Facebook introduces the hashtag, but will users bite?

By Michael Mayday , Jun 13, 2013 08:20 PM EDT

Facebook will allow users to organize their statuses and posts under a hashtag system akin to the one used by Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram, the company announced on Wednesday.

The new feature will allow users to add context and share interests with a wider audience more easily. It'll also help marketers to reach an immensely larger population of potential customers, and monitor how a particular ad campaign is faring on the world's largest social network.

"To bring these conversations more to the forefront, we will be rolling out a series of features that surface some of the interesting discussions people are having about public events, people, and topics," Facebook's Greg Lindley said in a company post. "As a first step, we are beginning to roll out hashtags on Facebook."

Facebook users who type the "#" symbol into a post will create a clickable link with the letters immediately following it. Users will be able to click on that link to see what other people are saying on the same topic.

Hashtags could help users to facilitate discussion on a particular topic, like a popular tv show or an event making headlines in the news.

"During primetime television alone, there are between 88 and 100 million Americans engaged on Facebook - roughly a Super Bowl-sized audience every single night," Lindley said. "The recent 'Red Wedding' episode of Game of Thrones, received over 1.5 million mentions on Facebook, representing a significant portion of the 5.2 million people who watched the show."

Some may be tempted say that Facebook is simply aping Twitter's innovation, but they'd be wrong. First, the hashtag is only a symbol, and as such cannot be patented. The use of the "#" as an organizing tool predates Twitter, and can be traced back to organizing Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels, among other digital technologies.

Former Twitter employee Chris Messiner, according to GigaOm was the first person to pitch the idea of using hashtags on Twitter as a means of organizing tweets. Twitter execs apparently thought the use of "#" would be too nerdy, according to GigaOm's Liz Gannes, and would never catch on.

The hashtag feature is currently available. 

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