As you may have noticed, Facebook has recently implemented a feature that is both new and old – the hashtag. This little symbol has been given many names over the years, including “hash sign”, “number sign”, “pound symbol”, “tic-tac-toe thingy” and my personal (and nerdy) favorite, “octothorpe”. How did this little symbol work its way into popular usage?

The recent rise in popularity is due to various social networks adopting it as a way to categorize and group posts. Many people believe that Twitter was the first social network to provide this feature, but that’s not quite totally accurate. The concept of the hashtag has been in use around the Internet since the 1980s (wait, the Internet existed in the 80s?) and since then it has found its way to Twitter, Instagram and now Facebook, among other networks.

The hashtag phenomenon is believed to have started on the platform known as IRC, or Internet Relay Chat. On this platform, people could log in from any Internet-enabled computer and share messages, photos, and all kinds of content. However, most households didn’t have a personal computer, so participation wasn’t exactly widespread. Today, hashtags on social networks are automatically hyperlinked to a dynamic page showing all tagged posts. Back then, there was no automatic hyperlinking action but having the # as a designated symbol allowed users to search specifically for labels.

Decades later, Twitter adopted the hashtag and equipped it with automatic hyperlinks to give Tweeters a way to categorize their tweets. There is no finite list of hashtags, because anyone can make up a new hashtag at any time. On Twitter, posts can only be 140 characters long, so by default, a Twitter hashtag can only include 139 characters after the #. The character limit can result in people using abbreviations and shorthand, so things can get a little confusing. Don’t despair – you can always tweet back and ask for clarification.

On Facebook, the limits are different. Facebook posts can be thousands of characters long, so the system limits users to 30 unique hashtags per post. If you repeat a hashtag within a post, only the first instance of the tag will become a hyperlink. Fortunately for people who really want to spread their message around, there is no limit to the number of posts you can make. Unfortunately for those same people, if you use too many hashtags, your online friends are probably going to become annoyed with your posts. Just remember that less is more, and set your own limits when it comes to hashtags.

For many Facebook users, privacy is a big concern. The new hashtag feature allows users to categorize their posts into new feeds based on their hashtags, but, in accordance with Facebook’s existing privacy controls, it isn’t going to expose your friends-only posts to the world. As always, a post must be set to public if you want anyone who isn’t on your friends list to be able to see it.

There is plenty of helpful documentation about the new hashtag tool in the Facebook Help Center but if you have questions and want to talk to a real person, feel free to contact us here at inConcert Web Solutions! We are here to help with all your online needs. Leave us a comment to tell us how you feel about using hashtags.