Q/A The guy who invented #

Wed 13 Jun

Chris Messina is the inventor of the hashtag for social media. The hashtag has made mass communication simpler, cheaper and more accessible, and its universal usage has empowered instantaneous social movements such as #metoo, #NeverAgain and #blacklivesmatter, to name a few. Chris has spent the last decade working with Drupal, Firefox, Google+, and Uber Developer’s Platform and he is the Co-Founder of Molly.com. He spoke with CM RubinWorld.

Tell us about inventing the hashtag.

I tweeted the first hashtag, and two days later I wrote up a pretty exhaustive proposal for how I thought it could work, complete with screenshots. So, it wasn’t like this was a throw-away idea for me… I’d given it some strong consideration.

When did you know the “hashtag” was part of the popular culture and what did you learn from this journey?

For quite a while, hashtags were only used by people in Silicon Valley and me, if at all. But a curious thing happened when the Tea Party realized that Twitter could be used to promote their agenda and message… and that hashtags were an effective organizing tool. Specifically, in 2008, conservatives used the #dontgo hashtag to encourage their congressional reps to stay and vote on an energy bill. I happened to see this, or a related hashtag, while driving somewhere in upstate rural California and knew that hashtags had made the leap from the technorati to the mainstream.

How will the multitude of tools we have at our fingertips continue to change communications as we know them now?

Children will grow up talking to a voice assistant of some kind (like Alexa or Google Assistant) and those same kids will live in hybrid versions of reality — mixes of the digital and the authentic — and will increasingly care less about which is which. 

The Robots are here with smarter robots ahead.  Can you talk about your hopes and fears about the future?

I like to think that we’ll find ways to partner with our AI creations — to enhance life, bringing about more shared equity and prosperity, and to enable humans to connect more deeply with one another. Ideally, we will recognize that we are living in an age of great abundance, even though it is not equally distributed, and that our obligation and opportunity is to lift up the human race through the effective and just application of technology. But, I also fear that our biology and psychology isn’t quite ready to let go of the lessons that seem hard coded from our collective experience of surviving eons of scarcity. It is imperative that we are able to step away from the industrial hamster treadmill that we’ve built for ourselves and think to the kind of society and civilization we want to inhabit in the future. While those conversations are beginning to take shape today, they’re certainly not widespread yet.