I hate hashtags.
Now, i know hashtags have a place. For very large groups (for instance, those tweeting about the presidential debates all over the country), hashtags make sense. It allows people to search for a given tag and see what anyone has to say about a topic.
But there is a problem with hashtags.
For large, but closed (and relative to the larger Twitter community: small) groups, hashtags are a mess and create all sorts of issues.
Today many geeks, including myself, are at BarCamp in Nashville. They are encouraging everyone to hashtag tweets with #bcn08. But the problem is, I can garuntee you there are people who normally follow myself, Christy, Jackson, Kate, Alison, etc who aren't the least bit interested in BarCamp. Well, tough for them because thanks to only using hashtags, we're going to flood their Twitter feeds with what is essentially a private conversation for those participating in BarCamp.
There is a solution though!
Last year's BarCamp (back in 2007) featured a basic retweet service that searched tweets for a certain string ("BCN") and posted it to one Twitter account (go search back to posts in 2007). This let everyone that wanted to "hear" people talking about BarCamp follow one account and not miss out. That way they don't have to follow everyone at BarCamp and hear them talk about their kids later on. You just hear what they have to say about BarCamp, but nothing else. Awesome.
That was only part of the solution though. There were still issues.
Problem was, it looked for a simple string in any Tweets. In this case it was "BCN". So if, for instance, my buddy Jackson, who i already follow on Twitter, said something with "BCN" in it, i got it twice in my feed. Not to mention the same problem of cluttering feeds with things people don't want still applied.
So, the solution seemed pretty simple: change the retweet engine from repeating based on a simple string, and rather look for people who Tweet @replies to the group account, or better yet, send direct messages to the account.
This gives two levels of filtering:
- Those who want to have @reply filtering setup on their Twitter feeds (only show @replies to people i'm following).
- I can keep messages to the group account out of my main Twitter stream by sending it as a DM.
So, we now have @PredFans. Anyone can post to it by starting a tweet with an @reply (which would leave the post in their normal stream as well), or send a direct message which leaves it out of thier normal stream and says it only to those that want to follow the topic.
This is what the resulting stream looks like:
Clean, simple, and it doesn't clutter up the individual feeds and streams of the users involved.
As you can see, the most important factor is that it allows for very quick, real-time conversations among twitter users in a far better way than traditional hashtags.
It also gives admins more control. While we have @PredFans wide open, you can restrict those that can post to the group to only users you choose to follow with the group account. Creating a closed-posting group that anyone can follow and read.
And yes, Twitter quickly granted us white-list status so we can poll the API twice per minute to check for new posts. We could go faster, but we're running on a borrowed server for now :-)
FYI: We just started a few more groups as well:
Tennessee Titans football fans: @TitanFans
Toronto Maple Leafs fans: @GoLeafs
Edmonton Oilers fans: @OilFans
East Nashville Crime List: @BOLOEastNash
Motorcycle Fans: @MotorcycleFans