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Hashtags: The New New Way to Organize the World

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, October 2 2008

Back in my day, if you had a bright idea, you planted a flag for it by registering a domain name. But that time has passed, my friends. These days, even more important than a website seems to be picking a humble Twitter hashtag to define a political meme. Then you throw it out into the world and seeing if it has any stickiness. Good ones can evolve out of Twitter to the rest of the web and world, portable from Twitter to RSS streams to, yes, domain names to blog post tags. Hashtags are kinda like OpenID for ideas.

Some political hashtags have already proven themselves particularly sticky. I'm sure I'm missing a bunch, but off the top of my head, here are a few. There's #dontgo, the hashtag that grew out of the House Republicans protest of the energy bill, which in turn spawned a mini movement and a good deal of news coverage. Then #suspend bubbled up when John McCain put a short-lived halt to his campaign to deal with the economic situation. And the anti-earmark #pork has been picked up by Republican Jeff Flake and fed into a "Pork Parade" site. I'm sure there are many more good ones I'm missing.

There's more bubbling up for tonight's Biden/Palin debate, aimed at tagging Twitter chatter. There are a pair on my radar screen. The first is #notmygal, an anti-Sarah Palin effort that's also tied to a vlogging project based on YouTube. The goal there is to tweet the hashtag whenever Palin says something disagreeable. And the second is #dirtycoal. The Sierra Club is, I hear, planning to use that one tonight as part of a campaign to counter the coal industry's "clean coal" ads that will likely air during the debate tonight.

With either Twemes or Twitter's in-house search, it's trivial to instantly see which hashtags are getting good pick up and which are fizzling. It may well now be the quickest way to kick ideas out into the world and see which ones are fit enough to thrive.

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