Switching off the Twitter hashtag overload

twittersxsw Like many people, I wanted to keep an eye on some of what’s hot during South by Southwest 2009 in Austin, Texas, by seeing what people on Twitter are talking about when using the hashtag #sxsw.

But it’s been a painful task not only keeping up with the flood of comment and opinion by people using that hashtag but also figuring out what on earth to pay attention to in that river of noise.

Just look at this screenshot I grabbed yesterday evening (my time, mid afternoon in Austin). In the space of 15 minutes from first loading the hashtag results page in my browser, it noted that well over 520 more tweets had arrived and were waiting to be viewed when I hit the page refresh button. That’s just in 15 minutes.

And the tweets in those results often include hashtags to connect other content. Too much stuff!

I stopped looking at hashtag results and indeed much of any commentary about the event on Twitter. I decided to forego the as-it-happens views and see who’s saying what in blog posts and other web content that shows up in my RSS reader. I figure that if something’s really hot, it will quickly get talked about specifically on Twitter and make the news.

I thought it was just me at first. But it’s not as CNET News reported on Saturday, just the second day of the week-long event.

[…] At a conference with scores of panels and seemingly just as many parties, being able to determine what’s worthwhile is crucial for people trying to get the most out of their time here.

This year because of the conference’s impressive growth and Twitter’s broader mainstream appeal, it has become almost impossible to find the same value as in the past. I did a search for the "#sxsw" tag on Saturday afternoon and found that there had been 392 tweets with the term in just the previous 10 minutes. That number mushroomed to more than 1,500 in the previous hour.

While those numbers demonstrate that people here are without question using Twitter like never before, it also means that it’s never been harder to find what you’re looking for amid the flood of posts about the panels, barbecue, Web celebrity spottings, and deep thoughts about social media.

Read the complete CNET report for an idea of what people actually there are doing with alternative ways to keep up with things online.

Plenty of others have weighed in with their opinions. What everyone is saying in unison is that quantity is a killer. A boon opportunity, then for some alternative ideas and web services to make their marks.

Hashtag overload – a sign of the times.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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