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Why Facebook is stealing the #hashtag from Twitter
Hint: It's not for your convenience
#copycat
#copycat Kim White/Getty Images (Illustration By: Elena Scotti)
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acebook "is taking its business rivalry with Twitter Inc. into the realm of symbols: #Feud," say Evelyn M. Rusli and Shira Ovide in The Wall Street Journal. Yes, fresh off its big redesign, "Facebook is working on incorporating the hashtag, one of Twitter's most iconic markers, into its service" at some unspecified point in the future. Clicking on a word with a hashtag in front of it — say, #copycat — would immediately bring up all Facebook posts with the same hashtag, allowing Facebook's billion-plus active users to join in a giant virtual conversation. This helps Facebook, say Rusli and Ovide, because it gives "users more reason to stay logged in and see more ads."

Of course, plenty of folks are booing this move. For instance: "#ugh," says Sam Biddle at Gizmodo.

Let's not forget the most important thing here, which is that aside from current events and strict organization, hashtags are the symbolic vernacular of idiots across the world, who spray them across sentences like a bottle of Cheez Whiz. It is one of the worst, toxic forms of internet pollution. But what can one do? People love hashtags... and Facebook, if nothing else, is about giving the people what they want. [Gizmodo]

Yes, "these days, the unironic use of hashtags on Twitter usually marks you as either a rookie, a 'social media guru,' or a writer for a crappy TV show," says Will Oremus at Slate. But there's a reason Facebook is "ripping off what's quite possibly the most annoying feature of its fast-growing rival": Money.

Where you see hashtags, Facebook sees dollar signs. Like so many recent Facebook experiments and site changes, the hashtag idea sounds clunky when you think about it from the user's perspective, but rather ingenious when you consider it from a business perspective.... Hashtags — like Graph Search, emoji, its latest Timeline redesign, and just about everything else Facebook does — are yet another a way to get users to tell Facebook more about what they like, what they're doing, what they're interested in, and what they're searching for at any given moment.... The move isn't about showing users more ads. It's about showing them more-effective ads. [Slate]

That's why this is such a smart move by Facebook: "Edging in on Twitter's advertising territory by offering a better way to connect ads to users could spell trouble for Twitter," says Mike Isaac at All Things D. But while "drilling down on the hashtag... is a direct affront to Twitter, potentially dipping into Twitter's valuable ad dollar territory," there's a bright side for Twitter, too.

One of Twitter's largest issues has been its difficulty translating just how normal people are supposed to use the hashtag in the first place. When on-boarding new users, they're faced with a litany of "at symbols" and hashtags, a language of Twitter's own that isn't immediately clear.... So Facebook's widespread adoption of this language could actually bring the lexicon to the masses, essentially introducing a billion newbies to a gnarly language — one which Twitter is still trying to figure out how to introduce to users. Remember, Twitter: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. [All Things D]

Plus, "Twitter Inc. didn't invent the hashtag, and it wasn't even the first to use them in a tweet," says Russell Brandom at The Verge. "The hashtag can go wherever it wants. Nobody owns it. It's free." People associate the # with Twitter because "Twitter's hashtags are the most popular" of all the social media sites that use them, including Facebook's Instagram. "But that may not always be true." Facebook is actually kind of late to the game, and "as more services adopt the hashtag shorthand, it gets harder and harder for Twitter to keep its stranglehold on this semantic goldmine."

That's a good thing. The hashtag isn't a technology or even a platform service like the Facebook Poke. It's more of an organizing principle, a way of opting into a larger public discussion.... In that way, it's like another keyboard orphan, the @ symbol, plugged into the email protocol 40 years ago and still going strong. Along the way, the @ has outlived hundreds of email companies, not to mention a fair number of computer companies and operating systems. The hashtag seems on track to live just as long, and outlive just as many platforms. Even if Twitter collapses, there'll still be a place to say #RIP. [The Verge]

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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