In a press release yesterday, Facebook's Greg Lindley framed the feature as part of a larger push for "public conversations" on the social network, which has always been more about friend-to-friend interactions than Twitter-like broadcasting.
As Mr. Lindley admitted, until now, there hasn't really been a way to find and contribute to larger-scale discussions outside of a user's friend circles – even though Facebook users clearly want to employ the platform for that purpose.
"During primetime television alone, there are between 88 and 100 million Americans engaged on Facebook – roughly a Super Bowl-sized audience every single night," Lindley wrote. "The recent 'Red Wedding' episode of Game of Thrones, received over 1.5 million mentions on Facebook, representing a significant portion of the 5.2 million people who watched the show."
Lest anyone accuse Facebook of outright theft, we should note that the hashtag, just like an exclamation point or a question mark, isn't exactly a patentable commodity. Indeed, as Dan Olds, an analyst at the Gabriel Consulting Group, told Computerworld this week, the introduction of the hashtag – a familiar symbol for Web users of all stripes – is actually a smart move by Facebook.
"[T]here won't be a learning curve there," Mr. Olds said. "With Facebook users utilizing hashtags, it will make it easier for the site to track trending topics, which can, in turn, give Facebook more attention from the press and advertisers."
The hashtag feature is available as of yesterday afternoon.
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