Back in the late 90′s I started noticing URLs at the end of many TV advertisements. They started as general company URLs (and were relatively infrequent) and eventually because almost ubiquitous leading not just to company home pages but eventually to product pages or other ares of a company’s site were one could get more information about whatever was being hocked on TV (or in a magazine, etc.). Fast forward a few years and we saw the same phenomenon with brands and their Facebook pages. And then Twitter. These were/are great ways for brands to get more information to people interested in their products. And to some extent through Twitter and Facebook “engage” with people so inclined to interact in that way with the producers of products they like and use.
Now we’re seeing something pretty different and I’m interested to see where it goes (and have been thinking from an investment perspective for ways to participate in it as a growing trend). What I’m referring to (which will be obvious to anyone who read the title of this post) is the emergence of the #hashtag. You see it everywhere now. And not just on advertisements, but anywhere people are trying to drive a group conversation – at the end of magazine articles, during TV shows, sporting events, cable new channels. The #hash’s are generally topic related, not brand related (CNN isn’t pushing the #CNN hash but instead pushing #Election2012; we’ll all be tweeting about #superbowl this Sunday, etc.).
And like a lot of things in this new era of the internet the #hash economy is much more democratic. No one “owns” a #hashtag and the conversation is both easy to follow and easy to participate in (for example not limited just to one social platform). I think this kind of democratization of the internet is really interesting to follow. We’ve moved from platforms for people to broadcast out, to one where people could self organize into communities (but where these communities were still somewhat siloed) to one where we’re creating horizontal overlays to the internet that allow for much broader dissemination of information and that support more free flowing communities of interest (where both the participants in the community are free flowing but also the communities themselves).
I’m not entirely sure where this will take us, but I love the notion that barriers to participation are falling and as a result more and more people are able to interact and create content. The bar for that participation has been lowered massively and the old 80/19/1 paradigm (80% passive consumers/19% responders/ 1% creators of content) has been completely flipped on its head. I’d love your thoughts on this subject as it’s been knocking around in my head for a while but I’m not sure I’ve reached any definitive conclusions about where this is heading and what that means.