Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on May 13, 2009

Checking out the latest tweets from the incredibly interesting people I follow on Twitter Sunday morning, I noticed that a number of these famous and infamous personalities were on the way to the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced that he was grocery shopping before heading out to the glittery evening after dropping off his dry cleaning and getting some shoes repaired. Cool.

The New York Times media correspondent David Carr ran into Captain Richard Phillips at a pre-dinner party and tweeted, “Every year, #nerdprom pivots around heroes. He’s one of the It Boys this year.” (The quote is edited from the original abbreviated syntax.) Phillips of course is the captain of the Maersk Alabama who was kidnapped and freed when US Navy Seals simultaneously shot his captors from the heaving stern of the USS Bainbridge. They had been holding Phillips in a lifeboat drifting a “safe” distance from the warship.

Following President Barack Obama’s remarks, which reviews generally agreed were hilarious, American Air ’s Ana Marie Cox mused, “Have we given POTUS a standing O at the end of his speech before?” (According to Washington Times White House Correspondent Christina Bellantoni, the answer is “Yes.” Former President George W. Bush received one last year.) Ms. Cox first rose to prominence as the irreverent blogger and founder of the political blog Wonkette. The Tweeterati Sunday morning (Saturday evening in Washington DC, obviously) assumed that Ms. Cox was the creator of “#nerdprom,” a reference ID for comments on the annual dinner. It’s derived from nerdprom, which is how everyone who goes and wants to go refers to it.

Putting a hash mark (#) before a word makes it possible to search and follow tweets using the hash mark-laden word in real time. Tweeters and aspiring tweeters can learn how to use hash marks and the etiquette for their use at hashtags.org. Another popular hash tag over the weekend was #startrek. The movie debuted at #1 from Friday to Saturday earning $72 million and rave reviews, just like Mr. Obama. As I was writing this column Monday afternoon, #alltimelow was emerging as a top hash tag, appropriate for the day of the week.

With a national election year coming up fast in the Philippines, I got to thinking that this would be the perfect time to start creating some hash tag IDs to provide a degree of coherence to the inevitable tweet commentary surrounding the campaign. The microblog provides the ideal medium for political perspective because it forces tweeters to write tight, concise rants and praises in a humorous yet compelling way. I sense that this upcoming campaign will benefit from a lot of commentary with these characteristics. Especially the humor.

Aside from hash tags identifying each of the candidates (#marroxas, #mannyvillar, etc.), #presidentiables will provide an overview of each candidate’s brand. Hash tags can also be used to identify particular issues in the campaign, such as #familyplanningphilippines, #corruptionphilippines, #educationphilippines, #carpphilippines, and #mediafreedomphilippines.

To make this work, once a hash tag is created, tweeters who follow the campaign will have to agree to use them. Hashtags.org provides a directory of hash tags, but to get all the campaign hash tags in one place, they will have to have a prefix, such as rp or pinoy. Since there are so many hash tags in the hashtags.org directory, it probably makes more sense to post them in a special website. That website could also provide syndicated feeds (RSS) of campaign-related tweets.

Someone obviously will have to decide that this is a good if obvious idea, and go out and implement it. There’s the possibility that someone has already dreamed it up and is at work on a better plan.

Other interesting topics deserve hash tags as well. Some that come to mind immediately are #philippinebrand (The World Bank’s Global Investment Promotion Benchmarking 2009 study shows that the Philippines is “weak” in promoting its economy.) and #ofwdeployment (The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration has finally admitted that deployment fell almost 30% last year.).

How will tweet commentary address these issues constructively? For one, they will make them visible and openly debated (e.g., “#ofwdeployment Why are people our biggest service exports and why can’t we create jobs at home?”). Transparent communication is a wonderful gift, and leveraging it responsibly is probably an obligation, not just a privilege or right.

A friend told me that when the late former US president John Kennedy was elected, women were invited to the previously male-only nerdprom for the first time. Mr. Obama’s first nerdprom marked the first instance in which individuals everywhere could not just follow the nerdprom, but actively comment on the proceedings with others everywhere thanks to Twitter’s unique format. It would be wonderful to see many of the 24 million Filipinos who regularly access the Internet actively engaged in the 2010 National Election.

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