Would You Explain #gas and #bikeride?

[Note: I’m running a Q&A series all the rest of December on DennisKennedy.Blog (details here).]

Would You Explain #gas and #bikeride?

The answer is: Yes, I’d be happy to explain my use of #gas and #bikeride on Twitter and Facebook. They are good examples of what are known as hashtags.

If you follow me on Twitter (@denniskennedy) or are a Friend of mine on Facebook (you know who you are), you will occasionally see updates from me that look like:

#gas – Webster Groves, MO Circle K – $2.95, regular

or

#bikeride – today, 15 miles

I’ve been doing this for several years, as I’ll explain, as a Twitter experiment. They all start out as tweets on Twitter. After I linked my Facebook account to Twitter, they are automatically posted to Facebook as updates as soon as I tweet them on Twitter.

So, what do they mean?

First, we need to talk about “hashtags.” Hashtags are a Twitter phenomenon, although they are used in other places as well. See the Wikipedia explanation of hashtags.

Hashtags serve several purposes. I’ll illustrate this using Twitter as my example.

The most interesting purpose, at least to me, is they represent a form of self-organization to facilitate the search of tweets and an informal form of tagging. People found that if they put a # symbol (pound sign or hash) at the front of a word (or set of words), it became much easier to use Twitter Search to find tweets that were intended to be related to a topic. The hashtag term provided a focused subset of tweets intended to address a specific topic. Many hashtags grow organically and arise out of events (#hurricane, #earthquake, #tsunami, et al.). In a short time, people will include the hashtag in tweets as they post news, resources and other information about the event or topic. The hashtag term produces more “on topic” tweets and reduces “noise” that you get with searches on the term itself.

To see how this works, do a quick Twitter search on “bears” and then on “#bears.”

This usage of hashtags is fascinating in the case of breaking events, and can help you evaluate “news” you get critically. These types of hashtags can relate to almost anything (sports teams, TV shows, bands) and they tend to develop a quasi-officialness. If you want to see comments and participate in the conversation while watching a TV show, you’ll want to search on #topchef rather than top chef.

A second purpose of hashtags is the “official” or promoted form of hashtag. It’s an extension of the idea of the first use I described. A great example is a conference where the conference organizers will encourage people to use the official hashtag (e.g., #abatechshow) rather than other variations. You might have even noticed ads that include a reference to an official hashtag. These hashtags work in the same way to help people use the search function to find relevant tweets.

A third purpose of hashtags is a kind of “meta” usage. In these cases, the hashtag is used as a comment, often ironic, about the contents of the tweet. For me, this harkens back to the early days of HTML when people would use non-functioning HTML tags to make comments (e.g., comment). Hashtags can be used in a similar way – #joking or #sarcasm. There are some classic hashtags that express frustration or other emotions – #FAIL. Some hashtags can get very meta and comment on the tweet – “thingsnobodywouldsay.” In other words, they attempt to add depth and nuance to a 140 character form of expression. It’s interesting stuff.

Which brings me to #gas and #bikeride.

The original source of #gas for me was Marty “The Trademark Blog” Schwimmer. We had been talking about the “Internet of Things” and how people might act as sensors or nodes for certain types of data that could be collected and aggregated via Twitter. Marty suggested that people around the country (or world) could tweet the price of gas, use the #gas hashtag when they did so, and then we all could use the Twitter search function to see what prices were elsewhere, see patterns, track changing prices, et al.

I loved this idea and told Marty he was brilliant. Interestingly, Marty convinced me to do this, but didn’t convince himself. For quite a few years, I’ve tweeted gas prices when I’ve filled up my car. When I connected Twitter and Facebook, these #gas tweets populated my Facebook updates, generally confusing my friends. I should have, and probably will, decouple my Twitter account from Facebook, but haven’t done so yet.

However, I’ve found that the #gas posts have an interesting effect. I went to ABA TECHSHOW a couple of years ago, In the first hour I was there, four or five people told me the gas prices in their area and comment on relative prices by geographic region. I’ve also had people locally tell me that they’ve saved money by remembering the price I’d posted and avoiding higher prices elsewhere.

#bikeride is a simple idea. I wanted to keep a record of the mileage I’d ridden for myself and share it with a few friends. I decided to experiment with the hashtag on Twitter as a way to do that and noticed that other cyclists used the same hashtag.

I post my mileage after I ride and sometimes make a note about weather or route. Again, it starts in Twitter and automatically goes to Facebook. #bikeride is actually something that has outlived its usefulness for me as a tracking tool because I use an iPhone app I really like called Endomondo to record and store my rides.

I keep doing the #bikeride tweets, however, because they also have had an interesting effect. I’ve found other friends who ride bikes. I’ve had people tell me that I’ve inspired them to start riding. I’ve had people ask me advice about buying bikes.

Anyway, that’s the long answer. Both are hashtag experiments. Both have had intriguing results. I’m curious whether others have had memorable results from using hashtags.

If you have a question for me to answer in this series, you may submit it for me through the usual channels – email at denniskennedyblog @ gmail . com, a comment left on the original post about the Q&A series, this post or a subsequent post, or through Twitter (@dkennedyblog), or whatever other way you want to reach me.

[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://denniskennedy.com/blog/)]

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