From humble beginnings of been “that thing next to the star button on a phone” to the ubiquitous symbol of search on social media, the ‘hash #’ sign sure has come a long way. The apotheosis of hash has been meteoric ever since Chris Messina proposed its usage on microblogging site Twitter, for labeling groups and tables.
Here’s a fun trivia. Chris’s suggestion was first looked upon with skepticism, but soon Twitter starter acquiring other companies and apps (including Tweetie and Summize) which were already using hashtags, and it became apparent that the world was ready for the hash.
(Now, here’s something that you should know. The symbol ‘#’ is called hash, and when it is immediately followed by some text, then the whole text is called a hashtag. Twitter manual refers to ‘#’ as the hashtag symbol.)
Since then, it has moved on from being Shift+3 on Windows to a trendsetter on several social media sites. (For example, #learndigitalmarketing is a popular trending hashtag)
History and Early Roots
The hash isn’t a new symbol though. Its existence can be traced back to the 17th century. An ancient form of hash was used to represent the abbreviation of the Roman term libra ponda, pound weight when translated. And that’s why it’s also called the pound sign.
In an 1853 bookkeeping treatise, this symbol was first used to represent a number. And hence it started been referred to as the number sign. The distinction between number sign and pound was made early on. A 1917 manual stated that the number sign should be written before a figure and the pound sign should be written after a figure.
These symbols were all handwritten. The earliest evidence of hash been used in a mechanical device was found in 1886 on Remington Standard typewriter. From here it went on to several teleprinter codes and was soon copied to ASCII, thus making its way into computers.
The many names of the same character
So far we have seen that the ‘#’ sign is known by hash (maybe hashtag), pound and number sign. But it is known by so many other names that it would put Uganda’s Idi Amin Dada Oumee to shame. (Here’s the full, self-bestowed title of Idi Amin -- His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, CBE, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular).
Some programming languages such as Python and other shell scripts use ‘#’ for comments. When the character is followed by an exclamation mark it becomes a shebang or a hashbang. This is widely used in the UNIX operating system.
In Singapore and Malaysia, the ‘#’ is referred to as hex. It precedes the floor number when mentioning apartment addresses.
What is C# called? It’s C sharp. Microsoft has clarified that the ‘#’ is not hash, but sharp, a musical symbol.
In the profession of copy writing, the character is used while proofreading to denote the need for blank space.
Octothorp, octothorpe, octathorp, octatherp
This, in reality, is the official name of the character, invented by scientists at Bell Laboratories, where telephones came from. The symbol was added to the telephone keypad to send instruction. The word Octo was used because the symbol has eight ends, but how Thorpe came about, is a fascinating story. Some say the lead scientist named it after Jim Thorpe, an Olympic athlete, some say it is a random word, and some say it is an old Norse word Thorpe, which means field. And that’s how ‘#’ came to be known as octothorpe.
Used in the UK as a page address delimiter.
British Telecom refers to this character as Gate.
Are hashtags data structures?
Technically, a hash could correlate to a data structure which entails hash tables and functions. But it needs to be said that hashtags and the technique of hashing in programming might not have any correlation. It largely depends on how a service indexes the database and clubs together the words starting with ‘#’. Twitter does this, and so does other social apps.
Is there a strategy for using hashtags?
Hashtags, when used correctly, can build relations, increase brand awareness, and increase brand loyalty. One can also register hashtags and track its usage through several tools. It is always important to remember that posts on social media must not be flooded with irrelevant hashtags. Specific keywords that attract a niche audience should be chosen by using the right tools. Capitalizing specific words, although not necessary, clearly communicates the message, (for example #RegenesysBusinessSchool or #CertificateinAdvancedDigitalMarketing). Keeping an eye on the trending topics and chiming in relevant inputs is also a way to start trending.
Hashes should be used after understanding the audience and developing different strategies for different social media platforms.
Hashes have definitely come a long way changing the way we browse and making the experience enjoyable.