Tracking vs. #Hashtags

Twitter's tracking feature is great. #Hashtags would complement it well.

Twitter just introduced a new method of "tracking" keywords - enter "track keyword" in SMS or IM and you will receive notifications whenever someone uses that keyword in a tweet. Right now it's only available via IM or SMS notifications, but they say it will eventually come to the API etc. I've been using it for a couple days and I think it's a very cool addition. I've also been very interested in Chris Messina's suggestions for using #hashmark tag channels similar to what you can find in Jaiku (and IRC I think). The "tracking" feature provides a similar service but they are slightly different and I can see a great reason for both to exist. Here is my take on the difference between the two:

Twitter Tracking:

  • involuntary
  • results are broader and less contextual
  • great for customer service, marketing, vanity
  • automatically removes anonymity (can't opt out of tracking searches)
  • no "on-board" archiving
  • present tense only (cannot track past tweets)


  • voluntary
  • items are intentionally tagged so results are higher quality
  • great for networking, community, research
  • anonymity is removed by knowing participation
  • creates public archive
  • can search Twitterstream into the past
While Twitter's new tracking feature is very cool (and useful), being able to search into the past would be really nice. Having the info tagged and archived (by those who wished to participate, of course) would be great too. Also being able to narrow the searches by username (ie search colbyworld#iphone) would be nice. I hoped even just "tracking" a #tagged word would have some good results - just to experiment I used "track #bacn" today. I received notifications for "#bacn", but also for "bacn" (without the hashmarks) it seems that Twitter doesn't even recognize the syntax. I thought that was odd. I think it would be best (for all) if tagchannels were implemented natively in Twitter. It would make the archiving and tracking function portable across the Web instead of confining it to a particular client etc. I don't want to wait for that; the tools are there, and there is definitely a way to make #hashtags work in a third-party I'm going to try to add it to my iPhone app. (It's on the list, anyway.) As a maker of Twitter Web software, from a customer service standpoint tracking is way cool. I track "iTweet" and then I get notified whenever someone talks about it. Naturally people Twitter about it, right? So I've gotten lots of helpful feedback from that... "Love it." "It sucks." "It's really fast." "It's too slow". "It works great but it's ugly." "It doesn't work well but at least it looks great." OK, maybe it's been a little less than helpful. It has been interesting though! But I digress... To me the most interesting question is: does anyone have a proposal for a way to pull TagChannel-like features out of Twitter's new tracking method? Maybe it doesn't actually track the #pound sign but perhaps another syntax could be used. It would ruin all the efforts to date by Chris Messina and Stowe Boyd in hashtagging all their tweets for quite a while now, but perhaps there's another tagging method we can use to leverage what Twitter has given us? Please leave your thoughts in the comments! Also, please follow me on Twitter (I'm @colbypalmer) and we can carry on the conversation in real time! Update: There is a great post about this topic at Stowe Boyd's website, with comments from Mr. Messina here. Update 2: has built an app that indexes all hashtagged tweets, AS LONG AS the user using the #hashtag is following the hashtags bot. Follow @hashtags on Twitter and start using #hashtags today! Update 3: You can now use #hashtags and search all of Twitter using my web and iPhone app, Now you can click on #hashtags (they appear in green) and see all posts using that tag!