The Hashtag Evolution of Search: Facebook, Twitter and Google

Facebook Graph Search

Facebook Graph Search Tool

The globally popular yet falsified user base social media networking site, Facebook, recently began offering its users the right to beta test their upcoming social search tool, Graph Search. For those of you who do not know, Facebook’s Graph Search aims to change the way we search for content, information, data etc. by searching for that information in the context of what our friends are also interested in/searching for. This is to say, if you search for “hiking” using the Facebook Graph Search, your search query will return results for hiking and your friends who like hiking. The idea behind this is to get to know and connect with your friends better. Whether the Facebook Graph Search effectively changes the way we search is still in the air however it has caused Facebook to adopt another social media tracking mechanism, the hashtag.

The Hashtag: Origins, Meanings and Why it Took Facebook So Long

For most people, the hashtag is synonymous with Twitter. On Twitter, and on other social media networking sites like Google Plus, Tumblr and Flickr, the hashtag allows its users to track, mark,



#Hashtagbecome part of and record a conversation on a given topic. By using a given hashtag, users can interact with information they are interested in and become part of the growing story around that information. But before we get to why the inclusion of hashtag’s in Facebook will make the Facebook Graph Search tool better then it’s current search tool, we first have to look at the origin of the hashtag.

The Hashtag, or the #, derives its name from the British terminology, the hash sign. Originally used to delineate a number, the hash sign was adopted by American English speakers in the middle of the 20th century. Like everything American English, we changed it to the pound sign. For roughly half of a century the pound sign quietly survived in American lexicon as the British hash sign did, to indicate a phone number however it wasn’t until the creation and use of IRC (Internet Relay Chat) rooms that the pound sign began its journey towards its modern use. In IRC rooms the # was used as a way to show a topic or an idea and to follow along that topic or idea. Just as it currently exists on Twitter and varying social media networking sites, the # was changed from pound or hash sign to hashtag to reference the topic which directly proceeds the marker. The word “tag” indicates the important part of the symbol is not the symbol, but the words coming after it. It indicates a tag – or a way to keep track.

Fast forward to 2007. Twitter comes to life. The “micro-blogging” social media networking site first uses them on August 23, 2007 by Twitter user Chris Messina. The tweet which started it all

“How do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?”

From that tweet, the # was off and running. Gaining quick credibility and usage across the upstart social media networking platform, the # began to serve Twitter in the same way it served IRC’s. To track an idea or a thought. Over it’s Twitter life span, the hashtag has grown into not only a marker of ideas to follow and interact with but an advertising tool designed to allow users to interact with paid for ideas. The idea here is the same basis as Google Ad Words. Companies pay for a word or an idea to gain clicks and eyeballs in the hopes that it will bring consumers to the door of their sales funnel. Another interesting use of #’s can be found in the political arena. Although not selling a direct sales product, the 2012 election of Barack Obama saw political parties buying hashtag’s to dominate a political conversation. In essence, #’s help users find their topic of choice quicker than performing a normal search consisting of the words broaching a given idea. This is where Facebook steps in.

Facebook Hashtag

Facebook Hashtag

In an effort to make search through Facebook more content and socially rewarding, Facebook began playing with the Graph Search tool in the middle of 2012. The tool hoped to conduct targeted search across their social media platform by not only finding relevant information but connecting that information to the searchers friends. Beta testing for the Graph Tool began in late 2012/early 2013. With Facebook aiming to best both Twitter and Google for trending ideas, Facebook finally began toying with the idea of hashtag’s in March 2013. Why did it take them so long? Well, unless you weren’t aware, there has been a long running war between Twitter and Facebook for social media networking dominance. Call it ego, call it bluster, call it my dick is bigger than your dick, the companies are at war. And this is where it gets interesting. With the inclusion of the hashtag, Facebook in now openly at war with Twitter and Google.

Fighting For Search Dominance

Google vs. Facebook

Google vs. Facebook

The # will make Facebook’s Graph Search a more powerful, comprehensive tool for friendly users and paid traffic users alike. By being able to segment a population out to a great finite specific grouping, the hashtag graph search will allow friends to connect easier and companies to market their products to users who fit their demographic and more importantly, friends of those users who fit their demographic. As Google uses keywords and ad words to segment traffic and draw eyeballs, Facebook will use hashtag’s to accomplish the same goal. Make no mistake about it, Facebook is at war with both Twitter and Google over the next stages of social media search. The only question left to answer now is, who will win?


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