When we have to go out of our way to hide our hashtags by placing a bunch of dots beneath a caption or if we have to excuse them via warning, I think we have to step back and reconsider the integrity of what we’re doing in the first place.
Many of my friends do exactly this. I don’t hold this against anyone. However, considering hashtags are a part of our digital world and are playing a role in helping shape this space, it’s something I think is interesting enough to talk about.
Right now, our incessant need to hide our hashtags or even warn our followers of a preceding hash cloud (a paragraph worthy amount of hashtags all clumped together) just doesn’t seem right. It raises the question of why. Both why do we use hashtags and why do we use so many of them?
My primary concern with the attempt to hide hashtags is that it dirties their use. It sets the example that hashtags are ugly, aren’t meant to be seen by viewers, and are meant to be exploited. I don’t like this because I don’t think that’s what hashtags are for. The tagging system is exactly that, a system. It’s a means of organization and categorization so that similar content can be searched and discovered quickly and easily.
When you create hash clouds, you’re no better than the spam accounts that do the exact same thing—it’s a desperate call for any and all attention. Many will argue, “but it’s so I can reach more people!” And I’ll be honest in saying, that’s tough to argue against. Aren’t we all trying to extend our reach and increase our level of social influence?
While that may be true, I question if it diminishes the very thing we’re trying to do—reach people effectively. Like the way many of us now approach social networking, tagging requires curation. Hash clouds just promote dilution and noise. It prevents the tagging system from being as effective as it can be and even inhibits it from being what it’s intended to be.
Imagine if the grocery store was like this. Instead of every aisle being labeled by a couple of names so you can quickly identify what’s in that aisle, it excessively labeled out every item in there. Instead of the overhead sign merely indicating bread, it instead was labeled with wheat bread, white bread, honey wheat bread, rye bread, whole grain bread, cinnamon bread, etc. along with all of the other items in that aisle. It wouldn’t make sense, right?
If you use hash clouds, I’m not telling you to stop. But I’m asking you to reevaluate why you use it. I’m asking you to step back and reconsider how you might effectively reach new audiences. I’m asking you to think about this as well. How might the hashtag system be improved in such a way that it doesn’t become a method of exploitation?