74 replies on “Why I Unfollow People Who Use Hashtags On Twitter”

  1. Amen. Until I read this, I 1) had no idea why people were using those and 2) couldn’t stand them.

    Number two still holds true, but at least the purpose of them is clear. heh.

  2. Well, it is important that there’s some historical context for hashtags, which you can read about here:

    http://factoryjoe.com/blog/2007/08/25/groups-for-twitter-or-a-proposal-for-twitter-tag-channels/

    But, more to your point, I wrote up my subsequent thoughts about the use of hashtags (which I helped usher into being) here:

    http://factoryjoe.com/blog/2007/12/23/making-the-most-of-hashtags/

    I actually have come to dislike hashtags in the main body of tweets myself. Occasionally I think they’re okay, for example, in referring to airport codes (I mean, in that case, who cares?). But, for my own usage, I tried to use them primarily as tags appended to the end of a message… that way you get what I was going to say anyway, plus you get context if you’re just tuning in.

    For example, this passed weekend, I was at TransitCamp in Palo Alto, so when appropriate, I would append #transitcamp to my updates so people had context… this week, I’m at TED, so I’m appended #ted to my updates. If you didn’t follow my religiously (I wouldn’t expect most people to!), and I was talking about what great presentations I was sitting in on, you might have a hard time knowing what my immediate context was. The addition of the hashtags provide that context, making it easier to know what I’m talking about.

    Now, you may absolutely still not like them, and I’ll respect that point of view. But since Twitter lacks a way of offering ad-hoc groupings or a way of providing the additional metadata, this is what we’ve come up with for now. Trust me, I’m hungry for a better alternative, but until one exists, hashtags are accessible to anyone who uses Twitter today and, when used sparingly, can be rather useful.

    Otherwise, I’m with you 100% from an aesthetic perspective. ;)

  3. Since I started this conversation here, I’ve seen quite a few people publicly come out and say that Hashtags annoy them too. I have a feeling that people who use them might simply not know that it bugs some of the immediate audience. Those who have defended their use to me for the most part have been publishers of hashtags, but I can think of only one defender who came forth as a consumer of them, i.e. who specifically said he finds it helpful when others use them. I think it’s possible that those using them might overestimate the need, and might be weighting the needs of future, hypothetical, detached audiences over present, tuned-in ones.

    This morning Twitterer @bigeasy wrote:

    ” Happy @extraface is winning the war against hashtags. Twitter is not about the long tail. It is about the context that conversation creates.”

    Chris: Thanks for coming by and providing your perspective. It’s a smart system to be sure, I just don’t like the impact it has. I still say they’re superfluous based on the other search technologies available, and therefore not worth all that awkward — even when appended to the ends of messages. Giving people at conferences an excuse to look for each other as people and not as fragmented, contextless individual Twitter messages is probably not a bad thing in my opinion. If I follow you regularly, I probably already know you’re at TED and that provides the necessary context. If I don’t, or am at all confused, I can do a tiny bit of legwork and figure it out. The alternative is crudded-up messages that don’t look like natural speech, and some degree of reduction in the friendliness and usability of Twitter.

    Colby: I took a look at your approach there, and in my opinion it’s still is a far ways off from the readability of tweets without any kind of inline metadata. But more importantly, I don’t think we need it.

  4. Well, taking this from another approach, do you have a suggestion for creating better topical groups or groupings on Twitter?

    In this case, there was a lot of value for in using the #ted hashtag for TED attendees, primarily because tracking “ted” would turn up all references to people or bands with the same name. Not so useful.

    I still agree that it’s visual clutter, but at least it’s SMS compatible. ;)

  5. There’s been some backlash in the past couple of days against all the one-way Twitter traffic coming out of (#)TED. Some of it is sour grapes about not being at an exclusive and by most accounts fun and valuable event, sure, but I think it speaks to a problem with the hashtag convention as well. When you don’t want to hear about a particular topic, the hashtags end up making it even harder to avoid, and that’s a pain point.

