13 May 2010 @ 7:26 AM 

We interrupt your normal beer blog content for this important public service message.

Dear Beer Internet,

Let’s talk about hash tags. You know what I’m talking about when I say hash tags, right? I mean the little number-sign-phrase that you’re using at the end of your Twitter post. Those are hash tags. Here’s an example:

@PenandPint Any Carolinians heading to the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival in Charlotte tomorrow? #ncbeer

That “#ncbeer”? That’s the hash tag. You’ll note that it’s clickable. It’s clickable on the Twitter web interface, Tweetdeck, and almost every other Twitter client, too. It opens up a search. Go ahead – try it. Don’t be afraid.

Cool. I want to talk to you about them because they’re distracting. Well-used hash tags are good references. Poorly used hash tags are clutter. They’re difficult to quickly parse, especially on a mobile screen, and they reduce the value of your 140-characters. If I had to read your tweet more than once to try to figure out what you said, you failed at Twitter.

In other words, I’m trying to help you, here.

Now that we know what hash tags look like and what they do when you click on them, let me tell you a little about where they came from.

Hash tags are a form of taxonomy and classification adopted by Twitterers from information science. The use of tags was probably introduced to Twitter through people who were used to using them in blogging. Many forms of blogging software (including the WordPress blog that you are now reading) allow post tags for classification, different than the “Category” classification that also exists. Hash tags tend to be more specific than categories, though in some cases they are the same, or similar, words.

Classification through tags is what is considered “bottom-up hierarchy” vs. categories which are generally “top-down.”

Let’s take a moment to talk about that.

“Top-down” refers to a system in which categories are broad and pre-assigned. Once a thing (blog post, twitter update, etc.) is created, you would then assign said thing to one or more existing categories. It is then categorized. If you were to look up the category, all of the items that you assigned to the category would appear. For instance, this post is categorized in “media” and “meta” on my blog, since I’m talking about (social) media and it is rather self-referencing (meta). These are categories that I have set previously and I tend to smush all existing posts into my category structure. On rare occasion, I’ll create another category because I feel like I need one.

“Bottom-up” refers to a system in which categories are created based on the tags assigned to items. If a tag is used frequently, it essentially works as a category, since it can then be used to reference a large amount of content. If a tag is used infrequently, it is ineffective as a category, since the tag only refers to itself at which point it is ignored. The strength (and weakness) of bottom-up architecture is that it is flexible and dynamic. Categories are fluid and can change based on the information in the system and the frequency of tag use.

Take a moment to scroll all the way down all of the items on my sidebar (to the right) and take a look at my tag cloud. In it, you’ll see the most frequent tags I’ve used on the site (the ones in larger type have been used more often). It’s a big list, but it is not, by far, all of the tags I’ve used, and it’s missing anything that I’ve only used once, you’ll see some one-timers listed at the bottom of this post.

Twitter hash tags have evolved from this bottom-up hierarchy of tagging. They are generally used to categorize your Twitter post on the off-chance that someone wants to find that particular topic again. As an example, I have a column on my Tweetdeck that is every post that happens to mention ncbeer (minus the hash tag, because it’s not strictly necessary). Another craft-beer related tag that you might be familiar with is #gents. There are a fair amount of random items that pop up under #gents, but for the most part, they refer to the The Fellowship of Gentlemanly Gentlemen.

There are two main reasons to use hash tags on Twitter.

1) You are categorizing your tweet. Your tweet has to do with #ncbeer or is meant to reach all of the #gents or is in reference to an event (Craft Brewers Conference: Chicago), a city that you’re in (examples: #avl is the city tag for Asheville, NC, #rva is the city tag for Richmond, Virginia), etc. In all of these cases, the hash tag is being used to categorize your tweet for a larger audience than is necessarily following you. In some ways, it’s like voluntarily joining a Twitter list.

2) You are using the hash tag for comedy, sarcasm, irony or some other form of commentary. The best example of a commentary might be the ubiquitous hash tag #justsayin or maybe #andscene (though at the time of writing the latter is pretty damn lame). Another example might be the #beerfilms hash tag that craft beer Twitterers has so much fun with a while back.

The following are silly uses of hashtags:

1) Hash tags that reference your Twitter handle.

Why? Because your twitter handle is already there. You’re already getting those tweets. The hash tag is doing nothing but taking up space and reducing the amount of space for your actual message. The best example I have of this (sorry for calling you out, Lee, it’s just the example that jumps to mind) is #tellhoptopia.

You see, almost every tweet that the hashtag #tellhoptopia is referenced in is directed at @Hoptopia or is a Re-Tweet of @Hoptopia’s original #tellhoptopia tweet. The hash tag, in this case, is entirely useless. If you want to tell @Hoptopia something, your best bet is to just tell @Hoptopia and leave the hash tag out of it because it’s not actually adding any value to the tweet or getting the information to @Hoptopia any differently.

