History of the hashtag

The humble hashtag began its life not as a tool for grouping conversations online but as a somewhat useless symbol. It first appeared as a replacement on American standard keyboards for the £ sign, despite the fact there was no clear use for it. There wasn’t even a universally accepted name for it, it was called everything from a pound sign, a number symbol, a hash key to an octothorpe*.

Then when Bell Labs were looking at their phone keypads in the 60s, they wanted to include two keys which weren’t numbers. They wanted to choose symbols already on the ASCII character list and chose the asterisk * and the pound sign #.

Now the pound sign was at the fingertips of anyone on their phone or computers, but without a real purpose. It was this ambiguity which lead to it being adopted as one of the most universal metadata tags in the world.

It was American developer Chris Messina who first suggested using the hashtag as a means to group conversations online. This was back in the wild early days of ‘ 07 Twitter before we even had trending topics.

Chris Messina suggests using the pound sign as a way to group dicussions


Finally after all these years the # had a purpose in life, to help users find relevant discussions. But we were still calling it a pound symbol. That wasn’t going to last for long, in a blog post by Stowe Boyd 3 days later on August 26th, 2007 we can see the first published use of the phrase “hash tag”:

Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd’s blog post featuring the first published use of the phrase Hashtag


It took just about 2 years for Twitter to fully adopt hashtags and make them hyperlinked on July 2nd 2009, then another year before trending topics was released.

Like the millennial generation which popularised it, the hashtag began its life unsure of its true purpose or how it was to fit in our digital world. Now the hashtag has spread all over the globe and have become one of the best ways for you to get your content to the right people.

You go hashtag. #nailedit

What’s on your all time favourite hashtag? Let us know by tweeting us @Passion_Digital.

*a phrase entirely made up by workers at the Bell Telephone Laboratories by 1968

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