Thursday, 7 June 2012

We love hashtags (plus a few handy tips!)

Well... I love hashtags anyway!
Well... maybe it's just me, but I do love them and if you don't hashtag things online (or use tags / labels - whatever you want to call them, the terms are often used interchangeably), then I think you're missing a trick.

So, why the hashtag love?

Let's start at the beginning...

What's a hashtag?
A hashtag is a way of giving something you've posted, saved or shared a keyword.  Say I save something on the subject of 'blogging', I just tag it 'blogging' (along with anything else I think might be meaningful).  If I put a tweet out on Twitter and I want to tag it, I just use a hash symbol and then the word: #blogging.  When I want to find it again, I just search for the tag / hashtag.  What's more, because other people tag things too, I can see what they've saved or shared with that tag as well.  That's a fairly simple idea, right? It's all tied in with the concept of a folksonomy - ordinary people organising stuff into collections by the use of tagging.  The difference between a taxonomy and a folksonomy is that a folksonomy comes from the people with no predetermined hierarchy - it's a 'bottom up' way of organisation which is personal to each user who applies the tag.  There's a good article on it from David Weinberger from a few years ago which you might want to read if you're interested!

Why are they so brilliant?
Y'know, the reason that hashtags are so brilliant is simply that they help you find and bring together all that good stuff you see all the time on the web.  If I want to see if anyone's sharing something useful, I type in a hashtag term and get stuff that's relevant.  It's a fantastic tool for filtering and finding. 

Where can I see them in use?
Searching for a hashtag on TweetDeck
If you've attended a conference lately, you may well have seen that it has a hashtag for the event.  What organisers tend to do is to suggest a unique hashtag which people attending can use - what you can then do is keep track of all Tweets (for example) from people at the conference and get a flavour of what's going on.    It provides a backchannel for discussion and sometimes you might see a Twitter wall, where hashtagged tweets will appear in real time.  You don't need to be following everyone there, just see what they're tweeting about via a simple search on Twitter or a Twitter client such as TweetDeck.  You can also find them on Flickr.  You'll find content that's been tagged on YouTube.  On Scoop.it.  On Pinterest.  Instagr.am... lots of places!  They're there to help people categorise and find things they would like to see again or help share with others / discover new stuff.

Give me some other ideas for places I can use hashtags...
Okay, since you asked...

1.  Use hashtags on your tweets to help others find what you're tweeting (the same applies for things you've shared on Flickr, YouTube etc - using tags will aid in their discoverability)
2.  Agree a unique hashtag to use when you find things on the web - and use it.  That way you can discover the relevant content your colleagues are finding as well as sharing with them.  It doesn't matter if that's videos created on YouTube, Tweets, images on Flickr - as long as you can tag it, tag it! We use #cicsltt for that purpose.
3.  Use as many tags as you like on Google+ (there's no character limit), then do a search for them and use the 'save search' facility.  If you want to look at what's new on that topic, you can easily switch to that view.
Searching for a hashtag on Google+ (the 'save this search' option is to the right hand side)

4.  Use a hashtag as an information hub.  With a site such as NetVibes to aggregate content from a number of sources - you can set up pages which are topics of interest to you personally, to your students, to your colleagues.  Just search for that tag across various services, and add them as content on your NetVibes page.  I've used them for co-ordinating international projects as well to support inter-team communications.
5.  Get your students to use a unique tag whenever they save something using a social bookmarking tool such as Diigo or Delicious - they can also use their own tags, but get them to include your unique tag too.  It'll help them collaboratively research topics and share the results.  It doesn't matter who saved it, with the use of a unique tag, you can find it and bring it together.  For example, all relevant learning technology materials by us on Diigo are saved with our cicsltt tag.
6.  Want to bring together all articles by a specific author on Blogger but can't easily find a way to do it?  Use labels (the Blogger equivalent of hashtags) and then you'll find that if you click on the label, you'll get a page with just that content on it - for example, all of my blog posts are labelled (amongst other things) with my name... so if, for some reason(!), you want to read more of what I've written or I want to share my articles with someone else - it's just a click on the label away.
7.  Next time you attend a conference or put one on, make sure that you either know what the hashtag is or create one for the occasion.  It's a great way to help with networking and you'll not only make relevant contacts if you use it...
8.  ... but it's an excellent way of taking notes yourself.  An advanced search on Twitter will allow you to find just your content with just that hashtag - you can quickly pull up all the points you noted, links you shared and write up the event.
9.  Think of keywords about your subject and search for those whenever you discover a new site or service, it'll help you see what's relevant and get yourself off to a quick start.
10. Some hashtags have started to be used to host discussions.  #edchat on Twitter, for example is used for a regular discussion on Twitter amongst teachers.  #phdchat for... well... discussions amongst PhD candidates.
11.  'Storify' an event (good for summarising all that social content created by participants) by searching for its hashtag across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google, Flickr etc

'Storify' your event by searching for the hashtag to find interesting / relevant content

12.  Use a tool like ifttt.com ('if this then that') to use hashtags to automate various online services - for example, every time anyone uses the #cicsltt hashtag on Twitter it automatically adds the Tweet to a text file on Dropbox.
13.  If searching for the tag produces an RSS feed then you can subscribe to it via something like Google Reader - which is part of Google Apps and will make keeping track of new content a doddle.  If there is no RSS feed / option to subscribe, but you're feeling brave, then a site like feed43.com can help you create one to use.

Basically, we LOVE hashtags!

See it, tag it, share it, find it, discover it, connect with it, subscribe to it, aggregate it... LOVE it!

Sarah

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