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March 6, 2009

On Twitter, exploring the world of the #

Posted: 11:32 AM ET

Twitter users: I'll be the first to admit that all of the "#" signs on the social media site confuse the heck out of me. You may have noticed them. They often appear at the end of user updates. Like in this example from this morning:

gloeckler: looking for a coder. very small project. anybody interested? #job

A slew of new hashtags are popping up on Twitter, including #notseenslumdog, shown here.

Looks confusing, huh? Thank goodness Amy Gahran of has explained this phenomenon for us in a simple way. I'm going to follow her lead and do my best here.

That blip at the end of my example - "#job" - is called a hashtag, and it's one of the best ways yet to categorize posts on Twitter. So, if you were looking for a job, or wanted news about jobs, you could search for the "#job" hashtag and come up with what people all over the world are saying on the topic.

Another cool example is #sxsw, which marks posts about the upcoming South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas. If you check out that thread now, people are talking about the difficulties of booking hotel rooms and what their plans are for the shows. This could be helpful for an out-of-towner who wants to get a local feel for what's going on.

As Gahran notes, hashtags are a way to make your posts visible to people who don't already follow your updates on the site. In the event of breaking news, journalists also use them to get a feel for what's happening.

But, there's always a hitch. Gahran writes:

The catch is that hashtags are often cryptic — usually because they work best when they’re as brief as possible. So you might stumble across an interesting-sounding tweet containing a hashtag like #wci, #plurk, or #tpb and wonder about its context. Although you can follow a hashtag easily with tools like Twitter Search,, Tweetdeck, or Twitterfall (which Paul Bradshaw recommended yesterday in Tidbits), those tools don’t easily tell you what a given hashtag means.
Enter a new world of search sites and dictionaries to make sense of the categories. A few of those Gahran recommends are WTHashtag, Hashtag Reference and
Not everyone is thrilled with the trend, as Dave Coustan writes on his blog, Extraface:

Explained in less than 140 characters: What’s #irritating about #this sentence?

It kind of looks like a representation of someone with food in their mouth while they talk.

Have fun hashing all that out. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

- John D. Sutter,

Filed under: social-networking sites • technology

Share this on:
Noah   March 6th, 2009 1:49 pm ET is another excellent site for tracking hashtags and anything on Twitter, live.

Franko   March 7th, 2009 2:51 pm ET

░Various character sets, shorthands, keep on evolving
░To get in front of a phone book - Call yourself Aaaaaaaaaron
░What is befor a ? and the before that ? and that ?

Amy Gahran   March 9th, 2009 1:29 am ET

Hi, John. Glad my hashtag article was helpful to you. By the way, just today I published a related article - a very basic tutorial on how to follow hashtags on Twitter:


– Amy Gahran

Lawton Apartments   March 11th, 2009 10:20 am ET

i don't think that twitter will remain popular.

Franko   March 19th, 2009 2:13 pm ET

Twitter @ 140 Characters - a Brittney, Barack entertainment channel
Soon to mission creep, or be taken over, incorporeted into the iCloud

Joo Kwang   September 10th, 2010 1:46 pm ET

Thank you for the article and explanation. I wonder if what's the guideline for naming hashtags? For example, someone may write #politicalnews while another may use #polnews. Even though both are on the same topic, they can't be grouped together?

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