The use of dozens of meaningless hashtags on Instagram and Twitter is ugly and annoying. People need to learn how to use them properly, argues Ted Winder.

Everyone loves Twitter. In February this year, the site crossed 500 million registered users, and people are jumping ship from Facebook in hoards to join the 140-character craze. I am Twitter user 13,339,972, which puts me roughly in the first 2.6% of people to join the service. I’m an oldie, a veteran. I was there first.

A screenshot from my Instagram profile

A screenshot from my Instagram profile

Well, maybe I’m not quite as hipster as I’d like to think, but I’ve certainly seen Twitter change from the esoteric hang-out of the nerds to the social communication channel of the masses. That’s all well and good; as more and more people join Twitter, it becomes easier and more fun to communicate and connect with larger groups of people. This influx of users has also prompted developers to create apps specifically for use with Twitter, and none more successful than Instagram.

I have a love-hate relationship with Instagram. I love it because it’s a really great way of sharing photos and making them look pretty nifty in the process. I was a little late to sign up, sceptical that it would just be another fad that would soon fade into oblivion. Not so, apparently – and Facebook’s $1billion acquisition has only cemented this. The app is well designed too and it integrates with Twitter seamlessly. There’s a downside, though. I hate it because of one thing: hashtags.

On Twitter, hashtags are intended for grouping tweets on a similar topic together. If you’re tweeting along to Question Time on a Thursday night, for example, you can add #bbcqt to your tweet so other users can see it if they search for that hashtag. Similarly, tweets about Wimbledon can include #wimbledon. Hashtags are to make tweets more meaningful and findable. Easy, right?

Things became a little more complicated with the advent of #memes and #Justin #Bieber. Hashtags morphed from genuinely meaningful little guys into just, well, words. It’s now not uncommon to see #lol, #haha, #fun and #swag stuck pointlessly onto the end of tweets. Why? What does this even achieve? This usage is staunchly defended by the tweeters in question: I can guarantee a tirade of (playful) abuse will arise from this article. Behold, the bastardization of Twitter.

insta-tags-removedInstagram has only made things worse. Instagram doesn’t regard hashtags in the same way Twitter does; in my social circles at least, hashtags on Instagram are used as just words – lists of every little thing, noise or emotion that relates in some way to the photograph that sits above. Add this to the fact that the photo in question will almost always be of the pouty-faced variety, and we have a sorry state of affairs. This blog post from Instagram suggests that users tag their photos based on the contents of the image. Fine, so you can tag your #clothes and your #sun, but #swag and #hype – really? Who cares? That blog posts also recommends that hashtags are specific, relevant and observant. Tag your photos based on what’s in them if you must, but keep it short. There’s no need to describe the photo – I can see it.

Sure, the profligate and incorrect usage of hashtags is far from the end of the world, and maybe I’m just bitter and intolerant. But I’ll tell you one thing: it sure is #annoying.

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