These new Twitter fTags are an alternative to Twitter hashtags. Hashtags are keywords that allow users to find relevant tweets on a topic of interest, and also if desired, to have their own tweets easily found by others seeking discussions on that topic. Simply entering a hashtag into the search bar pulls search results from other tweets containing the same hashtag, similarly to organic search results from a search engine.
This is obviously a good feature, as social interaction is the very essence of being a social media outlet. When I first joined Twitter, I was surprised at its simplicity. Unlike Facebook, which provided personal information, pictures, quotes, favorite movies, groups and countless other applications, Twitter didn’t have those search options, so it was more difficult to find discussions or people of interest.
Before hashtags and trending topics on Twitter, you could search for specific terms, but if that exact phrase did not show up in any tweets then the search would not pull any results. This would be further limited by tweet context; say you were looking to tweet about photography tips, a search for “photography” would pull results for anyone who had mentioned the word “photography” in a tweet, name or description.
Hashtags bring it one step further, allowing a search term to pull results from other tweets that authors deemed relevant by putting in that hashtag to their tweet. Twitter fTags are even better than hashtags. fTags are real-time streams about any topic (already created or an original discussion), but is best for niche discussions, as the fTag discussions can be very specific.
fTags are also great because, unlike a hashtag, which is usually a keyword related to a topic, fTags are labeled so it is not obvious what the discussion is about. This way, in order to participate, a user must actually understand what the stream is about, and as a result, fTags can help cut down on spam tweets, where every word is preceded by “#.”
Despite the obvious interactive benefits of fTags, I think there is a potential vulnerability. While it is good to be able to find specific discussion topics, these advancements are very reminiscent of Facebook Groups. Are these fTags eventually going to have the option of private discussions or invite only scenarios? Will these fTags evolve into Twitter Groups, as this author has pointed out. What originally set Twitter apart was the openness and lack of privacy; not a lot of personal information was asked for, but the whole point was that everyone sees everything. Facebook too, has been blurring the lines between the different social media platforms with their addition of “status updates,” which is very similar to a tweet.
I am curious to see how fTags and subsequent applications are received. fTags are a great application because the discussions are still interactive and communication based. Twitter and Facebook have not yet lost the fundamental essence of what makes them social media outlets, but they need to be cautious about maintaining the qualities that keep the social media platforms distinct. We are able to do so much with social media today, because there are many channels to go through, but if they all eventually have the same exact capabilities, we will not have accounts for more than one platform. You will either have Twitter or Facebook, not both, which could undermine the growth of social media and limit its user potential.
What are your thoughts on fTags?