Jan. 14, 2011 at 4:06 PM ET
Last week, the technorati stood agog as the hashtag #LessAmbitiousMovies threatened to take over Twitter like the demon love tag of Justin Bieber and the World Cup playoffs. More than 364,000 tweets starting with "Scott Pilgrim vs. the Room" and including "Apocalypse Whenever" reached more than 27 million Twitter users in a trend that lasted about a day.
In Twitter parlance, a hashtag is a searchable number sign attached to an acronym, word or string of words with no space that connects conversations by topic on the microblogging site. Originally driven mainly by news events — natural disasters, elections, celebrity breakups — hashtags are increasingly becoming a medium for goofing off at work … or whatever else you're supposed to be doing.
"Twitter is, more and more, becoming a gaming platform — for various games of wit," writes AdAge's Simon Dumenco. "So up-from-nowhere hashtag trends that inspire a global call-and-response are now, increasingly, crowding out real trends tied to breaking news (celebrity or otherwise)."
Here's a timely illustration. According to Twitter-tracking site "What the Trend," these are the top three hashtags, and their crowdsourced definitions, at the moment I'm typing:
1. #sidechick People are tweeting about the women that men cheat on their girlfriends/wives with.
2. #arabsgottalent: The Arabian version of the -got talent series. "Arabs' Got Talent" but without Hasselhoff!
3. #confessionhour: People are tweeting things they would never tell anyone. Like fears, sexual fantasies, dislikes likes, etc.
While No. 2 refers to a television show that doesn't air in the U.S. (Twitter is international too, after all), No. 1 and No. 3 are games. Here's a few from #confessionhour:
#confessionhour this summer when we were bore me & my girls would get really drunk and go to the 24hour walmart and ride the handicap carts
#confessionhour I love the Jonas Brothers, A LOT :D
if its #ConfessionHour ..why has it been going on for over 12 hours ?
Yeah, it's no #LessAmbtiousMovies, but they can't all be winners.
With witticisms replacing hot news as the driving force behind Twitter makes, Twitter trends are increasingly hard to predict — but not for lack of trying.
Pointing to the Twitter media blog's analysis of the #LessAmbitiousMovies trend, GigaOm's Mathew Ingram notes, "the really interesting thing is just how random — and short-lived — these Twitter storms can be. It’s much more of an art (or barely-controlled chaos) than it is a science."
While unpredictability isn't a problem for civilian users with time to kill, such trends present problems for advertisers and other purpose-driven Twitter users looking to capitalize on the viral nature of the Internet.
But I wouldn't let that break your concentration on your carefully crafted 140-character contribution to #confessionhour. Remember that time you watched that Old Spice "I'm on a horse" video on YouTube, like, 90 million times? Enjoy your games while they're hot, because marketers always figure it out.