Tag Archives: Infographic

Hashtags: A Brief Account of a Long History

Image courtesy of Rollingout.com

Image courtesy of Rollingout.com

Today, the # symbol is easily recognized as a “hashtag.” Its current identity is solidly connected to Twitter and is commonplace in the world of social media. My earliest memory of the # symbol belongs in the post-rotary, pre-smartphone dark ages of the ’70s. The “pound” button offered a few options to traditional telephone mechanics, but these are nothing compared to what it can do for us today.

But I digress.

Keith Houston, author of Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols & Other Typographical Marks, recently wrote a guest post for the New Yorker.  To discover the origin of the # symbol, Houston returns us to the fourteenth century. Here we find an introduction of the Latin abbreviation “lb,” for the Roman term libra pondo, or “pound weight.”

Later, in the seventeenth century, we can see the “lb” abbreviation is still in use. The cursory penmanship of busy scribes dashed the “lb” abbreviation into its current shape. Enter the #.


Left, from Isaac Newton; right, from Johann Conrad Barchusen’s “Pyrosophia” (1698)
Courtesy of the Othmer Library of Chemical History

Though the form evolved from libra pondo to lb to #, its meaning remained unchanged, as “pound weight,” for many years.

Later, the # symbol was referred to as the “hash mark,” “number sign” and “octothorpe” as it applied to telephone technologies.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the “hashtag” was proposed for use on Twitter to organize content and target specific audience interests.

This infographic was created by Offerpop and walks us through the past six years of the hashtag’s growing application innovations and, therefore,  importance in the social media landscape.

History of #Hashtags Infographic by Offerpop

History of #Hashtags
Infographic by Offerpop

Highlights in the short yet impactful infancy of the Twitter based hashtag include its first Super Bowl appearance in 2011 and its employment as a real-time conversation organizer during the Arab Spring later that same year.

Today, hashtags allow Twitter users to categorize communications into a simplified searchable and linkable format. However, there are a few rules of etiquette to keep this simplification tool simple:

1: DON’T OVERUSE – Use a maximum of two hashtags in your tweets.

2: KEEP THEM SHORT – Tweets are restricted to 140 characters, you don’t want a hashtag to take up 50% of the letters in your tweet.

3: DEFINE YOUR TAG – A tag directory, such as tagdef.com, can give your tag a meaning. you can also search for the meaning of existing tags.

4: NO SPACES – Spaces preceding the hashtag will break the link.

As users find innovative ways to apply new meaning and applications to the hashtag, its story will continue to evolve. I wonder what this historically rich symbol will imply in the future. Will Millenials replace “pound” with “hastag” once and for all? Will the shape of the # symbol morph again?

Undoubtedly, distance will be gained between my first ’70s version and whatever is to come in the future.



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Data Visualization: Then and Now

Data visualization is a hot topic. Business leaders in a variety of industries are learning about and making room for infographics in their public relations, marketing and advertising plans. Infographics are a great tactic when large concepts or amounts of information need simplification – not omission – to increase message accessibility and absorption within key publics.

Alex Lundry, VP and Director of Research at TargetPoint, explains that “we should expect to see more visualizations used for messaging purposes … And add visual thinking to our citizenship toolkit.”

In a 2011 interview with The European, visionary George Dyson claimed, “Information is cheap, but meaning is expensive.” With tsunamis of input – compliments of the digital age – bombarding our daily lives, it is increasingly difficult to distill data. It is even more difficult to find meaning within all of that data.

Though I refer to data visualization as a ‘hot topic,’ that is not to say that it is a new topic. The search for meaning in a sea of information has been a challenge throughout history.

Infographic: Library of Congress via The New Yorker

The above infographic came to my attention via Gareth Cook’s recent article in The New Yorker. Cook describes President Lincoln’s “Slave Map” as heavily shaded in regions with a high slave population.

By cross-referencing demographics with region, Lincoln was able to see opportunities for pro-Union support in the South.

This simple infographic allowed Lincoln to view the South as a political landscape. And it afforded him a meaningful and, therefore, useful context. The states were no longer simply Union or Confederate; their individual complexities became a source of hope.

Like Lundry, Dyson and Lincoln, we are appreciators of information. But what we truly desire is meaning. And data visualization helps us transform chaos into clarity.

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November 8, 2013 · 9:57 pm