Kik’s new hashtags reveal the potential of a chat network

Kik continues to ship new features for its chatting application. Following on the heels of Promoted Chats and its in-app browser comes the hashtag. It’s an easy way to create a group chat and invite people to join it within the Kik app. You send them the hashtag name (like #SFSoccerMoms or #CollegeDebateFriends). When they click it they’re taken to a group chatting page, which allows up to 50 participants.

“It’s a way to let you be whoever you want to be, with whoever wants to talk to you,” Kik CEO Ted Livingston wrote in a blog post announcing it. “It’s a social network on your terms.”

Kik’s group hashtag isn’t news that will particularly excite many people over the age of 25 (Kik’s prime demographic is under that age). But it’s a compelling feature, if only because of what it represents.

Group hashtags offer a rudimentary look of what could constitute a social network focused on “chatting.”

It’s almost a Path-like feature, recreating the intimacy of the Facebook of yore. With a chat cap of 50 people, it keeps conversations to smaller, more contextual groups. You don’t have to worry about sharing the details of your weekend with the world, trying to whitewash it for grandma, while simultaneously entertaining your friends. Instead, you can embody your particular sense of self with each individual group.

Group chatting is nothing new of course, and as a standalone feature, it’s not a company. But in conjunction with Kik’s other features, like individual messaging, promoted chats, and an in-app browser, the group hashtag element has great promise. It allows users to communicate easily, without the hassle of an administrator having to invite select members. It provides the same kind of thematic discovery and social organization that hashtags do on Twitter, for tracking news events, or on Instagram, for exploring similar images.

This is what a social network with a core of texting, instead of a newsfeed, could look like.

Animated Gif showing how Kik's hashtags feature works

Animated Gif showing how Kik’s hashtags feature works






What we can learn from what didn’t happen at CES

Last week’s weekly update was entitled Things that didn’t happen, and what that means, which was directed toward 2013 in retrospect. I am keeping to that theme this week, and trying to read between the lines of the non-event that CES seemed to be last week. Here’s a tweet I posted on the 8th, where I said:

Screenshot 2014-01-13 08.14.27

[Note that the American Dialect Society chose that way of using ‘because’ as the word of the year. Ben Zimmer, the chairman of the New Word Committee said,

“No longer does ‘because’ have to be followed by of or a full clause,” he said in a statement. “Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like ‘because science’ or ‘because reasons.’ You might not go to a party ‘because tired.’ As one supporter put it, ‘because’ should be word of the year ‘because useful!’ ”

Also note that last year, Ben Zimmer was the one that did the sleuthing to determine that I was, in fact, the person who coined the term ‘hashtag’, as a result of discussions with Chris Messina and others about his ‘Twitter channels’ idea, now known as ‘hashtags’.

I am biased, but I think ‘hashtag’ is bigger than ‘because’, because hashtags.]

Notably absent from CES are the dominant players in the technologies that underlie the modern workforce, and which are impelling new changes in the structure and shape of work.

Microsoft wasn’t there, although it might have been a good place to announce a successor to Ballmer: the company seems to be endlessly circling the airport, running out of fuel, never landing. And the rumors about ‘Threshold’ — the next big release of Windows — underscore the terrible response they are getting to Windows 8:

Paul Thurrott, “Threshold” to be Called Windows 9, Ship in April 2015

Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public, and the latest release, Windows 8.1, which is a substantial and free upgrade with major improvements over the original release, is in use on less than 25 million PCs at the moment. That’s a disaster, and Threshold needs to strike a better balance between meeting the needs of over a billion traditional PC users while enticing users to adopt this new Windows on new types of personal computing devices. In short, it needs to be everything that Windows 8 is not.


In some ways, the most interesting thing about Threshold is how it recasts Windows 8 as the next Vista. It’s an acknowledgment that what came before didn’t work, and didn’t resonate with customers. And though Microsoft will always be able to claim that Windows 9 wouldn’t have been possible without the important foundational work they had done first with Windows 8—just as was the case with Windows 7 and Windows Vista—there’s no way to sugarcoat this. Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.

Two comments: 1/ Way too late to stem the defections of Windows users to iOS and Android tablet, and 2/ this is a canonical example of a dominant company being disrupted because it cannot stop trying to support the past successful model. If Microsoft is going to hold onto *any* territory in office applications — Word, Excel, Powerpoint — they need to get them on other platforms ASAP, and not pretend that companies and individuals will wait until April 2015 for Microsoft to really fix Windows 8.

This could be the end of Office, and that completely undercuts Microsoft’s potential role as a leader in the work management marketplace.

