Twitter has two advantages over Facebook and other social networking sites. The open set-up makes it easier to follow people who you don’t know. This builds weak ties and grows your network further outside your social circle than you would normally look. Secondly, the hashtag system makes it easier to track updates from events and to connect with individuals through those events.
This focuses on the second point. I’ll follow up on the loose ties in a later post.
Hashtags bring some order to the large number of posts in the Twitterverse. Remember, my simplified view of Twitter is a giant chatroom where you are trying to get your message through the din. Your task is to figure out who you want to get and receive direct messages from. Hashtags help you sort through that noise if you’re interested in a specific topic. It lets you see a sign in the chatroom that your topic is being discussed in a certain corner, and you can go to that corner to hear everyone else espouse their thoughts on your topic.
Say that you’re interested in the annual Comic-Con show. #comiccon lets you track what other folks are saying about the show. You see where other people are spending their time at the show. It makes it easier to meet more people in real life who share your interests – which spreads your network and influence. And your more powerful network is much better than a few new followers.
That means the real world component of hashtags is important. If #you write sentences just to #include #metadata, you help #computers – not #people. Tags should be rare and should be unobtrusive. Take a look at Dave Coustan’s post. I’m not sure that I’d unfollow, but I like his comparisson to the NPR piece. They shouldn’t interfere with your ability to read the post.
Help sort – but don’t go overboard. Take a look at the directory on hashtags.org to see how out-of-control it can get. Hashtags remain an advantage for Twitter only as long as they don’t get in the way of the conversation AND they build loose ties.