Twitter's hashtag guide for dummies

JIAXI LU
Last updated 08:51 04/08/2014
Washington Post
HASHTAGS EXPLAINED: Twitter can be bewildering, and the company is trying to make it more approachable for newbies.

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Don't know what #tbt or #oitnb mean on Twitter? The online social media service is now trying to help explain through a new trial feature.

Searches for these clusters of letters following a symbol - known as hashtags - will now display an explanation in addition to associated tweets. The feature, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, was rolled out at the weekend for users of the Twitter app on iPhone.

For instance, Twitter now explains that #tbt stands for "Throwback Thursday," which involves users posting photos from their past, and #oitnb refers to "Orange is the New Black," the popular Netflix series that has sparked social media conversation.

For those unfamiliar with hashtags: Anyone can create one. The # symbol was originally started by Twitter users as a way to mark topics and keywords for which others can search. Hashtags can help users locate subjects and tweets in which they are interested without having to follow specific people.

The company has been trying to make its user experience friendlier. Twitter can be bewildering to some new users who aren't sure whom to follow, what to tweet or what hashtags mean - potentially limiting the company's growth.

According to the company's latest quarterly financial statement, Twitter now has 271 million monthly active users, up 6.3 percent from the 255 million regular users in the previous quarter. Mobile users make up 78 percent of all active users.

Revenue for the second quarter of 2014 reached $312 millions, an increase of 124 percent from the same period last year. Twitter's new product features, such as the service built around the World Cup that provided real-time scoring and match timelines, gave the company a boost in the second quarter of 2014.

The hashtags are part of Twitter's strategy to widen the service's appeal, but some users may still be confused by other hashtags that don't have explanations attached. For instance, no definition is given for #MH17, which stands for the Malaysia Airlines flight that crashed in Ukraine last month.

It's not uncommon to see Twitter try out new features with a small number of users. The hashtag explainer is not available yet for desktop or mobile Android users, which suggests the company is still experimenting and may not necessarily roll it out for all users. Twitter could not immediately be reached for comment.

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While Twitter's user base is growing, the rate of growth is slowing. And despite its surge in revenue last quarter, the company reported a net loss of US$144.6 million (NZ$170m).

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