The Hashtag’s Story Has A Lesson For Every Internet User

The hashtag is an internet phenomenon that has given us a way to grasp the ever complicated world we live in.

Chris Messina first came up with the way we use the hashtag in a tweet back in 2007 when the hashtag wasn’t even a click through hyperlink on Twitter.


Back then, it was mostly known by Americanism, the ‘pound sign’ – one that you may remember from many automated recorded phone messages “end by pushing the pound key”.

Of course, it’s real name was and always will be Octothorpe, and has origins in the symbol ℔, an abbreviation of the Roman term libra pondo, which translates as “pound weight”.

But it’s the story and impact of the hashtag that episode one of the new documentary mini-series ‘The History of the Internet’ explores – that has an important lesson to teach us about the way we use the internet.

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Watching the Netflix original movie version of best-selling novel hit The Circle this weekend, as this documentary series was on the cusp of launching filled me with both hope and terror.

If you don’t know the story, take a bit of Facebook’s almost religious office culture, plus Steve Job’s Apple product launches and throw in Black Mirror‘s all too real dystopian story lines – and you should get a feel.

The Circle, a social media and all-in-one data cloud company says its mission is gathering data, making it open, all to protect you.

But just as with pretty much every free service you sign up to online, it relies on you trading your personal details – so you can enjoy or gain from its service.

As it turns out, The Circle is a global beast of a company. They have huge influence of worldwide governments which they wield, to make massive profits by selling the personal data.

What does this have to do with the hashtag? Well, imagine if Chris Messina had copyrighted, or found some way to monetize the way he suggested the pound (#) sign is used? That would have resulted in a lot of dollar.

In this series, Chris Messina explains that when he dreamed up of the hashtag that he designed it with some principles, just like as the movie explores the original founder history of the fictitious company The Circle.

Instead, the future of the company was taken out of the founder’s hands, and into directors who put profits first.

Chris set out for the hashtag to be different. For him, its principles are to be free and open, with no need for permission to use it.

It is something the hashtag has maintained, unlike many internet beasts that have had to monetize to stay online and in use.

The difference and beauty of the hashtag to most technology and online trends are no-one and everyone owns a bit of its story.

Messina’s invention and the story of The Circle both have a very similar message for us to take forward to into the way we use the internet as its domination of our lives exponentially grows.

“These systems don’t need our permission, we need to manipulate them and turn them into tools that empower us”
Chris Messina, Inventor of the Hashtag.

Your personal data is very valuable, think about what you trade it for. #JustSayin

Subscribe to podcast documentary series the History of the Internet, on Apple Podcasts, with RSS, audioBoom, or wherever you listen to your shows.

Coming up, episodes on the impact of memes, how to make anything go viral and why the internet of things wants to control how many pot noodles you order.

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