first suggested the syntax in August 2007 - but initially weren't picked up by Twitter's establishment, who preferred to let machine language intelligence sort out trending topics. Today, Twitter acknowledges a combination of both; Twitter's Advanced Search page has a field for searching by hashtag, but their own trending topics list relies on some pretty complicated math. (Still, it overlaps. Have a look at top Twitter topics and you'll usually find that about half of them are hashtagged.)
Hashtags serve a variety of purposes, from bringing people in nearby locations together around a pertinent topic (the weather, the game, the agenda at a conference) to introducing people in far-flung corners of the world to each other via shared interest (Justin Bieber, anyone?) or just something silly and random. Ever taken part in one of those hashtag games, like #hospitalsongs or #vegcelebs?
If you're at a big local event like, say, last weekend's Earth Day parade and party in South Park, a hashtag can add a whole new dimension to the in-person experience. See someone with a party favor and don't know what booth they got it from? Ask Twitter and you'll probably get some crowdsourced help. It's kind of a circular affair, though; if you don't know the hashtag, you're stuck waiting for a friend to bring it up in a relevant tweet - or you just make one up yourself and pass the word along to your own followers, meaning it's easy to get multiple popular hashtags on the same event, even on a level as local as Lawrence. (Plus, let's face it: "Lawrence" takes up a lot of characters. So how do you abbreviate it - "Law" or "Lwc" or "LFK" or "Larry" ... or what?)
We've made an effort to help promote "official" hashtags for Lawrence events and topics on @LJWorld, @KUsports and our other house Twitter accounts (and we also list commonly-used recurring hashtags on our social media directory page), but we understand that folks aren't always glued to our tweets to the point of hearing the memo. Plus, everyone's forgetful - admittedly, over the six hours or so I hung out at the Earth Day festivities over the weekend, I only remembered to hashtag about half my own tweets with #LawEarthDay.
So what do you think? How often do you use Twitter hashtags to aggregate information about local happenings? What do you think the best way is to get the word out about which hashtags to use? Let us know in the comments.