    As I prepare for SXSW, part of that will be looking for people to follow on Twitter who I’m interested in meeting/talking to/learning from. I’ll probably do some prep work ahead of time on that, and then also serendipitiously find some people there to add, but I won’t be tracking the keyword since that’s too raw a slice of information than would be meaningful for me.

    I agree that you’ve identified a piece of functionality that would be nice to have. I think the best route is to work with Twitter, since subtler solutions would probably have to be implemented as core functionality. To that end, I’m working my way through this conversation at Get Satisfaction but haven’t gotten through all of it yet.

  6. Interesting points made on both sides (your comments section on this entry should be another blogpost). Can’t say I’ve formed an opinion on hashtags yet, but can understand both the utility and the annoyance. It seems like those of us using more web tools more frequently are becoming obsessive compulsive with classification. Sometimes I think being part of a socnet community is like living in a community house. You have the slackers who cook feasts and leave their dishes in the sink, a few people playing bad music, some playing music way too loud, the night owls, the morning people and the anal retentive who run around and run around trying to clean up after everyone and make sure everything is in it’s place. The trick is finding common ground and ways to make it livable for everyone. Your solution is keeping hashtags out of your room in the house.

  7. I found your site via annierocks/twitter. Interesting because as a geek wannabe, I had heard of hashmarks from TWIT and didn’t know what they were talking about. Cut to the quick, follow me at iconjohn.twitter, no hashmarks and I’ll reciprocate. Best of the Philly craic scene!

  8. Good content and discussion. Personally I don’t find hashtags to be too annoying if done right. Basically if they’re approached in the same manner that @username call out are, then it’s cool.

    * At the start of the tweet only to provide context
    * Inline only as relates to a noun, and even then, carefully selected nouns.

    I think the Twitter team certainly needs to address this issue in core functionality, however.

  9. I ask because Perl (and Ruby) requires that you specify types with every variable reference. For example, the environment hash table is %ENV, the arguments array is @ARGV. Some people might prefer Python, whose variable name don’t require “punctuation noise”. (A quick search for “perl punctuation noise python” can give you a taste.) Twitter’s @replies and #hashtags are reminiscent of Perl in that sense.

  10. Um, how is using #fireinboston and more helpful than tracking ‘fireinboston’ and just not using the hashtags at all? This makes no sense to me.

    J

  11. I have been whining about hashtags since I first saw them showing up in my tweets about a year ago. Thanks for this great post explaining the very *human* reasons not to do it. Also, as with much tagging, it can be abused. All hail natural language search!

  12. I used hashtags @jowyang’s request during the Superbowl to help him track feedback on the commercials, but that was a one-off. I don’t like them day to day.

  13. I can see where you are coming from, and I really do like the notion of keeping Twitter messages as human as possible. For this reason I think Colby’s implementation of hashtag linking in iTweet, as well as Twhirl’s use of the same, is excellent. It completely strikes the “machine-ness” from the comment.

    Seeing the hash inline in a message can add a bit of cognitive noise, but so do LOLisms and *other forms* of imparting additional meaning. It’s a bit like formatting an email. I don’t auto-delete emails from people who have ugly email stationary, even though its’ totally obnoxious to me.

    Hey, so I requested a follow, but you’ll prolly just unfollow bc I use hashtags a bit.

  14. One could easily make the same argument about underlines and a different color for hyperlinks. In fact, a lot of people have removed underlines from their hyperlinks because they feel it breaks the flow of the text. You haven’t. Should they stop reading your blog?

    How is changing the typography any less distracting than a single symbol that’s not commonly used?

    The fact of the matter is, it arose out of necessity, and has become a convention we’ve grown accustomed to, as you can easily do with hashtags.

    BTW, Terraminds is closed down. And the problem with using search-based tools is when words have multiple meanings, particularly as a proper name. Every tweet that contains “austin”, for example, may not refer to Austin, Texas.

    I’m not saying hashtags are the best solution, just a) that I think people can become accustomed to them, as they have with HTML hyperlinks, and b) that the solutions you’ve proposed don’t solve the problem either.

