The Value of Hashtags

You’ve seen them and you’ve probably used them.  On Twitter, they are usually cryptic codes that appear in messages following the # sign.  Hashtags allow you to follow a conversation stream.  You just search for that hashtag and watch the results come in!  The value is that you are not limitd to messages from just folks that you follow.  You get the messages that anyone on the system has sent using that hashtag.

Often, you’ll see them used when you’re at a conference and it’s a method for people to share their learning with others.  Because it’s coming from Twitter, there’s little delay and they’re posted as they happen.  It’s like a continuous stream of collective thought as those involved dig in.

Last night featured the biggest sporting event in Canada.  The Grey Cup featured a rematch of the Montreal Alouettes and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.  If you weren’t fortunate enough to go to Edmonton, you might go to a local meeting place to watch the game.  There, you can follow the game with friends or just plain strangers.  Or, like me, you could settle in the rec room and enjoy the game there.  It would be nice to enjoy that with family but they all bailed on me – I guess not everyone enjoys football.  That I don’t understand.

So, I settled in and have decided to take a look at online resources.  Last year, a few friends and I had chatted back and forth during the game and that was fun.  But, this year, I was immediately attracted to the hashtag #98GC.  It was the official hashtag of the game.  Interestingly, you don’t care who or how it was made official, it was just the one that people were using.  So, I opened a search column on my Seesmic Desktop to see what was happening.

What happened next really took me by surprise.

I’ve been in situations where I’ve used hashtags before but had experienced nothing like this.  With the Twitter plug-in, the messages came in as they happened.  And happen they did.  Talk about your information overload.  There was not a second that passed without multiple messages being displayed.  Even if I could devote my attention to the stream, I couldn’t have done it justice.  But, watching the game at the same time?  Wow.

What I did do is have the monitor strategically placed to the side and used it as my own personal replay server.  For every great play, there was a Montreal take to it and a Saskatchewan take.  Perhaps it was sheer volume or perhaps it was just that Canadians are just nice people but with all of this, there was no flaming or personal attacks.  It was just citizen journalism and opinion at its best.  It didn’t take a break even during the half-time show which featured Bachman and Turner from BTO fame.  Love them or hate them, everyone had an opinion.  The whole concept raised the bar immensely.

So high was the bar raised that the topics were “trending” in Canada and Worldwide.  Trending means that there’s so much volume that it’s among the most popular topics being discussed.  At the end of the game, I took this capture of just what was trending.

Ignore the unread messages – I wasn’t up to date with my iPod.  But, look at what was trending.  Half of the topics dealt with the Grey Cup.  I just found it amazing that whole country could gather around and comment on a single sporting event.

You will notice that it wasn’t all sports related.  In the middle of the game, the National Post had sent a message that GlobalTV had reported the passing of Leslie Nielsen.  It seems quite appropriate that this news was trending as well.

If there is any doubt of the value of immediate communication, share the concept of hashtags and trends with those who need convincing.

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