2) Hash tags that are very broad dictionary words.

The hash tag #beer comes to mind. It’s kind of a silly hash tag. For one thing, #beer is used by a shit-ton of people for completely random reasons (and inconsistently), so it doesn’t really work as a reference marker for anything, but you can also just search for beer, and get a lot more (just as random) results.

3) Hash tags that aren’t common.

This is a little unfair of me to say. At some point, each hash tag was used for the first time. Still, just throwing random hash tags on the end of your Twitter posts is a great way to increase clutter and obscure your message. If the hash tags you use are not referring to something that is going to be repeated (ie – if the only tweet that a search for that hash tag will come up with is your own) and the hash tag itself isn’t compelling enough to be adopted by others (and thus create a new search stream), you’re just wasting time and characters while making your tweet that much harder to read quickly.

In summary, I’d say think about it this way:

Hash tags are category markings used to make searches more efficient.

Use them to categorize conferences, geographical locations, groups of people, etc.

Use them for comedy or commentary.

Otherwise, you’re just wasting the most finite resource you have on Twitter: any single one of your 140 characters.

Tags Tags: , , , , , ,
Categories: media, meta
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 May 2010 @ 07 26 AM

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 26 Mar 2010 @ 7:08 AM 

One year ago, I started this blog thanks to the advice of my great friends who told me, “We’re sick of hearing you rattle on to us about beer. You should go start a blog and have an outlet elsewhere… where we can’t hear you.”

In blog years I think that means the blog is a teenager. It sure does talk back to me enough. Sheesh.

Anyway, I know I said some of this a few months ago on my 100th post, but, thanks for coming by and reading and, most importantly, thanks for coming by and commenting. Discussion and debate are the seeds through which our future is grown.

Now help me celebrate by going and drinking a great beer.


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Categories: blog, meta
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 26 Mar 2010 @ 07 08 AM

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This will be a little outside the realm of my usual posts.

Tomorrow I’m hosting a little gathering of homebrewers and beer lovers to make beer in my backyard. It’s a club event for the burgeoning Chapel Hill/Carrboro Home Brewing Club. We’re making a Dry Irish Stout that we’re going to serve, as a club, at the upcoming Carrboro Homebrew Fest.

It’ll be a good time, and I’m really looking forward to it, even if it’s going to be something like 30 degrees outside. It’s always nice to freeze your ass off spend time with a bunch of people who enjoy beer, and I’m under the impression that a lot of these guys haven’t done – or maybe even seen – an all-grain brew, so it’ll be fun to teach them how to expand their hobby. But! Some of them have, and most of the others are – like any homebrew geek (like myself) – well-read enough to know their way around the concept pretty well.
Mmm.. mashing in.
In this comes my terror. Here’s what this post is. It’s a confessional:

I’ve never watched somebody else homebrew.


I have my system, and I’ve read every damn book under the sun. I know the brewing process inside and out, and I feel pretty confident that if you dropped me on a commercial system without a deadline I could eventually make you a batch of beer in one incredibly long brew day (no promises on cleanup), but I have no idea what my process looks like in comparison to other people.

I’ve got a pretty standard ghetto-brew system. 7-gal stainless steel pot, mangled orange cooler with a false bottom, copper coil wort chiller. No pumps. I still siphon by mouth, because I’m too lazy to do anything else. I mill my own grain. I’ve got a rusty el crappo outdoor burner, that leaves my kettle covered in awful black carbon that it takes me forever to scrub off and I think I make some pretty great damn beer.

But I’m going to be taking people through my process – like my weirdo continuous sparge that I actually do slowly with a ladle instead of any sort of automated fly sparge system or even batch sparging – and part of me is almost kind of embarrassed. Like.. I should be so much less ghetto than this. I should have some 3-tier brewing sculpture made of shiny stainless steel. I should have this incredible system, but y’know what? The ghetto-brew setup works so well.

I can just envision me being halfway through the brewday before someone says, “Wait a sec! Don’t you do some-incredibly-important-step?” and I look blankly at them and say, “I’ve never heard of that.” Probably not. But it could happen! It’s like stage fright. I haven’t felt like this for years. I’ll probably get nervous pees and everything. Ugh.

So, I’m excited to hang out and drink beer with beer lovers all day. I’m excited to show people a little bit more about brewing if they don’t know about it, and excited to maybe help people take the step to all-grain. Having all of those people watch me all day while I do this scares the ever-livin’ crap out of me. And even better, I’m pretty sure some of them will read this blog post before showing up. Hi guys. Now you know my terrible secret: like everything else I’ve ever done in my life, I’m guessing my way through it. Enjoy!

Here’s the one guarantee on the day: I open my first beer at 10 AM. It’ll be a great day.

Tags Tags: , , ,
Categories: homebrew, meta
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 08 Jan 2010 @ 09 33 AM

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