Twitter’s REAL Hashtag Pioneers

twitter-hashtag

If you’re the kind of person who believes everything written on Wikipedia (and even TV/radio organisations seem to regard Wiki as fact these days), there’s no point in you reading this.

But if you believe that real research holds more weight than mere “citation”, here’s yet another Twirpz first that blows accepted Internet history into touch. Who were the first people to use hashtags on Twitter? Let’s take a giant leap closer to the truth…

If, like mine, your interests are geeky to the point where a week of trainspotting at Clapham Junction seems decidedly softcore, you may have surfed the search engines for info on who first used Twitter hashtags. You’ll doubtless have encountered a range of articles purporting to document the definitive answer. But if you got the same results as I did, the claims you saw will have been false.

The trouble with the Internet is that once one influential source makes a claim, a raft of other publishers blindly and lazily regurgitate the info. If the initial claim is untrue, the Internet ends up spreading a myth. And because Wikipedia is obsessed with citation, the most trusted info resource on the Web often ends up accepting assertions from influential sources who are just plain wrong. That’s what’s happened as regards the birth of Twitter hashtags.

THE REAL PIONEERS

I’m not going to claim I’ve found the earliest hashtag on Twitter, because the truth is I can’t be sure that there are no earlier precedents. What I do know, is that the instance I’m about to reveal came nearly three months before the #barcamp hashtag that most sources cite as the pioneering use. This tweet was posted on 1st May 2007 by Mica Corlis (@pink_rag_doll), and it clearly contains two separate hashtagged keywords: #summer, and #fish.

The tweet, and the user, are pretty obscure, and that’s another problem with the Internet. Those who have higher online profiles, or are proactive communicators, very frequently get credited with originating things they didn’t really originate. But if you search Twitter rather than simply accepting the assertion of a high profile article, you’ll see that numerous other hashtags were in use during May 2007, and right through to the late August period when the idea was previously said to have been introduced.

THE SPANISH HASHTAGGERS OF SPRING 2007

Notably, most of the earliest Twitter hashtaggers I’ve found (and certainly those using hashtags regularly) were writing in Spanish. They used a very specific format, with the hashtag located right at the start of the tweet, and followed by a full colon. Here are a couple of examples…

Translation: #Music: New Recoil album on 9th July. For now I’ll settle for hearing the “Unsound Methods”

Translation: #Life: I’ve lost 2kg since Monday 30th April, and I have enough motivation to maintain my not-so-demanding diet

Other than the stricter format, this is classic tag use. There’s no way this can be exempted from the history of Twitter hashtagging or dismissed as some sort of incidental blip. It’s a solid period during which people regularly used hashtags, as hashtags, and it pre-dates the supposedly pioneering examples cited in the well-known online articles – including Wikipedia.

Interestingly, the categories of keyword remain very broad. #Music, #Life, #Summer… The intention of the early hashtag users was clearly to be found by the very widest range of fellow tweeps.

FALSE POSITIVES

Whilst ‘hashtagged’ keywords can be found in tweets posted prior to May 2007, the only ones I’ve managed to unearth have been false positives. Here’s a really interesting example, which at a glance raised my hopes. I thought I’d found an April 2007 #news hashtag until I looked at the rest of the content and realised it’s actually a CSS (web design code) ID formatting block, pasted into a tweet…

Looks like Samantha Warren was working on a three-column design layout at the time. But that’s not a real hashtag, so it doesn’t count. And even if it did count, there are even earlier instances of hash-prefixed computer code appearing in tweets…

And earlier still, hash symbols were used to bleep out swearwords…

Before that, heading right back into 2006, we predictably find the hash symbol in use as an abbreviation of “Number 1”. This is the earliest appearance of the hash symbol I had the patience to locate…

At that time in September 2006, there were fewer than 30,000 tweets on Twitter.

CHALLENGE

I suspect that somewhere in the depths of early spring 2007, there could be a slightly earlier genuine hashtag than Mica Corlis’s fascinating double usage. Hashtagging looks to have started quite abruptly at the very beginning of May that year, and this would seem a little odd unless people were prompted to use the protocol by an influential figure. We know that tweets were able to accept the hash symbol right back in 2006, so there was nothing to stop anyone creating hashtags before 1st May ’07.

For now, Mica Corlis stands as the earliest user of real Twitter hashtags I can find. But don’t accept my findings as the last word. Keep searching. That’s what the Internet is all about.

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