Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mentions and Hashtags Are Arcane

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about Twitter potentially doing away with both mentions and hashtags. The story broke over the weekend when Vivian Schiller, head of news at Twitter, alluded that mentions and hashtags have become “arcane” and could be phased out. Understandably, reaction to that statements has been…shall we say, mixed.

At first blush, removing mentions and hashtags would seem to gut Twitter as we know it. The ability
to connect with others via mentions and organize those conversations with hashtags is what has made Twitter into the (in my opinion at least) premier engagement platform in social media. Removing these two functions would effectively gut Twitter. Which is why mentions and hashtags aren’t going anywhere.

A while ago, Twitter moved retweets into the background. That put the focus on the original content and maximizing the use of all 140 characters of real estate for that content. The old-style RT had become arcane; inclusion of “RT” and the original users handle limited what information could be shared via retweet. With this example, we’ve seen Twitter wants to do everything it can to maximize the useful information contained in those 140 characters.

Mentions and hashtags aren’t the important part of a tweet. They are simply the vehicles we use to accomplish what we want; connection with other users. What if those disappeared into the background? Check out this conversation I had with Alexis Anderson. What if that conversation didn’t involve the mentions?

This was a relatively short and sweet conversation. We’ve all been involved in those long, multi-user conversations in a Twitter chat. When you get more than two or three people involved, it becomes nearly impossible to exchange information because of all the usernames. If those usernames and the accompanying hashtag disappeared into the background, like the new style retweet you see below…

…imagine the depth conversations you’re having on Twitter could reach with that extra real estate!
Twitter is a publicly traded company now. It isn’t going to do anything that could, and absolutely would, gut the core of its service. Giving users more space to say what they need/want to without changing how Twitter works is, in my view, a fantastic idea. How many services are out there that lengthen your tweet? I’ve never heard anyone say 140 characters is TOO MUCH. Getting unnecessary characters out of the tweet (i.e. mentions and hashtags) only makes Twitter MORE appealing to new users, not less.

What does all of this look like? I have no idea. I’m not a developer. Hashtags would seem to be the easiest to solve. They can go the route of the new-style RT and still maintain their purpose without disrupting too much. Mentions are certainly trickier; especially when you get into 3rd party services such as HootSuite. Whatever happens, rest assured. The purpose of mentions and hashtags are NOT “arcane”. How they’re currently being used is indeed arcane.

Twitter Image: Josh Seman via Flickr CC 2.0