What can we learn from hashtags as an indexing tool for scholarly research?


Guest post by Tyler Gayheart.(Cross post from http://www.TylerGayheart.com)

Do you feel the Internet is an easy to navigate space for developing a strong literature base for academic research? Or are your inquiries, scholarly or not, piece milled through a variety of sources,  channels and strategies? How could this process be improved? Could complex search inquiry strings be more comprehensive of information both in academic, social, literary, periodical and journalistic sources?

An omnibus view of all content, regardless of channel could be made possible by the use hashtags, a type of metadata. If unfamiliar, a hashtag is any form of characters led by the “#” symbol. If standardized in scholarly, literary and journalistic sources, this shift could fundamentally change the way we consume and access content across the Internet. With its origins in the C programming language in the late 1970’s, to Internet Relay Chat (IRC) networks, the hashtag has now reached the point of common use in modern social networking platforms. Today, they are primarily used to categorize and index discussions, ideas, products, all represented by pictures, videos or text-based messages on social platforms. The popularity and use of the hashtag grew concurrently with the rise of twitter and can now be utilized across Google+, Facebook, Vine, Instagram and are typically standard features on new social platforms to promote sharing and interaction.

How could  the hashtag overcome the platform for which they are used? Will a platform or service be created that indexes hashtags based on one's interests, social or scholarly? Will this use of hashtags lead to the cannibalization of one platform over the other? It seems that the social media platform market has differentiated itself in terms of specific features, purpose and target audience. Beyond just the popular tags used in social media,  how could the hashtag potentially shift how we conduct academic research? Catapulting the scholarly integration and collaboration that could increase shared work in healthcare, business, science and education.  For now scholarly research is confined by closely guarded repositories that require subscriptions or affiliation with an academic institution. Regardless of the credentialing or monetary gains from scholarly research, the indexing and categorization could be unified across each repository. This could be leveraged through a hashtag indexing protocol.  

Most of what advanced Internet users do today is curate their favorite content (academic or social). Real Simple Syndication (RSS) feeder tools, search filters, and content alerts & subscriptions allow for us to control the amount of waste we encounter in a given browsing or research session.

Current hashtag curation tools help reduce the noise and feed to only the social content we want. It is not too far to say, with open API's and web services, the entire Internet and its contents could be indexed through hashtags. The difference between Google's indexing process and the hashtag metadata tagging process, is that the user (you) has the choice to create a filter for the contents of the inquiry. By using hashtags as a standard protocol for indexing topics, movements, ideas and conversations could categorized content regardless of the hosting  or retrieval platform. At this point, we can assume that as hashtags grow in use across content creators, this will open up as a filter to search by through Google search appliances. This could be as simple as a new ‘hashtag’ filter on the Google search platform in addition to ‘news’ and ‘web’.

With the advent of complex algorithms for finding and querying information on the Internet, google has developed and improved upon their algorithm, Hummingbird. Beyond Google's Hummingbird search algorithm, is Google Scholar, which indexes scholarly literature across a variety of sources. How could this be layered with the indexing power of the hashtag? If scholarly publishing platforms and services adopted a standard tagging platform like hashtags, this could provide researchers with a broader and more comprehensive view of the content and topics across all mediums, scholarly, social, media and journalism.

Serious attention has been given to the Internet of Things (IoT), which are objects and virtual products that connect to the Internet.  The realization that storage, connectivity, bandwidth, and hardware are becoming so small and cheap that anything that could be connected,  will be connected to a network. How will the connectedness of devices and humans change the way we search, aggregate, and consume content through indexing practices like hashtags? This could be the common denominator or standard in which content, regardless of the medium, is searchable and indexed across the Internet.

The implications for the use of hashtags to index, organize and accesf research and scholarly work are boundless. Teachers, researchers, and students have the potential to source content outside of the traditional channels, gaining a wider perspective on a given topic. The game changer takes place when hashtag are standardized by academic authors, journals, publishers, repositories, and educational resources. This standardization has the potential to reach new audiences in real time as opposed to historical search methods like boolean search, RSS feeds, search filters and aggregation platforms. Tools like TagBoard, could expand upon social platforms and provide services to aggregate and sort literature, articles, books, blog posts, taking the hashtag beyond it’s current use for sorting and indexing social activity. If implemented and adopted across channels by authors and publishers, this could create a greater picture for administrators, educators, researchers and learners to sort, index, and consume information specific to their domain of learning or research.  

 Image Credit: Flickr user Theo La

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