When explaining Twitter to newbies nothing is more difficult than explaining the hashtag. Introduced by users in August 2007 and adopted by Twitter and its API the hashtag has no official use and therefore no explanation.
Some use it merely as a subject line. Others are self-proclaimed hashtag abusers. Some use it to show off their interests. #social #media #experts come to mind. I tend to use it in a dozen ways. Especially to emphasize words or phrases in tweets.
The New York Times published an interesting article about the subject. Starting point is Charlie Sheen’s legacy on Twitter. His famous #winning has become an antonym for the #fail I have known ever since I have been using Twitter. They describe the hashtag as Twitter’s secret handshake.
“It’s initially used self-consciously in a way that says, ‘I’m on Twitter, I’m cool, I know that this is used on Twitter so I’m using this someplace else,’ so it’s conveying a meta-message that you are a Twitter-savvy person,” Ms. Herring said, adding that it’s “almost as if there are air quotes around it.”
It could not have been said better. Show me your hashtag use and I know who you are.