How the #hashtag came to be the internet’s best filing system

The hashtag turned 10 yesterday.

LOL. It’s the funniest thing. Do you remember a time when the # was just an alternative for currencies?

Well, it was not a thing until 10 years ago, apparently. And lucky kids who do not know whatever confusion we must have lived in before this sweet darling came to save the world.

How did it really happen right?

So on August 23rd 2007, Chris Messina, then a product designer at Google, posted a suggestion via his Twitter handle asking how felt “about using the # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]” and it literally took life from then.

Today, not only does Chris Messina’s profile on Twitter sport a proud hashtag sign before his name, the world has also been saved so much stress just by his innovative thinking.

From live shows turned “live tweets” to life-changing activism, the hashtag has managed to make our lives much less different – in a good way. Who’d have thought that such a simple sign has often times being the difference between life and death for countless individuals (Remember #SaveMayowa?).

And it’s not just the huge life-affirming moments when the hashtag rallied round a whole country/world (#Rio2016, #ElectionNight, #OccupyNigeria, #IceBucketChallenge), it’s also the tiny moments when by simply knowing the right hashtag to search for has helped us meet one deadline after the other or simply dissolved man-made borders for so many of us.

To think the creator gifted it to the world for free

Such a huge game-changer and you’d think the creator must be living of a life-time of wealth he got from his innovation. But like the internet itself, the hashtag was a gift to the world.

Sure, Chris Messina could have patented the concept and become really wealthy off of it by now but according to him, doing that would have “likely inhibited their adoption, which was the antithesis of what I was hoping for”.

Here’s how he put it:

  1. claiming a government-granted monopoly on the use of hashtags would have likely inhibited their adoption, which was the antithesis of what I was hoping for, which was broad-based adoption and support — across networks and mediums.
  2. I had no interest in making money (directly) off hashtags. They are born of the Internet, and should be owned by no one. The value and satisfaction I derive from seeing my funny little hack used as widely as it is today is valuable enough for me to be relieved that I had the foresight not to try to lock down this stupidly simple but effective idea.

Happy 10th birthday, hashtag! Thank you Chris Messina!



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