Comedians use #hashtags as part of their standup routines. Companies have made #hashtags part of their marketing campaigns. Content companies use #hashtags for events and of course, Square has made #hashtags literally money!
I was talking to Scott Beale about the ghost of the web past, when Square announced $Cashtags, which is essentially a unique identifier that enables anyone to create a personalized name like $OmMalik and get paid privately and securely using Square Cash. And just like that we were reminiscing of the early days of “tagging.” It has been almost a decade since tags burst on the web went from being a nerdy-web 2.0 curiosity to becoming what Narendra Rocherolle calls “something really useful.”
Tags, if my memory serves right, were first put to work by Joshua Schachter’s Del.icio.us. (According to his Wikipedia page, Joshua, invented tagging, “a system he developed for organizing links suggested to Memepool and publishing some of them on his personal linkblog, Muxway.”) Flickr went ahead and made them prettier. Others followed and suddenly everyone including Jeff Jarvis was tag happy. “Tags are not the cure to acne. The current infatuation with them is a bit faddish. But don’t let that distract you from their value.” wrote Jarvis.
There were tag clouds everywhere, making the blogosphere uglier one blog at a time. Paul Kedrosky unleashed tag art/tag-graphics on his unsuspecting readers, thanks to his unabashed love for Wordle.net. Technorati, a San Francisco-based blog search engine bet its future on tags though at the time I didn’t really like how they were trying to hijack the “tags” for their gain.
In a blog post, The Dark Side of Technorati Tags I pointed out that while I liked the “idea of tags, essentially dynamic categories crossed with keywords” I didn’t like apps like blog editor, ecto sending all tag traffic to Technorati. I remained somewhat suspicious of the whole tagging thing. Still, it led to lot of debate and conversation and it even got everyone to keep talking offline at Tag Tuesdays and at, of course, the Tag Camp.
Tag, in many ways got a big push when Twitter adopted them to categorize tweets by keywords. The idea for using #hashtags came rom @ChrisMessina, an early Twitter power user who first used them on August 23, 2007. “They let you express pretty complex ideas efficiently. They work; they’re easy — and increasingly you can use them just about everywhere online to connect with others who want to talk or share about the same things,” he later noted in an interview.
Since then they have been adopted by Facebook, Instagram and scores of other services. Today walk down a busy Soho street and you will hear crazy usage of #hashtags – “That guy is so ugly hashtag, gross.” No wonder, someone has called it a linguistic tumor. Boston Globe is closer to reality, when it writes that it is “a humble indexing tool became a sophisticated new technique for self-deprecation in type.”
After #hashtag came the $cashtag — stock ticker symbols that are prefixed with a dollar sign — an idea that Twitter later appropriated from @Stocktwits. In January 2015, ICICIBank from India launched a payment service on Twitter using combination of tags and phone numbers.
Today, Square took the idea of using $Cashtags to a whole new level. Hey #hashtag, you have come a #longways!
PS: Done reading? Watch this #hashtag dialog between Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake.
Photos of TagCamp and TagTuesday by Scott Beale of Laughing Squid.