The weak market response to Xbox is not a direct impact on Microsoft’s enterprise solutions, but Sony’s strong lead in this generation’s console wars — selling three to one over Xbox — is an argument for spinning Xbox out as a separate company or selling it, and focusing away from consumer technology.

Last week Google stepped in it, with an unartful power play that opened up the possibility of Google+ users being able to send email to Google+ IDs that they didn’t have email addresses for. And they made it an opt out option (see Google’s broken social strategy with Google+ and Gmail). This had all the maladroit insensitivity that accompanied the conversion of Youtube comments to requiring Google+ IDs. It seems that Google has a plan to infiltrate Google+ into everything, even if we don’t want it forced down our throats.

I wrote about the rise of wearables and how that might play out in the workplace (see Bring Your Own Wearable), even though all the wearable that debuted at CES last week seem far too clunky and limited. I made the case that wearables will accelerate BYOD by increasing the value of smartphones without increasing their risks, and that this is going to also lead to an increased desire to move to the cloud, and decrease IT staff headcount. BYOW only awaits the arrival of iWatch and a few compelling android tools, like a low-cost, more mature Google Glass. This will be as large a change for the workforce and the way of work as the desktop revolution was in the ’90s.

A week of missteps and rumors instead of world-beating debuts and announcements, which suggests that CES is becoming just another Comdex, a conference that faded as the big players decided it was no longer cost effective, and stayed home or just rented suites to hold meetings. It appears the same is happening with CES, today.

Twoodo is a clever microsyntax-based work management tool

Years ago I coined the term ‘hashtag’ while in a very active blog-to-blog and Twitter conversation with Chris Messina, the inventor, who suggested using the pound or hash character (‘#’) before a string of text to create something he was calling ‘channels’ — more or less the way we use hashtags today to create a chat session.  I was more interested in the idea of tagging tweets to indicate their topic, like blog or Flickr tags. At any rate, here we are, and hashtags are very much a part of the modern digital world, and have bled into everything, as this recent Jimmy Fallon video indicates.

What is less known is the term ‘microsyntax’ that I coined around the same time, which I use to indicate the various punctuation marks and typographical conventions in tools like Twitter, like ‘#’ for hashtags, ‘RT’ for retweet, ‘@’ for mentions, and other conventions.

In the past few months I have see a slew of new tools that are based around a microsyntax-based approach to work management. I wrote about recently (see is a minimal microsyntax-based work management tool) which relies on microsyntactic characters ‘#’, ‘@’, and ‘&’ to denote labels (tags), users (mentions), and projects, respectively. I also just wrote up Fetchnotes, which likewise relies on inline microsyntax for sharing and tagging notes (see Fetchnotes, a small and simple notes app, goes social).

This week I learned of Twoodo, another microsyntax-based work management tool, which is quite immature in some ways but has a direct and intuitive design. In Twoodo, we have ‘#’, ‘@’, and ‘+’ for tags, mentions, and projects, in an almost exact parallel to

Screenshot 2013-11-14 11.20.59

The tool also has some predefined tags that are associated with specialized sorts of posts and metadata.

Screenshot 2013-11-14 15.14.40

In the screenshot above you see the autocomplete popup with predefined tags, like #todo (tasks), #vote (for yes/no/maybe polls), #question (people can answer), and various priorities.

In the screen below you  see a post posted in the research project (‘+research’) and tagged as ‘#report’, with a comment thread in which another user is creating a task inline.

Screenshot 2013-11-14 15.31.48

Here’s that same comment after being added. Notice the check box indicating it is a task.

Screenshot 2013-11-14 15.46.21

The Bottom Line

Twoodo is a well designed and cleverly done take on work management. I think I would switch over and try it for at least a few projects, aside from the limitation on file attachments: it supports uploading and downloading of files, but lacks Dropbox and other file sync-and-share integrations, and as yet does not support viewing docs inline, like Crocodoc integration would allow. However, David Arnoux of Twoodo tells me that Dropbox integration is coming next week, and he is looking at Crocodoc as well.

Definitely an app to watch.

Play that hashtag: Eye-C crowdsources media curation

A new iOS and Android app called Eye-C turns hashtags into collaborative media playlists, allowing you to play a continuous stream of videos from the #occupywallst movement or check out the artists your friends are listening to. All media can be beamed straight to your TV.

Sheen vs. Kutcher: Guess who was #winning?

Comedy Central heavily promoted its Roast of Charlie Sheen on Twitter, and it looks like the bet may have paid off: Twitter users commented more than twice as much about the roast than about the season debut of his former show Two and a Half Men.