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Back in January 2009 I started getting a lot of hashtags in my Twitter feed, this is an article about that phenomenon, how you can use hashtags and what's up with all these retweets. I wrote this article in the January issue 2009 of Urban Lifestyle Report - New Media.

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  1. 1. 25 Hashtags (#) & retweetS (RT) MORE THAN JUST FANCY WORDS? LINDA PIERRE Location: Stockholm, Sweden Blog: http://lindapierre.tumblr.com/ Twitter is the micro-blogging tool I use the most out of the ones available right now. It may not be the best one if you look at functions but for me it’s the obvious choice, not only because it has most users but also because of the climate within. At this party everyone is invited and no one (well except for spammers) are left out in the cold. It’s also a fascinating environment to walk around in. People from all over the world are constantly telling each other what they read, watch, like and dislike. There are so many different ways to use Twitter (and other everybody was saying at, or about, that particular event. Since micro-blogging tools for that matter) that it would definitely Twitter isn’t famous for its structure that made sense. This was take up all the space in this report if I would let it. There are tons a way to make it easier to gather information and to see what a of applications that let you use the service in a number of ways. large amount of people were saying about a particular subject. This time though I have chosen to put the magnifying glass on two different ways of using Twitter, namely “hashtags” and The past few months the use of hashtags have grown to be much “retweets.” more than just a way to structure and/or gather information. We saw how the Twitter crowd used it at tragical events such Recently I discovered a flow, or should I say “stream”, of people as the one in Mumbai back in November for instance by using on Twitter using hashtags (#) in front of a word or, more often, an #mumbai when tweeting. The voices from within the disaster abbreviation. At first it seemed like it was mostly used related to were being heard through the megaphone of Twitter. different conferences and other events. A way to organise what
  2. 2. 26 News about what was going on in and around the area Not more than a few weeks ago, while there were still of Mumbai spread faster than traditional media ever a few slices of the Christmas ham left, many Swedes could catch up with. What I think is most interesting started to look for a new puppy to cuddle with in the about the use of hashtags in this way is that it’s the big world wide web. Before Christmas the choice had people, not the media, who create the news. When been the Finnish micro-blogging service Jaiku and this becomes a tool in every mans mobile phone we those of us in Sweden that preferred Twitter weren’t have a new journalist in every corner of the world, that many. Overall we were still talking about a fairly telling and showing the rest of the population what small amount of people using both these services, is going on in real time. until something happened a couple of weeks ago. All of a sudden Swedish mainstream media opened Using hashtags as a way to collaborate on a story up their eyes to this treasure of information and was exactly what these journalists did to gather registered accounts on Twitter. At the same time information about the flood in southern Washington Swedish politicians also joined and the beginning of a few weeks ago. Instead of working in their own using micro-blogging as a tool might have taken an chambers separated from each other, they chose important step towards going mainstream almost to use the hashtag #waflood. This way they could over night here in Sweden. The use of hashtags aggregate both what they as different newspapers while tweeting didn’t come far behind. Soon there were tweeting about, and what other people in the were hashtags such as #svpt (Swedes on Twitter) area could update them and the rest of the world in and #svbloggen which aggregates different types real time. One of the journalists took it a bit further of Swedish blog posts. Two Swedes took the by creating a widget to put on his website, which all opportunity to put together a site that made it even of the others also did after a while. This way their easier for you to follow everything being tagged readers could easy follow the news without having with #svpt. Hans Kullin, a Swedish blogger and PR to go elsewhere than to their favourite news site. consultant, put together a widget that aggregates Collaborative journalism became a fact. The scoop all tweets including the hashtag #svpt. By putting was no longer the main goal but to get as much this widget on your blog, you and everybody else and accurate information as possible. Then it was using that particular tag can reach out to people not up to the readers to choose where they wanted to yet using Twitter. consume the whole story.
