Twitter’s most iconic feature is celebrating a big birthday today 23rd August. It began a decade ago, before the arrival of such smartphones like iPhones, Android, or the Twitter app, one day a Twitter user came up with the idea of using the “#” symbol to group tweets together.
That early Twitter adopter was a user by the name of Chris Messina, who has said the idea originally came from what are now two major throwbacks from the early days of the Internet: IRC and T-9. IRC, or Internet Relay Chat, is an the age old web standard that enabled messaging via group chat rooms. The format we now know as a hashtag, where similar messages are grouped together using the # sign, was already a well-established part of IRC back in 2007, so it made some sense to bring the same dynamic to Twitter.
It was also easier to type on old phones that used T-9, an early form of predictive text when you still had to tap out messages via your phone’s keypad. Texting wasn’t as easy as it is today before the arrival touchscreens!
Back then Twitter’s founders nearly came close to ignoring the idea completely. Before he had sent that first hashtagged tweet, Messina showed up at Twitter’s offices to pitch the idea to Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and a few other early employees. They were not receptive at first but evently warmed to the idea and eventually starting to officially support it. As the use evolved they eventually added hyperlinks to the tags, which cemented their status as one of Twitter’s most recognisable features.
Today, Twitter users send more than 125 million hashtags a day, according to the company, which is celebrating the milestone with — what else — a dedicated hashtag and custom emoji.