  15. Clay: LOL-isms and FTW’s are data, and not metadata, so they really don’t bug me. They are intended to be read by human beings and are part of the “meat” of the message. I see hashtags as categorically different. I’d like to see a Twitter client that just uses CSS to hide hashtags with an on/off toggle.

    Scott: A better analogy might be if inline links had to be splayed out after the text they are hidden under, or if the tags we use to categorize our blog entries had to be inserted inline. Hashtags are often tacked on to tweets as additional metadata. When you only have 140 characters to work with, my personal preference is that they all remain available for the text rather than meta-text.

    As far as Terraminds being down, there are plenty of other services that can be used — Tweetscan is one good example. I also don’t see how hashtags eliminate the multi-meaning problem you point to. That’s endemic to tagging systems in general. If I tagged a tweet #hotdog I could be talking about a warm canine or a delicious sausage or a showoff. The hashtag system can’t solve for that any more than Tweetscan can.

    For me, i’s not a question of hashtags not having merit, it’s a question of the uniqueness of their merit not outweighing what they do to Twitter and the relationship between me and my fellow Tweeters.

  16. I see your point, and like the way you put your thoughts together, so indeed I have requested to follow you.

    While I don’t generally use hashtags, I have followed some storeis like blogger social using them, only because I was not well enough to be there and my spouse and daughter went to represent me for the Frozen Pea Fund. So hashtags were useful and being a practical sort – normally – I took advantage of that.

    In other ways I’m a purist however, and don’t add many extras to tweets. Though I follow hashtag users, I can see both sides of the issue.

    On that note, an interesting part of the hashtags question is that you’ve stated your case in a very thoughtful drama-free piece of writing, yet the twitterverse tends to take issues and blow them up into dramas. It will be interesting to follow this – and you.

  17. I was not aware about hash at all. But no, i wont, use it at all. Twitts should not be for machines or search engines. It’s the only place where you come across people. Otherwise, i find myself lonely on this cold desert.

  18. See, I thought the # was an actual function, but I couldn’t find any documentation about it anywhere! I treat my tweets just as I would SMS messages, and very rarely do I want to re read my text messages, so why do I want to tag them so that I can find out data later on. Down with #!

  19. Dave I was really inspired by your post and I have been feeling the same since I have seen the use of hashtags, however also intrigued by this way of being able to track information too. Which means I haven’t completely shunned it. In fact I have thought of a solution so that I can use hashtags and other Meta data without having to alienate followers. I have blogged this solution here “Twitter: Separating content from Hashtag Meta data“, I would be interested to know what you think of this work around.

  20. I’m pretty indolent about my Twitter use… don’t follow many, certainly don’t have many followers. And actually, I don’t care for people using @waldo outside of Twitter — e.g., as part of the back-and-forth of blog comments.

    That’s just a personal quirk, but honestly, what are you saving with ” @fred” instead of ” Fred: ” ?

    I did see an interesting use of hashtags during the presidential election. Twitter Vote Report used a cluster of hashtags to report the progress of voting — one tag for overall impression, optional tags to rate the experience, report delays, etc.

  21. Hi Thanks for this. Even if I don’t like with what you have to say I agree. I agree because it looks ugly and it assumes there’s no alternative.

    I have just read Chris Messina story on disaster relief http://factoryjoe.com/blog/2007/10/22/twitter-hashtags-for-emergency-coordination-and-disaster-relief/ and then saw this article.

    I really believe that “feedmysearch” is the solution as I was worried about adding a #. It’s not neat. It’s effective. Even if you are using it for a good cause. Because there are alternatives.

    I am suggesting Friendfeed.com because you can create rooms to collect all these related issues in one room.

    At the moment I am trying to get a technophobic community educated in the use of technology to communicate. They use cell phones, sms and MS Outlook :-( What they use is not really the issue. They are using something and if they can sms then they can communicate. And if they sms they can twitter. And if they can twitter they can microblog using friendfeed.

    I need help from leaders like you to add value to a friendfeed room where local technophobic tended communities become connected, they communicate and they share. They idea is that we are the seeds and use a friendfeed room to collect and share tools and ideas for these communities.

    We become the “WHALES” that lead local community to become effective connectors.