  3. 3. 27 I’m not sure I think it’s such a good idea to put such a broad tag like 10 updates) this account has attracted over 25 000 followers. They are #svpt next to everything you tweet about though. For me the purpose also the ones who created the social network I mentioned earlier called of that tag was simply to show others that you exist and I don’t think hashtags.org. That number is probably that high because if you follow you should do that in every message you put out there. The more people this account, it will automatically follow you back and can then index are using any hashtag in the wrong way the more it’s destroying its your hashtags into their statistics at hashtags.org. value and going against its purpose. At least that’s what I think. Not only about news Hopefully though this will contribute to make micro-blogs more mainstream and that is something I definitely encourage. If you are There are other ways to use hashtags than just categorising news, Swedish and want to see which hashtags that are most active at the more relaxed and fun ways. One of those is when hashtags are being moment, check out this page. If you prefer keeping a wider perspective to integrated with Google Maps to for instance find fellow tweeters. Say what conversations to take part in within the Twittersphere, hashtags. you are at the airport waiting for boarding, just tweet #boarding and org is the site for you. There’s even a twitter account that is all about your tweet will appear at this Twitter Google maps mashup called hashtags simply called @hashtags. In just a month (and not more than Boarding. The idea behind the application is to find fellow stranded
  4. 4. 28 travellers, but to do so you must add the three letter airport code after the hashtag or no one will be able to find you and vice versa. Another way people use hashtags are to see what other people’s year resolutions are by tagging them with #resolutions. You can also find new interesting Twitter users to follow by looking up the hashtag #followfriday. Its purpose is to tip other fellow tweeters about that certain somebody you are following and think should get more attention and more followers. The list of ways to use hashtags could go on but if we stop here and think for a while. Is this fairly new way of trying to structure messages on different micro-blogging services only a good thing? Absolutely not. Almost nothing comes in just one flavour. There’s of course both good tastes and more bitter ones. An over usage of hashtags not only takes space away from those poor 140 signs you have to express yourself with, but also makes it less spontaneous and more database alike. How often you should use hashtags (if at all) and how many at the same time is of course totally up to you. Even though I think there are great potential to make good things out of this new phenomena you should think before you automatically put a hashtag next to your message. Ask yourself is this really something that would add value to that certain conversation or topic? The enormous amount of attention and the massive growth in usage of hashtags tells me though that this is here to stay, well at least for a while until something better comes along.
  5. 5. Picture: bitterlysweet 29 What about Retweets? Well I guess this trend suffers from the same syndrome as the usage of hashtags. It’s becoming more and more common, which means people might be clicking on that “retweet-button” a bit too much. What is a retweet you might wonder? Think about the way we use forwarding to pass on an email to others you think might be interested as well. This is kind of the same thing but with Twitter messages instead and it’s open for every one to see. If you choose to retweet somebody’s message everybody that follows you are the receivers you could say. It’s like giving props to a message you want to help spread. Sometimes it could be a good thing. You easily see what a lot of people find important right now. But mostly I think it’s a way to clap on each others shoulders (and we all need that ones and a while) and to suck up to someone you follow. I’m not saying I haven’t done this myself but it’s important I think not only to pass along what others say but to contribute with your own opinions. As long as you do that a retweet now and then is a good thing, at least in my opinion. The worst symptom due to too many retweets is that it can send the Twittersphere into a loop, just going round and round. Like a giant eco chamber, and that is something we do not want right? We have already seen it happen in the blogosphere, please do not make the world of micro-blogs another puddle in which only a few pieces of information makes it to the surface! Most important to remember is that you can use hashtags for a good cause as well, and not only to be a part of a certain group of people. If more people would gather up and use hashtags and retweets If you want to dig deaper into the world of hashtags and retweets: for new ideas and solutions within different areas this Twitter Fan Wiki might actually make a difference. Jim Carlberg created the hashtag #peace so that you could say that you “Twitter Hashtags – open source grouping for peace”, a good start but what if that could evolve and actually mean that people around the globe would join in Why I unfollow people who use hashtags on Twitter and do something concrete instead of just talking about it. The microblogging phenomenon Retweet Think about that all you tweeters out there!