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Twitter Q&A: Hashtags

Edit: Check out the end of the post for an update regarding a third-part application that makes dealing with hashtags much easier.

Ever since Sarah (@sarahjoaustin) and I (@xgravity23) published our series on the True Beginner’s Guide to Twitter and the corresponding free eBook, I have been getting questions about Twitter. Some are easily answered in a tweet or quick email, but this one from @lorraR I thought deserved to be a blog post. If you have any questions about Twitter, feel free to DM me or send me an email at lam(at)lindenamueller(dot)com!

Question: How do I create a hashtag?

Well, technically, all you have to do is tweet it to create it. I usually do a Twitter search before initial use of a hashtag I plan to use over and over (like #09creowksp) to make sure no one else is using it.

You can also check Hashtags.org or Tagal.us. I have found Hashtags.org fairly unusable, though, up until the latest redesign. For now, though, I check Tagal.us first, then Hashtags.

You have to create an account before you can start defining hashtags on the Tagal.us site. Once you’ve set up your account, you can see if your desired tag is in use and define it or add your own definition (remember, words often have more than one definition–think “table” which can be a noun or a verb) or comment on a tag.

One drawback to Tagal.us and Hashtags.org: that information isn’t accessible to Twitter users who aren’t using those sites. For this reason alone, Sarah and I came up with the #define hashtag.

Recommended: define new hashtags

Recommended: define new hashtags

The first time you tweet with your new hashtag should be a tweet that begins with “#newHashtag #define”–even if you’ve defined your tweet elsewhere–so that if a user uses Twitter search to see if a hashtag is in use, they will still find a definition. (Hopefully. See below.) That way, they’ll know if that tag is the one they want, and you won’t run the risk of have your tag used for some unrelated event, idea, or purpose.

Interesting fact: Tagal.us can also be useful for other sites, like Flickr and YouTube. See their About page for more info.

Twitter’s Much Touted Search is Broken?

I wrote the bulk of this post almost a month ago, and I let it fester because I could not explain why Twitter search and Hashtags.org can’t find my 20 some-odd posts from the 2009 8th Creolistics Workshop, which I taged with #09creowksp (here’s the tweet where I used #define to tell others what I that new hashtag would be referring to). You  Ican find it at Tagal.us, but only because I defined it myself–it actually show any Twitter results, though (no surprise). I just went back through all my tweets and tagged the #09creowksp ones at Diigo so there is hard proof that they do indeed exist, despite what Twitter search says.

Just today I stumbled across Louis Gray complaining that Twitter’s much-touted real-time search is broken, and I felt relieved. I wasn’t crazy, but I have found yet another very broken part of Twitter, one that they are proud of, one that is at least part of the attraction from potential buyers like Google and others (including Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple). Why doesn’t it work as far (not-so-far??) back as April? I like Twitter, obviously, but this is, in my book, more serious than the recent @ reply debacle.

Update: WTHashtag

Thanks to Mike at WTHashtag (see comments below), I can tell you about another service that makes defining and searching hashtags from within Twitter. They offer many services similar to Tagal.us, but offer some sweet stuff on top, including a live-stream of top hashtags, a chart of who is using a hashtag most frequently, and a bot on Twitter, @wthashtag, who you can DM to find the definition of a hashtag (if it has been defined in their system).

They automatically track top trending hastags, so if you are creating your own, be sure to log in and define it before using it so that the system will track it for you (regardless of whether or not Twitter’s search will remember it!).

6 thoughts on “Twitter Q&A: Hashtags

  1. Lorraine

    29 May on 2009 at 22:32

    A-ha!! THAT explains why when I created a hashtag for @aigakc’s recent event, that no one was able to find it! I had a lot of people asking me why they couldn’t get the feed for it off of Hashtags.org. Glad to know that I was doing everything correctly, and I love the #define idea. I’ll be sure to do that next time.

    • xgravity23

      04 Jun on 2009 at 22:12

      @Lorraine: I know! And now we have the true source for this post itself! If Twitter search worked like it should, you never would have asked me this question and I never would have written this post. Ah, the butterfly effect. :)

  2. Mike Templeton, What the Hashtag

    29 May on 2009 at 17:00

    @xgravity23 – Tweeting about the site can help, but we would love to see Twitter or other third-party developers incorporate our stream of data into their applications, thus making it more ubiquitous.

    One thing I forgot to mention above is that we also have a hashtag lookup service that users can engage with directly on Twitter. If you follow our @wthashtag bot, you can DM a hashtag and we will send back the definition on file in our database. Again, this is only known to those who use it, so please help us spread the word (or convince Twitter to incorporate our system). :)

    No clue why Twitter Search is so limited currently. I would imagine it has to do with scaling issues and people accessing ALL of that data. Over time it will most likely open up, but we want those features now.

    • xgravity23

      04 Jun on 2009 at 22:19

      @Mike: It would be great if Twitter/third-party devs did that! Love the bot DM trick! That’s great! And I AGREE! We want those features now!

  3. Mike Templeton, What the Hashtag

    28 May on 2009 at 22:58


    I am just as disappointed with Twitter Search as both you and Louis. Not being able to search for items more than eight days old just seems ridiculous. You know they are storing that information, so why not let us search it?

    Specifically related to hashtags, our team at Microblink set out to solve the problem of defining, tracking and searching for hashtags with our first public project: What the Hashtag?!

    The main goal of What the Hashtag?! is to track hashtags being used and help people understand what they are for. Not unlike Tagal.us, a large portion of our content is focused around definitions of hashtags, but we have also taken several steps to make it easier to follow the conversations taking place around those hashtags. Those steps include things like our live-streaming widget showing the latest occurrences of the hashtag, a chart of statistics showing most frequent users and usage over time, plus our more recently released transcript feature which lets you query all uses of a hashtag over a specific period of time.

    Going off of your disappointment with not being able to easily track down all of your tweets from #09creowksp, that is actually something you could do with our transcript tool, as long as the hashtag is added to our database before you start using it.

    We automatically track the latest trending hashtags, but if your term is not on that list (meaning it is being used by a fewer number of people or is less common), then you or someone else needs to add the hashtag to our site manually. We provide a simple process for that and then you can start taking advantage of all the features we provide.

    I’ve taken the liberty to create a new page for #09creowksp, but unfortunately we will only start tracking uses of that hashtag in the future as the page was just created today. http://wthashtag.com/09creowksp

    Although your #define syntax will work well to bring those definitions into the Twitter stream, we would recommend users build a page on What the Hashtag and then allow us to run all of the numbers and statistics on it for you, making it easy to get at your information later.

    Myself or anyone else from our team would be happy to discuss the site in more detail if you are interested. We feel that we are adding some real value to those using hashtags and are doing our best to make people aware of that fact.

    I’m happy to see people like you advocating for the use of hashtags and helping people understand the significant impact they can have.

    • xgravity23

      29 May on 2009 at 16:46

      Wow, Mike, thanks for the comment! And thanks for creating my #09creowksp page. I’ll edit my post to include WTHashtag–it sounds like a promising site with direction and focus.

      I do have to say, though, that being able to access hashtag definitions from Twitter seems pretty important. I think most users (beginners, dabblers, maybe even some intermediate users) might not know about any of these special sites, and they’ll turn to Twitter search first. I guess that’s one reason for tweeting about your hashtag site, for striving towards ubiquity.

      Any clue as to why the Twitter search is so limited? Is it a scalability issue? A problem with the relative novelty of Twitter and the fact that they are still developing the product? And why is the live search being praised so much if it doesn’t function properly? I mean, what is the point of search if you can’t find what you are looking for, especially when you know it’s out there?