By Godstime Aisosa Osague

March 29, 2021

The Hash and the Tag

One of the earliest known regular users of the hash symbol as it is popularly called today was Sir Isaac Newton

Godstime Aisosa Osague

Digital Content Creator

You probably have been using hashtags for quite sometime now and you didn’t have to read any special manual to understand how they are used because, they are kind of straightforward and easy to understand. Or, you have seen people use hashtags a lot of times, and maybe you have used them a few times too, or never used them at all. Whichever category you belong to, this article will acquaint you with what hashtags truly are, how they came about, and the correct way to use them.


What Are Hashtags?

Among some of the cultural revolutions technology has brought about is the gift of hashtags. Hashtags are so interesting to use that it is often tempting to say they have come to stay, especially due to how they begin and lead trends, how they are used to track specific concepts and tags, and so on. However, it will be hasty conclusion to rule that they have come to stay, even though that may not be far from the truth as they have been around for a long time. Nevertheless, we live in an era of technological dynamism, and the era has clearly given us reasons to conclude that change is constant.


So, why are they called hashtags? Hashtags are made up of two words — a “HASH” (#), which was referred to as the number character or number mark in different instances in the 1800s, the pound sign or numero sign in the early 20th Century, especially in North America, but was first referred to as the hash sign in South African writings of the 1960s, and a “TAG”, which is a label associated with something for easy identification, or from another viewpoint, a unique name associated with something to describe and identify them in a particular way. So, when a tag is prefixed by the hash symbol to describe it uniquely, and to identify it in a particular way, a hashtag is created. In other words, when something, like a word, phrase or sentence is attached to the hash symbol for some sort of special description and identification — e.g. #EndSARS — that is a hashtag.


From the dictionary point of view, the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a hashtag as “a word or phrase preceded by the symbol # that classifies or categorizes the accompanying text (such as a tweet)”, and the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines it as “a word or phrase with the symbol ‘#’ in front of it, used on social media websites and apps so that you can search for all messages with the same subject”. From those viewpoints, a hashtag can be said to be a label that classifies a word or phrase in the manner described, so that similar subjects can be located easily on the Internet when searched for with a particular hashtag. So, this makes a hashtag take a precise function of a metadata which is the quality of easy search.


Brief History of the Hashtag

The first use of a hashtag could be traced to ancient Rome where the abbreviation “lb”, denoting libra pondo was used to mark the measurement for pound by weight. As time passed, in order to avoid the confusions of mistaking the lowercase letter “l” in libra for the figure “1”, a little horizontal line was added to the top part of the letter for clarity and a new symbol (℔) was created.


One of the earliest known regular users of the hash symbol as it is popularly called today was Sir Isaac Newton, whose 17th Century writings showed his broad usage of the symbol, hence, the popularity of the symbol grew, and consequently, it was added to the printing machine which further popularized its use in writing. Sir Isaac Newton’s use and style of the symbol could be said to be the beginning of the evolution of the symbol to what we know it as today, as the popularity of the symbol in writing created a need for further clarity, and instead of the new symbol (℔) that was formed as a way of differentiating the lowercase letter “l” in libra from the figure “1”, double strikethroughs were introduced, and the hash sign (#) as we know it today was born.


Isaac Newton's style of the pound sign, suggesting the evolution from

Isaac Newton’s style of the pound sign, suggesting the evolution from “℔” toward “#”
Source: Libra pondo abbreviation newton.jpg

Another party that played a significant role in the popularity of the hash sign was the Bell Laboratories during the production of their touch tone telephones with dial buttons. Upon arranging the dial buttons on a grid pattern, they had two empty spaces left beside 0 (zero), and the company had its researchers run a search on which symbols could occupy the empty spots, and the asterisk (*), also commonly called star in some parts of the world, and hash (#) symbols found their way into the telephone, and remained afterwards to this day. Subsequently, the hash symbol symbol was officially called an octothorpe, which was derived from the eight points of the lines, but there is no generally accepted origin for the name, however, octo signifies eight.