    You can go and join the FriendFeed room and share your knowledge with a community who have not yet adapted.

    http://friendfeed.com/rooms/whales

    Again thanks for this post and the opportunity to comment and to plug an idea. You support is critical.

    Thanks

    Johan
    A WHALE

  22. To each their own. I find hashtags useful (in the main and in moderation), particularly when it resolves ambiguity. You bring up the case of #hotdog but that’s a strawman. #ted is a better example– a twitter search for “ted” will reveal far more irrelevant listings than “#ted.” It’s not perfect, but it’s something and better than the alternative, which is littering the posts with coinages to avoid that kind of confusion.

    And I guess this is where we most differ. I want a visually distinctive indicator not just for aggregation, but for myself. If someone is Twittering from the emerging tech conference, I prefer to scan for #etech or #etech08 than their naked equivalents– it allows me to focus on what I am looking for and (something you fail to point out) also more easily ignore what I’m not interested in.

    I don’t see a good alternative being proposed so far. I don’t find them that troublesome. And if someone abuses them I can easily unfollow them. Which is your right and mine. If people are actually going to get that exacting about their Tweets (and I wish they would) maybe they should focus on the much more pressing and immediate issues, you know the mundane garbage. I’ll take a good Tweet-stream liberally marked with hashtags over the vast majority that are no better without them than they would be with them!

  23. I just googled “hashtags” b/c on Twitter I’ve been like, wtf is up w/ all the #’s?? And your blog was the fourth or so link to come up. I loved what you said, spot on. They drive me up the wall.

  24. You might be understating or missing the key purpose of hashtags for Twitter. First, tweets can’t be longer than 140 characters (the typical max length of a cell phone text message), so including a link often isn’t an option. Second, hashtags coordinate Twitter users who don’t follow one another. For example, right now I’m sitting in the Futures of Entertainment conference, and since it’s at MIT, lots of people have their laptops out. Many of them are using Twitter to ask one another questions about what the panelists are saying–but the only way to find a coordinated page of these Futures of Entertainment tweets is to include “#foe”.

  25. Doesn’t it sort of depend though? Some hashtags are used to try to gain attention, but some are used as a means to connect, especially when a group decides to have a a scheduled twitter chat of some sort. It helps people who may not follow each other connect on an issue for at least that period of time.

    That’s the only time I use them, and it is all about human connection.

  26. I have entered this thread way too late but like an earlier poster was Googling “hashtags” and came across this blog, and felt moved to respond.

    This morning while travelling into work I realised that it would be really great if I could find out what other people thought about the radio programme I was listening to and how cool it would be to be able to join in.

    I had noticed the links prefixed with hashes in other tweets and sort of guessed that hashtags might be the way to go about doing this. On my tiny mobile device this would be a practical, easy and instant option.

    Sure a hashtag eats up the character count and creates a readability speed hump (maybe). But are they really any less human-readable than ‘@twittername’ – provided you know what they are meant to do?

    Unless they are abused (though I’ve yet to see an example of this) the appearance of a hashtag in a tweet implies a different form of tweet that is instantly recognisable to me.

    It says “Hey me and a bunch of other people are talking about this thing here in a short info burst that you might find useful or interesting to you right now!”.

    You can very quickly scan a message and see a hash in front of a link. If that link said ‘#superbowl’ I would have moved swiftly on to the next tweet (I’m in the UK and have no interest in US football – or sports in general).

    But then again I’m relatively new to all this so maybe I’ll eventually suffer with the hashtag fatigue!

  27. You make good points. Prior to today I had no clue about hashtags and I did find them confusing. Not being in the know, I felt like I was missing something. But if not overdone it’s not that big of a deal to see the hashtags, and I like the idea from an earlier comment to have filters where the user will have the option to remove hashtags and at the same time still support them. To me the key issue is user control. Control for the follower to not be bothered by the hashes and control for the writer

    I disagree that just because a database might catch the tag means the human-ness of the conversation is depleted, I think it enhances the conversation because it allows you to discover tweets you normally would not.

