Hashtags for Micro.blog

This is a reply to @vivianlee:

You’ll have to excuse my ignorance here, but you could elaborate on the negative effects of hashtags? I’m new to the IndieWeb philosophy, and having just come from the likes of Twitter and Instagram, the lack of hashtags here has made it difficult for discovery. I’m wondering what the workaround is, and why hashtags would be a negative thing.

(original comment)

I’m not as well-informed on all of the technical aspects or any work that has been done to support this position – case studies, etc – but I do have a general view based on my experiences in the hashtag-heavy platforms vs. Micro.blog and my old days on message boards and the like.

A lot of the behaviour around hashtags for those with ill will is about tracking and campaigning at speed; using algorithms for trending to target and pile-on people and groups. It can also become easy to ruin a topic that has until that point been carefully curated by the people involved, whether through crude spambots or planned, targeted campaigns.

The flip-side of that is of course moderation, whether from the people running the platform or via account-based tools made available to each person. Whilst I’m not aware of what exactly could be done with such resources, I know for sure that either way it is likely to be a lot of work for such a small team.

There is also the question of priorities within the context of culture; are hashtags, with all of the associated work, what Micro.blog needs right now? From my experience this is the kind of mechanism that can quickly lead to significant unintended consequences and so the positive value – which is basically just discovery – needs to be carefully weighed against the costs.

As for the alternatives, on Micro.blog it’s a mix of direct-ish approaches;

and the in-direct approach that has become part of the culture of Micro.blog;

(Note: there is also a Micro.blog help page covering this subject)

These alternatives also work well with philosophies of the open web, which preclude the silos; specifcally, the idea of the open web as the great social network, where we use feeds, email, newsletters, and other such technology and platforms that are largely non-proprietary. This means greater agency, independence, control, and less manipulation for all involved; it becomes a lot less like everybody dumping their posts into a bucket of faceless, nameless content whilst parasitical entities take advantage of our ignorance and lack of ownership.

I don’t think hashtags are intrinisic to the destructive nature of the web, rather I am unaware of any way for a small team to harness their power without sacrificing the good of Micro.blog; the intention, the curation, the personal contact, the idea that we are all people sharing space with some degree of control, and choosing to take our actions no matter what they might be.

Simon Woods @SimonWoods