Facebook grab a slice of the hashtag action

Facebook and Twitter are two social networking phenomena chasing global domination, but which is the strongest? There’s only one way to find out . . . Ah, but seeing as it’s not possible for a head to head fight, it seems more likely that each will attempt to co-opt their rival’s features instead, to make the other seem superfluous.

That might explain Facebook’s sudden fondness for the hashtag, or these things: #. It’s a piece of typography that Twitter rescued from its obscurity on the right hand side of the keyboard and turned into a particularly handy way of grouping conversations. For example: #Facebookcopycats.

Facebook looked on jealously at Twitter’s ingenuity and seems to have decided that it would have a piece of that. Soon it will be possible to group together Facebook’s various witterings, inane gossip and vacuous observations under one hashtag. Something like #OMG!

On the surface it would seem that Facebook's people are blatantly copying a successful Twitter innovation, although they might squeal that the hashtag was in use before Twitter came along, used occasionally on message boards and forums as a kind of virtual equivalent of the dayglo yellow highlighter pen.

It does seem to be a sign that Facebook might be running scared of Twitter, which has become many celebrities’ and influential people’s chosen form of interaction ahead of a Facebook page. The Wall Street Journal suggested that hashtags could help maintain Facebook traffic, allowing it to "quickly index conversations around trending topics and build those conversations up, giving users more reason to stay logged in and see more ads."

Hashtags would also augment Facebook’s Graph Search facility in helping to group related content on the site. Facebook is keeping quiet on what it calls "rumour and speculation" so it is unlikely that the hashtag function will be offered until the software has been fine-tuned.

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