  28. ‘I want my Twitter to remain as human a form of communication as possible.’ Fine, but is a series of 140-character blurts an especially human a form of communication? Maybe it’s an expression of part of what’s human. And maybe I’m taking that sentence more seriously than it was intended. But my reaction to it sums up my reason for not Twittering: To me, human communication has more going on than that. Even where the tweets are responses to one another, they’re buried in the stream of whatever else. Adding some a way to hook out the relevant ones seems like a step *toward* human communication and well worth the visual irritation of a #hashmark. I suppose if metatools are available to do that sifting after the fact, that could be preferable from the point of view of post facto analysis. But Twitter seems about the immediacy of the moment rather than going back and reviewing, so those seem like more of an intrusion into the process it sets up than the #convention is. That’s one view from outside the twitterverse, for whatever it may be worth.

  29. I agree that hashtags summoning a community (e.g. following a disaster) can be helpful, as can selectively using them to isolate updates about a something with a common name (e.g. TED).

    I guess the question is who gets to make that call – one mans’ junk is another man’s treasure, etc.

    Otherwise they’re over-used by many to the point of being rendered meaningless as well as silly-looking (I’ve unfollowed some friends who hashed nearly every single word in their updates, including “coffee,” “persuasion” and “hair” – not kidding).

    Further, since many people are either new to Twitter and/or are unaware of the hashtag convention, you can miss legitimate relevant updates if you only search using hashtags.

  30. Well, I am guilty as charged. I have been a hashtag offender… I mark Lyme Disease links and posts, so that they can be referenced by other ‘Lymies’ who keep track.

    And since I have not been offended or bothered by them, did not consider anyone else might be.

    I try not to do it too often, but yes, I do it.

    What I find impersonal and annoying are automated DM’s… or people who are following you, yet seemingly want no interaction.

    It is, after all, about interaction?

    And trust me, hashtag or no, I am responsive and actually read/respond to what people tweet.

    So, to all of you that I have offended with my hashtag eyesores, my apologies… though it’s likely I may use them sometime again.

    I dunno. I kinda think it’s making an issue where there does not need to be one.

    But that is just my opinion. Thanks for sharing yours.

  31. Aw, Dave – I’m bummed to hear you’re a hashtag curmudgeon! lol.

    I often get asked to explain what these are and made a video, watched ~6,000 times now on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAHitI26MmE.

    I think mostly peeps misunderstand the power of hashtags and how they can be used effectively for large events. Or like my bud @AlexisNeely who started #amgrat for morning gratitude and #pmceleb for afternoon celebration as a special daily ritual for her followers.

    I watch the trending topics a lot on search.twitter to see what hashtags are trending. The #uksnow was sure neat to observe. Nonetheless, I can understand your frustration if some peeps are overusing ### in all tweets.

  32. I think they’re ugly, too. And in many cases, painfully redundant. Like #sxsw — how many times is that letter combination going to appear in tweet and NOT be about the SXSW festival? Similarly, a lot of people were tagging “#watchmen” this weekend, like the movie might get confused with some other “watchmen” this weekend.

    Of course, the movie will get confused for some other “#watchmen” if somebody accidentally recycles the tag. The ad hocery of hashtagging (and the lack of centralized list) means the hashtagging system could eventually collapse from the strain of semantic collisions. It’s an attempt at dumb automation (“find everything about ‘watchmen”) that can be easily broken by dumb humans.

    Anyway, if I want to tweet about SXSW or Watchmen, I’ll USE THE WORDS IN A SENTENCE. It’ll will appear in search results for the right word. Most hashtags seem like crutches for people who don’t know how to write a coherent thought (or search for one).

  33. Enlightening read, both the post and the comments. I’m somewhat ambivalent about hashtags, so I appreciate arguments on either side. Actually I find myself using them most often as snarky commentary rather than for their intended use (for instance, I might end a tweet with “#snark”), which, I’m aware, is probably an even more egregious violation and even more reason why you’d not want to follow me. (Other than that I tend to only use them on #followfriday.) Still, from now on I think I will avoid them as much as possible (#yeahright). I am @pfunn and I have made a request to follow your tweets.

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