When I attended the Health 2.0 Conference in San Francisco last month, I learned that some of the participants planned to microblog the conference using twitter. Twitter is a tool that allows users to post short messages (140 characters or fewer) to the web and to share them easily with others. When multiple twitter users "follow" each other online, the effect is something like joining a near real time conversation.
Somewhere along the way, twitter users began adding a "#" symbol (pound sign or hash character) before key words in their messages, tagging the words as being somehow important or adding context. The neat thing about such "hashtags" is that twitter's search tool lets you find messages containing specific hashtags, even if you aren't "following" the person who originally posted the message.
This is where it gets interesting: if people agree on a hashtag for an event (like a conference), then it becomes easy to follow what is happening at that conference, even if you are not actually attending it. Further, collecting messages with a specific hashtag creates a record of an event, not so different from collecting a series of dispatches by a group of correspondents. Finally, if you are at a conference, following a hashtag thread can let you know about last minute changes, insider info, spontaneous get-togethers, or simply where to find the best beer within walking distance of the convention center.
At the Health 2.0 Conference, people settled on the #health2con and #health20con hashtags. Using these tags truly added to the conference experience, allowing people to connect and to converse with a wide range of participants whom they might not have met otherwise, and, best of all, providing a means to keep the conversation going beyond the conference.
The consolidated #health2con/#health20con search results are available at https://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23health20con+OR+%23health2con&rpp=100
Unfortunately, twitter's search engine only returns the last six months of results, so that link may not show the results from this past October's conference by next April or May. On the bright side, by then I'm sure that it will show the results from the next Health 2.0 Conference, to be held on April 22-23, 2009 in Boston!
Now, we just need to get the ball rolling for a hashtag for next month's Consumer Health World conference...