Interview with Hashtag Inventor, Chris Messina

Ever since Facebook was born, social media platforms have become an integral part of our daily lives. And one common element among almost all these social media platforms is (#) hashtags.

The hashtag (#) was invented by Chris Messina in August 2007. 

And last week, I had the opportunity to interview Chris Messina, who is now popularly known as the Hashtag Inventor.

Before I share my interview, let’s quickly discuss who is Chris Messina and how the idea of hashtag sparked in his mind.

Who is Chris Messina? [and History of Hashtag]

Prior to inventing the hashtag, Chris Messina was a product design consultant, working with a variety of global companies including Google where he worked as an Open Web Advocate. 

Messina has also worked in Mozilla Firefox where he helped to design and build a social browser on top of Firefox.

Chris came up with the idea of the hashtag 12 years ago when he wanted to get people together who are as passionate as he is about technology. 

The first hashtag he used was #barcamp on Twitter.

And soon, other people also started using hashtags. 

For example, in October 2007, one of Chris’s friends were tweeting about the San Diego wild fire. 

So, Chris asked his friend to add #sandiegofire to his tweet. And it didn’t take long for other people to start including the same hashtag in their tweets.

This was one of those moments where Chris realized that people are actually emulating his idea and a lot of people wanted to join global conversations using hashtags.

Highlights of my Interview with the Hashtag Inventor

So now that you know who is Chris Messina, and how did he invent the hashtag, let me share a few highlights of my interview with him.

Here are a couple of questions that Chris answered during the interview.

1) So Chris, everyone knows that you’re the inventor of #Hashtag but I want to know what was your life before that?

Chris: Well, it wasn’t all that different, I guess, from what had been. And I said it, because, you know it took 7 to 10 years for the Hashtag to really become something that people cared about. And before that, I was mostly a design consultant. I worked on websites, web projects, web applications since 2007.”

“So, I was spending a lot of time thinking about the web and new great places for people to publish their ideas and share their experiences.” 

“And I also worked in the Mozilla Firefox project and then I helped to build and design a browser on top of Firefox. That was a social browser.”

“And so all the things I was trying to do is think about how the web could be used for social interactions and social work.”

2) So, how exactly did the idea of hashtag come to your mind and why #Barcamp? Was there any specific reason?

Chris: “Yeah, I mean definitely. The Barcamp was an event model that me and some friends started in 2005 and the idea was just to get people together who are passionate about technology and passionate about all sorts of things to come together in a shared space.” 

“You know, like I said, my semi-chaotic, semi-organized conference. The idea was to not actually have speakers planned beforehand, but whoever was there would become a speaker of the participants. And market itself was designed around this unconference model where you had a grid and it’s like a spreadsheet.” 

“So the spreadsheet there was like times, there were rooms and people would just kind of come up with their topics and have conversations.”

“So that happened in 2005. And by 2007, people were starting to use Twitter to post status updates, keep their friends up to date. However, back then, Twitter was mostly an estimates-based service, if you follow something, you got all their tweets sent to you to your phone and you feel like, well, I care about this, but you’re tweeting about not everything.” 

“So I thought how do I make this more relevant and useful to me? Well, in the previous era of the social web, you’d create groups or forums and people would go into those places and they’d have conversations about cats or not dogs or simple. But that was going to work overestimates.” 

“But we needed a simple way to let people tag their contents that to be found by people who are interested. And the pound symbol available and I suggested to start using it. And it just seemed like the simplest possible to work.”

“And so for people who are attending BarCamp, using hashtag #BarCamp as a way of talking about the event, the act of sharing information.”

“And that is how I came up with the idea of hashtag.”

3) Yesterday I read an article on The Verge that said Twitter hashtags are not as effective as they used to be. So what are your thoughts on that?

Chris – “Yeah, I mean, it’s an interesting conversation. I mean, if you want to talk about the specifics of that critique, you know, it’s that There were a bunch of people who didn’t like the negativity of a certain hashtag. The hashtag was the #NeverWarren.”

“And so they’re like, let’s not be negative. Like, let’s be positive. Let’s not use the hashtag #NeverWarren. And ironically, as a result of talking about it and not wanting it to trend, it ended up trending. So it actually worked as it was supposed to, like people were having a conversation about it. And the question then is, well, should there be an algorithm that determines what is good and what is not good? Should Twitter be the one that says, OK, we’ll never make hashtag #NeverWarren trend, even though that is what people talk about or what they are talking about? “

“So it’s like you can’t really have it both ways where if you do, then you’re creating a new type of filter or moderator. It says this is OK. This is not OK, so there’s still useful just to be thoughtful and intentional. And I am interested to see how Twitter’s topics feature is going to allow people to discover and find things in an easier way. I think hashtags are so great that, for example, topics doesn’t really solve the problem of, you know, hey, there’s a spring event going on in the parking lot. You know, people want to talk about it. Right. Like, you don’t want to go to Twitter and have to register that on Twitter and register with Facebook to register an event. Right. You register like all these services. You want to get people to publish wherever they have to be on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and then use the same tactics. So I think that that may be changing. But I think that’s OK.” 

4) What is next after the hashtags? Any new things or trends?

Chris: “The hashtag is like one very clear, a specific thing that I worked on that I feel sort of proud of.”

“But yeah, in the coming future Internet will soon become a “voice-based usage” instead of typing or even using the touch screen.”

Concluding Thoughts…

So, these were the main highlights of my interview with Chris Messina, the hashtag inventor. 

I hope that, after reading this post, you now have the full knowledge of how the hashtag was invented and by whom. 

Lastly, I want to thank Divya Bhaskar for giving me the opportunity to interview Chris. It was an honour and a proud moment that I will not forget for the rest of my life.

That being said, if you’ve any questions, feel free to ask them in the comment below.

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1 Comment

  1. Chris Messina February 2, 2020 at 3:40 PM

    Thanks for the taking the time!