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Is the hashtag the best invention since the worldwideweb?

Hashtag group of peopleChris Messina is not a name that’s known by as many people as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the Worldwideweb in 1989. (He spelled it as one word then.)

Chris Messina didn’t invent the hashtag concept, but he did invent the idea of turning hashtags into links on Twitter as a way of grouping content together.

In 2007, the former Google designer proposed, on Twitter, the idea of hotlinking hashtags in this famous tweet.

First hashtag tweet

He later told the Wall Street Journal that Twitter initially rejected the idea with the comment, “These things are for nerds.”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee had no hold ups while he was creating his invention. Within a few months he developed the hypertext transfer protocol (http) and the first browser, which was also a web editor.

Twitter didn’t adopt the idea until July 2009. Back in 2007, Messina had explained in a blog post how hashtags would be useful. “I’m more interested in simply having a better eavesdropping experience on Twitter,” he wrote.

How hashtags opened up social media to the world

Hashtags have proven to be not only useful for eavesdropping, but they have also helped users reach a wider audience based on interests. Visibility on Twitter depended, previously, on influence. If people followed you, they could see your posts, or if your followers re-tweeted your posts, you would be seen by their followers.

The beauty of the hashtag is how it widens your reach. They became so popular so quickly that Facebook introduced clickable hashtags in June 2013.  Google Plus followed in September of the same year.

Hashtags have been a core function of Instagram since 2011 and hashtags are fundamental features of social media tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Sprout Social and Conversocial.

Is there a better web invention since the WWW than the hashtag?

The web has shaped our lives over the past 25 years. You could argue that social media is the next best invention after the web, but I argue that social media is simply functionality built into the web.

The hashtag has changed our ability to communicate with a wide audience, and it enables us to find information around a theme, whether it’s niche business information or something general, like a news trend.

Best thing of all, Chris Messina did not choose to patent his idea. Assuming a patent would have been granted, he could have licensed it to Twitter or any other social brand.

On Quora, he explained his reason: “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.”

Useful hashtag tools

History of hashtags infographic

This infographic by Offerpop shows the timeline of the adoption of hashtags.

Hashtag history infographic

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