On Twitter, hashtags are a powerful, simple tool for tracking topics, communities, live events, or breaking news. They make you findable, and they allow on-the-fly collaboration. When you insert one of these short character-string tags beginning with #, you make it easy for Twitter users who don’t already follow you (plus anyone searching Twitter) to find your public contributions to the coverage or discussion on that topic.
The catch is that hashtags are often cryptic — usually because they work best when they’re as brief as possible. So you might stumble across an interesting-sounding tweet containing a hashtag like #wci, #plurk, or #tpb and wonder about its context. Although you can follow a hashtag easily with tools like Twitter Search, Hashtags.org, Tweetdeck, or Twitterfall (which Paul Bradshaw recommended yesterday in Tidbits), those tools don’t easily tell you what a given hashtag means.
Here some promising new tools that can help you quickly put a hashtag in context — or let people easily look up the meaning of the hashtags you launch or use…
- WTHashtag is a brand new wiki-based hashtag glossary from Microblink. Since it’s brand new, a lot of popular hashtags aren’t listed there yet. If one of your favorite hashtags isn’t listed there, just create a free account and then add a page for the hashtag. Anyone can edit these pages, so if you feel some sense of ownership or concern about a hashtag, you can check off “watch this page” to get alerts of updates. I just created a reference page for #JTMpoynter, the hashtag for this week’s Journalism That Matters conference at Poynter.
- Tagref is a searchable glossary of hashtags that gets built directly via Twitter. To add a hashtag to this glossary, send a tweet to @tagref Twitter account in this format: @tagref #hashtag is definition. (I just did that for #JTMpoynter.)
- Tagal.us lets you set a hashtag definition via Twitter. This process is a bit more involved than how Tagref works, but every hashtag you define via Tagref also gets cross-posted to Tagal.us. One advantage: Other Tagal.us users can vote on definitions and decide which best describes a particular hashtag.
…All of these services are pretty new, so a lot of popular or new hashtags aren’t listed there yet. If some of your pet hashtags aren’t there yet, take a minute to add them. And whenever you launch a hashtag, be sure to list them in these glossaries. It doesn’t take long, and the findability benefits could be significant if any or all of these tools gets popular.
NOTE: I originally published this article on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.