Sunday, June 16, 2013

Facebook Adds Hashtags

I joined Facebook in 2006 right before my freshman year of college. I loved it because could post pictures, commentary, and interesting website links on my wall to share with all of my friends. When I moved 1,000 miles from home for college, my new university friends and I joined groups like "We love Miss Tonya" and "Bring Back Boy Meets World," allowing us to create a kind of online community that connected us by common bonds and interests.  At the same time, I felt connected to my friends back home because I could post updates about my collegiate adventures and they would respond and share their own.

But then a few years later, Twitter hit the scene. This new platform was like the Facebook feed page, but limited all posts to 140-character micro-blogs (miniature weblogs). Twitter became a place for breaking news, links and pictures, and up-to-the-moment updates on the daily lives of my friends. However, unlike Facebook, on Twitter conversations were meant to be public (although a user can make their accounts private) and users could use the # sign (spoken "hashtag") in front of any word to have it pulled into a larger feed of "trending" topics. For example, when Osama Bin Laden was killed, the trending topics included #Osama #Obama #terrorism and users could click on any one of them and see all of the Twitter users who had used those hashtags in their tweets.

Just as James Gee points out that discourse is knowing what, how, and when to use specific language effectively, hashtags have never been part of the Facebook's user discourse. In fact, it has been a running joke on Facebook for the past few years that people shouldn't use hashtags on Facebook because on this medium the hashtags didn't link to other users because accounts were private.  (See above memes.) While Facebook was created primarily for private use and Twitter primarily for public use, a shift in Internet language has caused Facebook to make a big change. Facebook is finally embracing the hashtag after making changes in privacy levels allowing some users to have public accounts. This move is welcome among users as hashtags are part of the Internet's discoursive language, but have not been a part of Facebook's until now.

The New York Times article breaking the news explains that other platforms like Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and Google Plus already beat Facebook to using the hashtag such that it has become so commonly used among internet/social media users that it almost became necessary for Facebook to jump on the digital bandwagon. The article's author, Vindu Goel, writes, "Starting Wednesday, users can click on a hashtag in Facebook and see a feed of what other people and organizational users are saying about that event or topic." Also according to the article, 20% of users will be able to use hashtags immediately and the remaining 80% will be phased in over the next few weeks.

I, for one, am excited to be able to use my beloved hashtags and participate in more public conversations so that I can talk about things I want to talk about on Facebook rather than just things that I think my Facebook friends will be interested in talking about!

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