Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More on hashtags

If you saw my last post, you saw a reference to nateritter's use of the hashtag #sandiegofire, which I subsequently used myself.

When I first saw Nate's tweets, I was wondering, "What's up with that?" Factory Joe explains things:

Earlier today, my friend Nate Ritter started twittering about the San Diego fires, starting slowly and without any kind of uniformity to his posts. He eventually began prefixing his posts with “San Diego Fires”. Concerned that it would be challenging for folks to track “san diego fires” on Twitter because of inconsistency in using those words together, I wanted to apply hashtags as a mechanism for bringing people together around a common term (that Stowe Boyd incidently calls groupings).

Out of Flickr's hot tags, the tag "#sandiegofire" seemed to be the best one to use.

I pinged Nate and around 4pm with my suggestion, and he started using it. Meanwhile, Dan Tentler (a BarCamp San Diego co-organizer who I met at ETECH last year) was also twittering, blogging and shooting his experience, occasionally using #sandiegofire as his tag. Sometime later Adora (aka Lisa Brewster, another BarCamp San Diego co-organizer) posted a status using the #sandiegofire hashtag.

However, dissemination of this hashtag was accomplished via manual means.

Had we had a method to disperse the information, we could have let people on Twitter know to track #sandiegofire and to append that hashtag to their updates in order to join in on the tracking stream...(I should point out that the Twitter track feature actually ignores the hashmark; it’s useful primarily to denote the tag as metadata in addition to the update itself).

Enter Michael Calore from the quaintly-named Wired (remember when the title was futuristic?):

Twitter users Nate Ritter and Viss have been busy posting rapid-fire updates of the current wildfire situation in Southern California. Both of them are on the scene in San Diego, and they are doing an excellent job of providing information and news about evacuations, meeting points and anything important that local residents would need to know. Viss is also on Flickr and he's posting photos.

Nate and Viss are using the hashtag #sandiegofire. Twitter users can enter "track sandiegofire" in SMS or IM and receive notifications whenever a tweet goes out with that tag in it.

Also see the flickr photo collection and the Technorati tag.

And check related articles on the hashtag concept by Stowe Boyd, Alex Barnett, and Christopher Carfi. Here was Carfi's original idea, which was intended for product support rather than emergency information:

When an organization puts out a product, the organization defines and publishes a particular tag that they will listen for in the blogosphere when there are customer questions (for example, "office2007question" would have been a good tag the MS could promote with its Office 2007 product)

If a customer has a question with a product, he posts the issue (just like Shel has done) with the tag(s) of the associated product(s)

The vendor organization, which is theoretically listening for posts tagged with its "support tags" takes notice, and addresses the issue on the customer's turf.

Of course, there is still the challenge of how to disseminate approved hashtags, and what to do when multiple hashtags are used.

I have a very personal example of this. Back when I decided to adopt a label for all of my Oracle OpenWorld 2007 posts, I chose the label "openworld2007." (In fact, I'm already using the label "openworld2008"; nothing like being proactive.) However, Technorati user rmanalan is using the tag oow2007, and two users are using oracle+openworld+2007; in fact, I appear to be the only person in Technorati that is using the "openworld2007" tag.

So how can you find related tags?

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