In an attempt to continue its quest to become everyone's hyper-organized "personal newspaper," Facebook is planning to adopt a modern organizing tool that's as easy for its native Twitter users to make fun of as it may prove useful to the often cluttered No. 1 social network. "It is unclear how far along Facebook's work on the hashtag is and the feature isn't being introduced imminently," sources tell The Wall Street Journal's Evelyn M. Rusli and Shira Ovide.
So that's one reason for the Twitterati to calm down, and here's another: This could actually be a good thing for Facebook, especially it's new — and still confusing — third pillar, Graph Search. Hashtags may be ever-present enough to be lame, but that simple # sign is still a ubiquitous way for curious people to search for a conversation, and this particular form of communication has rightfully passed the boundaries of the place where it was it invented. Think about it: Wouldn't it be cool to filter a Facebook Graph Search with a query like "people near Washington, D.C. talking about #CPAC"? And isn't that kind of what Mark Zuckerberg was getting at when he launched Graph Search? He said that part of Facebook's mission was to "give people tools" to "make the world more open" — that the purpose of the personalized search engine wasn't to "let people search the web" so much as "help people search the social graph," and that "that graph is huge." Consider the hashtag a way to strip away clutter from the hugeness of the information online. Consider the hashtag again.
Plus, Facebook hashtags will help with news discovery in and around the other two main parts of Facebook's user experience: upgraded versions of News Feed and now Timeline. Right now, much to the chagrin of news makers like The New York Times's Nick Bilton, Facebook's EdgeRank algorithm decides what we get to see, and how we see it, unless we do a lot of digging. But incorporating the hashtag — a simple organizer that pretty much everyone knows how to use by now, and kind of gets annoying when it's double posted to Facebook but doesn't do anything — will help the whole news discovery process. If an algorithm doesn't surface talk about a topic, a hashtag certainly might.
Of course, people have already started hating on the idea, pointing to the annoying inside-joke usage of the term. (We are talking about the overused word of the year from last year, after all.) But as much as the abuse of hashtags may turn off Twitter users, especially the nearly 10,000 people in the "This is not Twitter. Hashtags don't work here." Facebook group, there's no turning back now: Hashtags are all over Instagram, and now that its parent company is jumping in the pool, well, may be we should have seen this coming.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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