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A Modest Twitter Idea for Hashtags

cc licensed flickr photo shared by ciaranj75

Sometimes it is more obvious what a twitter hashtag means (if the term is new- see the Ultimate Guide to Twitter Hashtags).

Regular CDB readers (hi Mom!) might recall I’ve snarked a bit on twitter hashtags which truly was meant in jest. As is everything I right here, all to be taken with large crystals of Sodium Chloride.

Hashtags are interesting, because like the @xxxxx notation which now bleeds over into responding to people in comment areas of other sites– were not ever designed by the creators of twitter. They were things done by users and in the case of the @xxxxx notation, it was enough to be rolled into the app.

That alone is interesting– the use of a technology in a way not foreseen by its developers can find its way in by just the popularity of its use.

So hashtags are used for everything from marking tweets at a conference to fans of TV shows to most of the time– who knows what? Try this one:

hashtag-cpld or if you don’t like reading images:

RT @vrungta : RT @FPGA #FPGA Central looking for #Editors & #Authors who would like to write about FPGA & #CPLD Contactme #semiconductor …

So who would know what FPGA and CPLD mean? Some might say it only matters for those in the know, but it seems problematic to me. A private tag is fine for private purposes, but if I am scanning tweets, how do I know if I want to connect with this meme?

This one is a bit easier to figure out as the tweeter has explained it. But what if I saw the tag on some other message that just used the tag without adding the context?


RT @Iconic88 : Carry out ONE random act of kindness a day, with no expectation of reward. #RAOK PLS RT

If I was tweeting my #RAOK I would not likely include the explanation of what the tag means, since I only have 140.. err 135 characters to tweet my RAOK.

There are some efforts to organize hashtags- the site the examples above came from automatically tracks and collects data on the use of hashtags. Their “directory” is merely an index of all tags that have been tracked, it still would take some detective work to discover what a given tag means (though this is useful, as is the twitter search, if you are looking for a unique tag).

The other approach is What the Hashtag? a wiki site where people are invited to enter the meaning of a hash tag on a wiki. Interesting idea, but it is solely dependent on someone taking the time to go to some other site, create an account, and add stuff.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Mykl Roventine

So here is my modest idea- what if there was a widely used syntax to use in twitter that would define a hash tag? It’s not outrageous, twittervision uses things like “L:Phoenix, AZ” to allow me to update my geolocation to the named place.

Let’s say I was going to make up a hashtag I want others to use and know about it- I would launch the hashtag with a syntax maybe like:

define: #mytag the explanation of my tag

I am not sure of “define:” is specific enough, but this would allow a third party site to parse all tweets like this into some real directory of tweets.


If you did not want to share the meaning of a tag, then don’t “define:” it.

Like the original use of #tag this could take place without twitter changing one line of their code; some clever person (okay, here I am tossing for free a possible million dollar start up idea..) could create a twitter app site that harvested such tweets into some directory. A real directory.

It’s just an idea. It would not happen unless someone with a whole lot more twitter karma than me pushed it out there.

Otherwise, I look forward to seeing all of you at my presentation at #ltswac09

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. That’s a neat idea. One suggestion:

    Use .define instead of define

    That way, we can have a general .command syntax.

    Which allows:

    .rdf #brothers @bill;@ted
    .play #wedding tinyurl/movie
    .form tinyurl/action text:should nixon resign?


  2. Awesome. I was thinking there might evolve a whole micro syntax command language.

    Of course, these are just floating ideas that need both someone to build a web parser as well as a good number of people to use it.

    Anyone want to .define #hashtagdirectory Get the ball rolling?

  3. That’s a brilliant idea, Alan.

    It would also help to find events if only one person defined the hashtag. otherwise, you do get a lot of tweets on the event, but if Google etc. has not picked up the web site yet, you are bound to never find it (unless one of the attendees sends you the link via Twitter after you asked for it).

    Maybe in addition, tags could be provided for those who do not know the hashtag and the event / definition.

    Furthermore, tinyURLs and their original should be published.

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