Modern History

The use of hashtags in information technology (IT) is not new to the world as the hash symbol was used in the 1970s to highlight specific pieces of text, as well as special keywords in the C programming language, respectively. In the 1980s also, the hash sign was used similar to the way it is used on social media today to label groups, channels and topics across the IRC (Internet Relay Chat) network. However, in 2007, there was a dramatic surge in the use and popularity of hashtags as a Twitter user by the name, Chris Messina showed the first modern-day use of a hashtag in their 2007 August 23rd tweet:


how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?


Though, the use of hashtags in the manner Messina proposed was not adopted immediately by Twitter, however, other Twitter users were inspired to use hashtags in that manner to categorize content of interest, and during the 2007 San Diego forest fires, and the 2009/2010 Iranian elections protests, hashtags gained popularity beyond boundaries, and on the 2nd of July 2009, Twitter started hyperlinking all hashtags in users’ tweets to their search results, and in 2010, they introduced the Trending Topics feature which displayed hashtags from tweets. Since that time, I’m sure we know the rest of the story — hashtags found their way into other popular social media sites, and into the dictionary as well.


Importance / Purpose of Hashtags

Hashtags have become so amazingly important for describing, identifying, and retrieving content of some sort across the Internet, especially in a world where information explodes by the second. They help us find our way easily through the clusters and congestion of information to relevant content. They have become an effective search tool for content published and tagged accordingly on the Internet, enhancing the search process. With hashtags, we can now reach wider audiences in a twinkling of an eye and with almost no physical and mental effort, and such audiences can access our content easily and with almost no accessibility restrictions.


Among other sterling benefits of hashtags, they bring about coordination with wide usage of hashtags, as lots of information on a variety of topics or disciplines can be identified and retrieved when the content creators correlate their content using industry related / similar hashtags, for instance, #NigerianJollof, #blueskyphotos, #COVID19. Information seekers are able to find content related to these hashtags by searching with the same hashtag, thus, saving them the stress of going through the clusters of related items in a traditional search system.


Hashtag Guidelines

It is common these days to see people prefix any word, phrase, or sentence with the hash symbol and use same in any context as a hashtag. Though, that actually is a hashtag, however, there are hashtag best practices that all hashtag users and potential users should know about and I’ll share them with you.


When using a hashtag on any social media platform or on the internet in general,

  • it is best for your page or account to be public and not private, especially if you aim to reach a wide range of audience or create an awareness with your hashtag;
  • it is best to do a little research into the area you want to create a content about to see how hashtags in that area are being used;
  • it is necessary that in using a hashtag, you make them short, direct and related to your business or whatever content you are creating;
  • it is important to know that hashtags are not necessary when you are replying to a post or simply dropping a comment;
  • it is best to not use too many hashtags, however, that could be okay if you run a blog or a very busy platform that engages traffic, otherwise, doing so would make your content look spammy;
  • it is very necessary that you use hashtags that are not very popular but have high number of users, when you’re trying to create noticeable access points. Inasmuch as it is good to use popular hashtags, it is also useless when your content gets lost in the middle of it all because, the number of persons using the same hashtag runs into millions, or a high hundreds of thousands;
  • it is necessary that you engage people who respond to your content if your hashtag is about business or a service, as they could be potential customers;
  • it is not right to punctuate hashtags, just go straight to the point as in, #food #makeup #morning, etc., and not #food,makeup,morning. This would not work for you.


Tracking Hashtags

Tracking hashtags has to do with observing and calculating metrics like how they are used, when they are used, where they are used, and who uses them.


There are several hashtag tracking tools out there that can help you track your hashtag and other people’s, as well as analyse their impact. You could try some free ones out by conducting a simple Internet search using key phrases like “free hashtag tracking tools“. You may also see some free video tutorials online on hashtags for visual understanding.


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