Report: Facebook could emulate Twitter by adding hashtag support

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Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) is considering incorporating hashtags--a marker synonymous with rival social network Twitter--in an effort to more efficiently group conversations and drive advertising revenues, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Twitter leverages hashtags--i.e., a word or phrase preceded by the "#" symbol--to compile all tweets about a single subject or news event from multiple users. Sources familiar with the matter said Facebook is exploring hashtag integration to index all posts about trending topics, making it easier for users to identify comments about a subject or event that interests them and giving them greater reason to remain logged in and view more ads. Instagram, the photo-sharing application Facebook acquired last year, already employs hashtags to allow users to sort images.

Sources added it is unclear how much progress Facebook has made and that it is unlikely the company will roll out hashtag-related features in the imminent future. Facebook has declined to comment on the report.

Facebook's interest in hashtag integration would further blur the line separating its platform from Twitter: In recent years, Facebook also has mirrored the Twitter experience by creating "subscriber" lists for users and allowing them to tag celebrities and brands with the "@" sign. Earlier this month, when Facebook rolled out a revamped News Feed design that unifies how content appears to users across the mobile and desktop platforms, co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company is building the foundation to become a "personalized newspaper" for users, an ambition Twitter has expressed as well.

While incorporating hashtags could benefit Facebook users, it also could attract advertisers: Twitter has urged brand partners to invent hashtags as a secondary brand for their marketing messages on its platform and across other multimedia channels. eMarketer forecasts Twitter will generate around $500 million in ad revenues this year--Facebook earned $4.3 billion from its ad efforts last year, although the gap is narrower in mobile, where Twitter is on pace to rake in $249 million this year compared to $851 million for Facebook.

Relations between Facebook and Twitter have grown increasingly tense in recent months. Last year, Twitter disabled Instagram's access to its own Find Your Friends feature; Instagram responded by fully terminating Twitter support, meaning users can no longer view Instagram photos via the microblogging platform. (Twitter filled the void days later by rolling out Instagram-like mobile photo editing and filtering features.) Earlier this year, Facebook also blocked Twitter's fledgling video sharing app Vine, and has said it will continue to crack down on all apps that "use its data to bootstrap growth but don't contribute anything."

For more:
- read this Wall Street Journal article

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