The hashtag is one of the most identifiable features of Twitter, organically produced by users to bring together information on the same topics.
It has now become a key part of the service, with news stories, advertising campaigns and live tweeting all being based around it, and it looks like Facebook wants a piece of the action.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook are developing a way of incorporating the hashtag into its service, as it competes with Twitter for eyeballs and ad dollars. It is apparently “testing whether to follow Twitter’s lead and allow users to click on a hashtag to pull up all posts about similar topics or events so it can quickly index conversations around trending topics and build those conversations up”.
Facebook has previously mimicked other Twitter characteristics, such as allowing users to have a subscribe button so that anyone can follow their public postings. As the WSJ also point out, it has not been secret in its attempts to become a publishing platform, the world’s best newspaper as well as a way to connect with your real life friends.
The development is clearly linked to Facebook launching its Graph Search so users and advertisers can find more content. However, Techcrunch, who also spoke to a source close to the story, do highlight one key issue with incorporating hashtags into Facebook:
Unlike Twitter where most posts are public, on Facebook most have some level of privacy. Clicking a hashtag would therefore only be able to show you public posts and those set to be visible to you that mention the tag.
While services like Netvibes do already allow searching of Facebook content, the only way this realistically could be done without causing a major privacy backlash is to limit hashtag results that appear in Graph Search to public posts only. Given the limited number of Facebook accounts that have the subscriber feature enabled or don’t have privacy settings, this seems a rather fruitless development.
Most of all, bringing in hashtags to Facebook seems to totally misunderstand why people and advertisers use the service. People use it to keep in touch with their friends, and advertisers use it to build on those networks of trust. Trying to mimic the intentionally more open and broadcast like Twitter will only limit Facebook’s power, its USP, and its revenue potential.