On This Day: The birth of the hashtag

These days, hashtags are known as a simple way to categorise information posted on social media. But their inception was far from simple.

In Twitter’s early days, users were pleading for a way to group their tweets and streamline important information in an easy-to-find category.

Then, on August 23, 2007, social media changed forever thanks to a man named Chris Messina.

Looking down on keyboard and mouse. Source: Getty Images
The hashtag was not intended to be used in the same way it is used today. Source: Getty Images

After gauging responses to his ideas on his blog, Chris Messina began studying tags on image hosting site Flickr and understanding the grouping functionality.

He then began proposing the inception of the "pound" or "hash" symbol as an indicator of these tags.

And although hashtags were initially intended to be used as metadata (to provide additional data about a tweet), a significant event caused them to take on a life of their own.

The first hashtag

In one of his August proposals, Mr. Messina tweeted the first recorded hashtag - #barcamp.

This "test" tag referred to an international network of user-generated technological and web-based conferences.

Chris Messina posted the first ever tweet to use a hashtag on August 23, 2007. Source: Twitter
Chris Messina posted the first ever tweet to use a hashtag on August 23, 2007. Source: Twitter

The first instance of a successful hashtag happened in October of 2007.

During this time, wildfires tore through southern California, destroying homes and burning millions of acres of land.

Mr Messina noticed a friend from BarCamp discussing the fires on Twitter.

He reached out to his friend Nate Ritter and encouraged him to use the hashtag #sandiegowildfire in his Tweets.

Mr Ritter did so, in the first instance of a successful hashtag.

From there, Twitter users began using the hashtag and simultaneously tracking it for updates about the fires.

Not all #smoothsailing

Getting users to accept hashtags wasn’t as cut-and-dry as it may seem, however.

Twitter co-founder Evan Williams reportedly told Mr Messina that hashtags were "too nerdy" to go mainstream.

People hold smart phones as a hashtag symbol hovers over them. Source: Getty Images

Twitter users were also unhappy with their appearance, criticising the lack of spacing and the appearance of the "pound" symbol for looking messy.

As the social network grew, so did the need for hashtags. Twitter came around to the idea, and users began to see the value of these little "messy"tags.

Skipping forward to the current day, there are around 328 million users on Twitter, sharing over 125 million hashtags per day.

Twitter now refers to August 23 as #HashtagDay and this year is commemorating it by launching a special emoji which is available in several languages.

"In the first half of this year, a whopping 12.6 billion Tweets globally included at least one hashtag, proving that people on Twitter are continuing to use the hashtag in creative ways," a Twitter spokesperson said.

Other social networks have now begun utilising the feature, with Twitter continually trying to stay ahead of the game by implementing new features.

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