#barcamp is the first hashtag ever used. It was posted by Chris Messina in a Tweet which read: ‘how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]? on 23 Aug 2007. To be precise, this was the first time a word or phrase preceded by a # sign was used in a way that we today describe as a hashtag. The term ‘hashtag’ only came to the existence 3 days later. It was first used by Stowe Boyd on 26 August 2007 in his blog post “Hash Tags = Twitter Groupings”.
The above Tweet (Figure 1) shows the first time a word or phrase preceded by a # sign was used in a way that we today describe as a hashtag. In fact #barcamp was used 5 times (Figure 2) on Twitter (three times by Ross Mayfiels (@Ross) and once by Collin Barrett (@cbarret) and @BarCampBlock), before Chris Messina used in his Tweet on 23 Aug 2007. The original historical discussion on Twitter which included #barcamp started on 13 August 2007 with the post by Ross Mayfiels (@Ross).
The reason why everyone agrees that it was Chris Messina’s Tweet form 23 August 2007 that is considered to be the first one with a hashtag is because it was the first time a word or phrase preceded by a # sign was used in a way that we today describe as a hashtag. It is quite visible on #barcamp historical discussion page on Twitter.
Two days after his initial Twitter post with #barcamp Messina explained on his blog (Messina 2007) that hashtags were a ‘rather messy proposal’ but also noticed that ‘ – there is certainly some merit to improving contextualization, content filtering and exploratory serendipity within Twitter. (by using them)’ In order to do this he suggested using ‘channel tags’ on Twitter in a way they were originally used on IRC – as tools allowing users to follow and contribute to conversations:
Every time someone uses a channel tag to mark a status, not only do we know something specific about that status, but others can eavesdrop on the context of it and then join in the channel and contribute as well. Rather than trying to ping-pong discussion between one or more individuals with daisy-chained @replies, using a simple #reply means that people not in the @reply queue will be able to follow along, as people do with Flickr or Delicious tags. Furthermore, topics that enter into existing channels will become visible to those who have previously joined in the discussion. And, perhaps best of all, anyone can choose to leave or remove topics that don’t interest them. (Messina 2007)
Messina’s above simple explanation of hashtags shows how skilfully he combined the special meaning of IRC channels and tagging techniques used on Flickr or Delicious in order to create one simple tool – a hashtag. His aim was to improve the Twitter experience: hashtags would create ad hoc channels to which groupings of users could pay selective attention.
Three days after the first use of the # sign, on 26 August 2007, the term ‘hashtag’ was used for the first time by Stowe Boyd in his blog post “Hash Tags = Twitter Groupings” and had there not been a disaster, there is a very high chance that the history of hashtags would have been over after just these 3 days. Even Messina himself noticed that in the initial phase, there was no interest in his idea:
I know I’ve been beating the drum about hashtags for a while. People are either lukewarm to them or are annoyed and hate them. I get it. I do. But for some stupid reason I just can’t leave them alone. (Messina 2007)
‘Luckily’ for hashtags, Messina never gave up the idea and it was his online activism during the San Diego bushfires in October 2007 and his promotion of #sandiegofire hashtag to coordinate information about this disaster, that introduced the idea to the wider audience of Twitter. The rest is history. Very quickly hashtags became integrated into the Twitter architecture of the platform (2009) and became internal clickable hyperlinks linking to Twitter search results for a given hashtag – a move which was later followed by Instagram. In 2010 Twitter introduced ‘Trending topics’ based on popular hashtags. In 2012 ‘Hashtag’ was selected as the Word of the Year by The American Dialect Society. In the meantime a couple called their baby Hashtag and hashtags were introduced on Facebook and many more social platforms.