Twitter, Facebook, Instagram... Our lives are consistently surrounded by the buzz of social media as access to technology becomes more of an expectation rather than a privilege. A prominent component of today’s social media based interactions is the #hashtag, which, despite being introduced to the internet a little more than seven years ago, has already become the front runner in connecting individuals based on the content of their posts and revolutionizing revolutions.
But who was the man behind this innovative, new use of the pound key? If you ask Twitter Inc. about the origins of the hashtag, the company responds that the hashtag “was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.” But the man who first pitched the idea to the company, and got turned down, is Chris Messina.
According to his twitter bio (you can follow him @chrismessina), Messina is an "Agent of free will. Godfather of the#hashtag (http://nyti.ms/lJ6Kdj ). Golden mane, sophisticated eyewear, unstoppable majesty; not the actor." Messina, who is currently 34 years old, graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in 2003. He has worked for several major companies in his short career and has also co founded a marketing agency. Messina has worked as an Open Source Advocate for companies, including Vidoop and Google; in fact, he won a Google-O'Reilly Open Source Award in 2008 for his work. He is well known among his peers as a supporter of open source technology, which encourages universal access to source codes through the free licensing of products, mainly computer programs.
But let's back track to hashtag. It all started in 2007 with the following tweet:
When Messina first pitched the idea to companies, including Twitter, he was faced with rejection. According to him, Twitter flat out declared that "these things are for nerds. They’re never going to catch on." Looking back at it, Messina told WCCO-TV in an interview, “It was one of those things where I had so many haters in the beginning that I thought this thing would never pick up. But, secretly, I sort of felt like, 'Come on, guys, this is the simplest thing that could work.'"
And it was! Messina was able to recognize the mass mobilization of communication that resulted from the launch of different social media networks and wanted to introduce a new
component that could further propel the us into the next generation of global communication. In the eyes of the tech companies, the idea was a bust, but for Messina, it was one that Sternberg and his colleagues would characterize as Advance Forward Incrementation
Messina solely attempted to get the hashtag ball rolling and a few friends caught on, but it wasn't until the San Diego fire from October, 2007
But the same hashtags have also allowed us to get an intimate look at the perspectives of those experiencing horrendous tragedies. This last summer, Twitter was filled with the reactions and circumstances of thousands of citizens from Gaza as their tiny city was turned to ruins. Live tweets from a sixteen year old who's neighborhood was under fire woke the world to the reality of those stuck in war zones like Gaza throughout the world. With the hashtag, those often silenced are finding their voice. Although the hashtag has also allowed for bigots to connect with one another and increase in their hate speech (i.e. #KillAllMuslims), but there are louder voice advocating for acknowledgment, action, and justice. In the past few months (and in some cases, days), hashtags like #BringBackOurGirls, #BlackLivesMatter, #ICantBreathe, #YesAllWomen, and #ChapelHillShooting have brought to light the concerns of communities often marginalized and ignored by mainstream media. With it, we are perpetually stepping closer and closer to the real stories and downplaying the role of the middle man.