Facebook copies social rival Twitter, adopts hashtags

#ohnoyoudidn't! Starting today, Facebook users can start to use Twitter-like hashtags

Taking a page from Twitter's playbook, Facebook today started to roll out the use of hashtags.

Hashtags used on Facebook will be clickable, just like they are on Twitter, wrote Greg Lindley, a product manager at Facebook, in a blog post. The hashtags are aimed at adding context to a post or making it part of a bigger online discussion.

Click on a Facebook hashtag and you'll see what other users and organizations are saying about the same topic.

"During primetime television alone, there are between 88 and 100 million Americans engaged on Facebook -- roughly a Super Bowl-sized audience every single night," wrote Lindley. "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. And this year's Oscars buzz reached an all-time high on Facebook with over 66.5 million interactions, including likes, comments, and posts."

Now with hashtags, users should be able to search for a specific point of interest or discussion, such as #NBAFinals. They also should be able to compose posts directly on hashtag feeds and click on hashtags that originated on other sites, like Instagram.

"Hashtags are just the first step to help people more easily discover what others are saying about a specific topic and participate in public conversations," said Lindley. "We'll continue to roll out more features in the coming weeks and months, including trending hashtags and deeper insights, that help people discover more of the world's conversations."

"This is a good move by Facebook," said Dan Olds, an analyst with the Gabriel Consulting Group. "Many, if not most Facebook users are already familiar with hashtags and how they work, so there won't be a learning curve there. With Facebook users utilising 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, a word or phrase with the # sign in front of it, enables users to pull up tweets or posts about a particular subject. For instance, this week, the hashtag #superman was a trending topic on Twitter as users posted and searched for comments about what is generally expected to be a summer blockbuster movie.

The hashtag has become one of Twitter's most recognisable symbols.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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