Evolving Hashtags: Making Tags User-Friendly

|   Feb 28, 2011

At Socialcast, we frequently work with our customers to understand how they use our product and what we can do to make it a better experience for them. A recent example has to do with the use of hashtags – which are words or terms preceded with the “#” symbol that allow readers to create a communication channel on demand. In laymen’s terms, they are like labels that one adds to a message to help others find and share similar discussions. Socialcast rolled out hashtags in 2008 after they became popular on Twitter. Today, we often see hashtags like #worklog being used to record what employees are working on, or #sales and #Acmecompany that label conversations around higher-level themes or more specific client discussions.

A couple of months ago, we learned that some of our customers were using hashtags in their conversations to specifically represent the products they were working on. As customers were working on developing upcoming products, they would synchronize across teams on the progress of the product using unique hashtags for each product. Once the product was released, the sales team would continue the conversation around the product by posting sales results and customer successes using those same hashtags. The entire life cycle of a product was managed using a single hashtag inside Socialcast. This was a very interesting use case of the Enterprise adopting a consumer convention to help them work better. But with the current state of hashtags, there were a few things that needed to change in order to make this use case more effective.

First, not everyone in a company is familiar with the convention of hashtags. There is not much context around what a hashtag represents unless you were the one that created it. Even on Twitter, one sees that a subset of users are familiar with a hashtag and others must try and decipher its meaning from the messages to which it has been posted so far, doing a search for the hashtag or using a hashtag dictionary.

Another similar challenge that we observed was that customers were managing a lot of public groups in their communities that revolved around certain interests; they were being used in many cases like hashtags. Generally, these were temporary groups and community administrators were left with the task of cleaning up stale groups and users ended up with a lot of groups to visit.

Today, we are happy to announce that we have evolved the Socialcast product to improve the experience around sharing common information. Hashtags are no longer bare terms. Starting today, we are providing users with the ability to add context to all of their hashtags by creating dedicated topic pages where anyone can edit and add a description, image and share links as well as messages. This new topics feature is now live for all of our customers that are using the free and premium version of the product.

Topic pages also highlight the people who have been recently discussing each topic, providing a social context and outlining the value and impact of each topic to the organization. This promotes knowledge sharing amongst community members.

Here is an example of what our Trending Topic directory looks like. Users can filter topics by letter and over time, as shown here with topics filtered by the letter ‘H’ and popular in the last seven days.

A couple of weeks ago, we released support for previewing links shared by users in the stream. Links and topics compliment each other. As users find interesting pieces of information they share into the stream, all of the topics on the page will be imported into their community database so they can be categorized and distributed to the right audience. Once readers go to the Topic page, they can find other links which were shared for that topic.

Developers will be interested in learning that all of this information, collected via the Open Graph Protocol for each shared link, is also available via our API. Anything that is parsed, even if its not used to build the link preview, is stored so that the customer can build applications that leverage this information.

The hashtag support was not hard to implement thanks to Microformats’ rel-tag. We also decided to extend the support in the Open Graph Protocol by adding a new Open Graph tag “og:tag” which can be used to convey the hashtag for the object marked up.

For example, if a page for a book has been marked up using the Open Graph Protocol, then by simply adding a single line of HTML, any time a user shares the link to the page, the topic will be updated to reflect the image, title and description from the page:

<title>La’s Orchestra Saves the World</title>
<meta property=”og:tag” content=”orchestra”></meta>
<meta property=”og:isbn” content=”ISBN-0-999-10″></meta>
<meta property=”og:type” content=”book”></meta>
<meta property=”og:image” content=”http://books.com/images/orchestra.png”></meta>
<meta property=”og:description” content=”A heart-warming stand alone novel about the life-affirming powers of music and company during a time of war, from the best-selling and beloved author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. When Lavender, La to her friends, moves to the Suffolk countryside, it is not just to escape the London Blitz but also to…”></meta>

As you can see, it is very simple to transform your webpages to provide context in your community’s stream.

We believe that these set of enhancements will create a useful context for messages, highlighting synergies across the organization and leveraging all of your end users to enrich your knowledge base.


  • This is awesome Monica! I totally want this feature on every social website! Nice work!

    Commented on March 1, 2011 at 5:08 pm
  • Very interesting post! This is a great idea for people that don’t have an understanding of what a #hastag even is.


    Commented on March 4, 2011 at 10:46 am
  • Excellent! Great to see this!

    Commented on March 4, 2011 at 6:26 pm

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What is Socialcast?

Socialcast by VMware (NYSE: VMW) is a social network for business uniting people, information, and applications with its real-time enterprise activity stream engine. Behind the firewall or in the cloud, Socialcast enables instant collaboration in a secure environment. Socialcast is headquartered in San Francisco, California. www.socialcast.com