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Are the Benefits of Multiple Event Hashtags Now Accepted?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 September 2010

A year ago I wrote a post entitled Hashtags for the ALT-C 2009 Conference in which I suggested use of a session hashtag in addition to the event’s hashtag in order to be able to differentiate tweets related to the numerous parallel session which were taking place at the conference. My suggestion for minting the session hashtag was simply to use the session’s code which was listed on the conference Web site – #s321 for the session I ran, for example.

It would be an understatement to say that, at the time, this suggestion didn’t receive a favourable response, with the following comments being made:

  • Sorry Brian, but I do think this scheme is too complicated for the lightweight Twitter approach“;
  • I really think this is trying to make Twitter something it isn’t. The very thing that people appreciate about Twitter is its lightweight nature and this is simply over complicating things“;
  • When you first started suggesting multiple hashtags, I think I assumed it was a bit of a comedy experiment. Now, it’s becoming clear that The Librarian Is Too Strong In You.“;
  • Way too complicated, messy, and just so damn cluttered“;
  • I’m in agreement with those that suggest this is over-complicating things – mainly because I struggle to see the problem it’s solving“;
  • Sorry Brian, I’m with the others here. Twitter is for catching the ‘buzz’”.

There were six negative comments with only one supporting, although in a somewhat lukewarm fashion, my suggestion:

In the past I’ve generally argued against multiple hashtags – agreeing with the comment that they introduce complexity. However, given the size of ALT-C, and the number of concurrent sessions, I have some sympathy with the issue that Brian raise

A follow-up post on “I Want To Use Twitter For My Conference” provided suggestions on use of Twitter to support events but avoided mentioning use of session hashtags. Chris Gutteridge, however, made a suggestion in a comment to the post: “At Dev8D2010, at the end of February, I plan an experiment of assigning each location a hashtag, then publishing an electronic form of the schedule so the twitter can be merged into each session via location+program data.” Chris also pointed out that use of session hashtag at IWMW 2009 “fell apart in small sessions in IWMW because nobody advertised them and people didn’t care enough to go to a webpage to check.

The suggestion that session hashtags could be processed by software was interesting. I also agreed with Chris’s implied suggestion that there was a need to promote session hashtags more effectively.

Summarizr statistics for hashtags used at IWMW 2010 eventSo at this year’s IWMW 2010 event we used a session tag more consistently throughout the event (#P1-#P9 for the plenary talks and #A1-A9 and #B1-B9 for the parallel sessions) and ensured that the chairs of the plenary talks encouraged participants to use the session tags when tweeting.

Did this work?  The Summarizr statistics for the #IWMW10 event hashtag provides details of the top 10 tweeted hashtags, as illustrated.  This indicates that the most widely discussed session was session #P8 – the group session on Doing the Day Job.  Whilst it is true that the session lasted longer than the other plenary talks (it consisted of three plenary talks) it is also true that this session included a rather controversial talk which generated much discussion on the Twitter back channel.  Looking at the usage of the other session hashtags we can see that Paul Boag’s talk on “No money? No matter – Improve your website with next to no cash”  - this does not surprise me as Paul’s talk was widely acknowledged to be the most inspirational and did generate much discussion after the event as well as on the Twitter backchannel.

It was also interesting to observe that #remote hashtag which was also widely used. We had previously stated that we would “treat the remote audience as first class citizens” and use of that hashtag seemed to be effective in communicating with those who were watching the live video stream remotely.

The session hashtag can also enable tweets about a particular talk or session to be further analysed. Although the comment had been made that the  “obsession with tracking, capturing and archiving everything to the nth degree just doesn’t fit with Twitter” in reality we are now seeing that a strength of Twitter lies not just in “catching the ‘buzz’” but also in the  interoperability the service provides. A good example of this is the way in which Martin Hawksey’s iTitle Twitter captioning service combines a twitter stream with a video of the talks.  And whilst this particular example is meant to illustrate how tweets can be reused, and is not  specifically related (currently!) to session hashtags (the tweets are integrated using a timestamp rather than a session hashtag) I am still convinced of the benefits of this lightweight approach to disambiguating tweets at large events.  A session tag was useful, for example, in my final conclusions about the session. When I gave my thoughts on the Doing the Day Job session, for example, the Twitter community could exploit the simplicity of the #P8 hashtag rather than attempting to coin a hashtag based on the title of the session or the speakers’ names.

Is the case for use of session hashtags at large conferences proven? After all if beer drinkers can make use of the beerspotr syntax which ranges from:

@beerspotr pint:x  (if you’ve spotted a pint)

through to:

@beerspotr bottle:x y%  (where y is the ABV of the beer)

@beerspotr bottle:x pub:y  (where y is the name of the pub)

I´m sure sober Web techies are capable of using two tags with no additional syntax required!

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5 Responses to “Are the Benefits of Multiple Event Hashtags Now Accepted?”

  1. The advantage of the Dev8D approach was we could just put a poster on the wall of every location at the start of the event. “#dev8d #bc”, for example.

    I think the per-session approach can work, but needs something visible in people’s line of sight. Just give everyone their session ID in advance and require them to add it to their Powerpoint template?

    Dave Tarrant has done some interesting work looking at a conference programme and tweetstream and using natural language analysis to guess which session people are tweeting from!

  2. PeteJ said

    I think the comparison with the @beerspotr “nanoformat” is something of a red herring :)

    First, some people who like the idea still don’t use it, or don’t use it as often as they might, precisely because of the “complexity”.

    Second, and perhaps more important, I think the way one uses that format is rather different from the way one uses the event hashtag.

    Typically – yes, I know, there are exceptions… :) – I’m making at most a handful of @beerspotr posts over the course of a day, and they aren’t part of a potentially fast-moving real-time conversation/stream. So (to the amusement of my friends in the pub) I can afford to take a minute or two faffing around on my phone to get the syntax right. Or I can not bother at all, and instead wait till the next morning and send the post from home over breakfast if I’m so inclined.

    But the event case is quite different: it often does involve tagging a lot of posts, and often I am sending them as part of a real-time, multi-party conversation, so I usually do want to deliver them fairly promptly. So for that case (without taking a position on whether two hashtags is too much!) simplicity is of the essence, I think – and in that context something like the @beerspotr format wouldn’t really be an option.

    • Hi Pete
      I agree, the @beerspotr “nanoformat” is a red herring :-)

      I agree with you on the need for simplicity. This is the reason why at IWMW 2010 we ensured that all of the plenary sessions had an easily identifiable session tag, with the session chairs reminding people of the tag.

      I agree with Chris that this can be helped even further by ensuring that a poster is displayed in the room for parallel sessions. Unfortunately we didn´t get round to doing that this year but will try to remember this for next year.

  3. [...] getting people to use them. Attempts at introducing multiple tags at events have resulted in muted enthusiasm in the [...]

  4. [...] a year later I asked Are the Benefits of Multiple Event Hashtags Now Accepted?. As can be seen for the SXSW festival, it does seem that session hashtags provide both a useful way [...]

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