A smile crept across Chris Messina’s face this weekend when, at a festival, someone casually used the phrase “hashtag whatever”.
Go back ten years and we find the root of the product designer’s amusement; he was working for Google in Silicone Valley, California, and a new platform called Twitter just rejected his idea of using the hash symbol (#) as a way of grouping messages.
“It was the simplest, stupidest thing that could possibly work”, said Chris, which, with hindsight, he thinks could have been one of the reasons Twitter initially refused his idea.
To give some context, in 2007 the first iPhone had just been introduced on the market, most people were using phones with “plastic” numeric keyboards and Twitter was used by what the media perceived as “a bunch of navel gazers,” according to Chris.
Ten years ago, Chris made his initial suggestion in favour of the hashtag to other Twitter users.
how do you feel about using # (pound) for groups. As in #barcamp [msg]?— ⌗ChrisMessina (@chrismessina) August 23, 2007
He then made a more official pitch to Twitter at their offices, which was rebuffed.
“It was an undeniably elegant proposal, but I really needed to get back to work,” said Twitter co-founder Biz Stone of the encounter in a recent blog post.
“I turned back to my computer screen to help get Twitter back up and running, hurriedly ending the conversation with a sarcastic, Sure, we’ll get right on that.’”
Until this point, the hash, or pound symbol, had been used on phones to check answering machines and the idea of using it as a grouping tool was dismissed by Twitter’s busy founders as “for nerds” and something people would never understand, according to Nick Bilton author of Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal.
How did Chris convince Twitter to use the hashtag?
“I guess I took it upon myself to start talking to all the people that were using and developing apps for Twitter,” he said, “and actually convince them that there was something to this idea.”
“I was pretty persistent,” said Chris, who was using hashtags even though they didn’t link to any content at the time.