Facebook: Goodbye sponsored stories, hello hashtags

While the rest of us were obsessing over the NSA and domestic spying, Facebook was busy introducing a major feature while killing another.

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We now take a break from our wall-to-wall coverage of the Snowden Affair (aka The Pole Dancer Who Loved Me), to bring you two significant developments on the Facebook front.

First, Facebook has jumped aboard the hashtag express, which began spontaneously on Twitter roughly six years ago and has become the de facto tagging method for just about every site from Instagram to Tumblr.

From now on, you can tag your public updates with, say, #love or #lol or #GoSpurs or #ImSoStoned, and then search for public updates from other FBers using the same hashtag by clicking on the same tag.

Privacywise, hashtags will have little impact on your Facebook experience. They will be subject to the same restrictions as regular updates; ie, if you marked an update as “friends only,” only people in your posse will be able to see that update when searching on that hashtag.

This is probably something Facebook decided to do after it acquired Instagram last year, and it’s taken them this long to roll it out. It makes Facebook instantly more useful and searchable than its much vaunted but actually pretty lame Graph Search, which it rolled out last January.

Bigger and better news: Facebook is finally putting a bullet through the head of one of the more hateful ideas it’s had in recent years, the sponsored story. These ad units translated your Likes into endorsements for Facebook sponsors – endorsements you automatically consented to and were not compensated for.

But don’t break out the champagne just yet. Sponsored stories aren’t really going away, though, they’re morphing into a different kind of ad. In Facebook speak:

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