In fact, it was these digital limitations which made the pound sign an obvious choice. Or, rather, the only choice.
“It was a lot of constraints on the problem space that led to that decision,” Messina says.
“In other words, it almost wasn’t possible to choose anything else.”
The first iPhone had only been released a couple of months before the idea of the hashtag was created – many early Twitter users were still using hardware-based phones with a numerical keypad featuring an asterisk and pound symbol.
The pound symbol’s history of use in internet chat rooms – which in itself was drawn from early typographic computing interfaces – made it the logical choice.
“I’m always surprised by how much more growth there is in these things,” Messina says.
“As there are more and more people who are digitally literate, that are looking to find other people who share similar interests, the hashtag becomes a very personal and easy to use – and very cheap, frankly – way of starting or joining a conversation, or discovering that one may exist.
“There’s this interesting way in which we’re joining public consciousness in a way that just didn’t seem to happen before.”
But things have changed drastically since 2007 – not just in the growth of and access to social media, but also in the ramifications of the new connected age in the offline world.
Messina, for his part, sees social media evolving from a documentation of someone’s life to an outlet of creativity, tapping into what he dubs the “arc of computing”.
“The arc of computing to me, starting in the 60s, is really about taking expert systems that were largely produced for the needs of the military and the academic establishment, largely in the United States, and to make those technologies easier and easier to use for more and more users,” he says.
“As of 2007 the iPhone brought the power of computing to normal, everyday users.
“And one of the things that suggests to me where we’re going is to think about how, in 2019, 50 per cent of the global population is now connected to the internet.
“That’s why I’ve been very interested in looking at things like voice computing to enable that next 50 per cent to essentially change the nature of how we compute from being one where you have to be literate and be able to type and spell in English, to being able to just express yourself in your natural language and have a computer be able to understand and satisfy your intents.”
That future is already being realised, Messina says, pointing to Google and Facebook’s investment in artificial intelligence, with the undeveloped world an “enormous” market to deliver services.
But the advances in and proliferation of technology doesn’t come without its challenges – regulation being chief among them.
Differing laws among countries is a challenge for global technology and social media companies and how they operate, especially when trying to apply uniform rules, paired with preparing citizens for the power that comes with the use of social media and promoting “pro-social” activity.
A recent Australian court ruling which deemed media organisations responsible for Facebook user comments on articles they posted – and any defamatory imputations in those comments – would not have happened in the US, Messina says.
“I was quite surprised by the ruling,” he says.
“In the US these platforms are at least currently somewhat protected from the type of content that is published on them.
“But it’s different when you’re a media publisher using one of these platforms because you don’t necessarily have the same access to tools that the platforms themselves have.”
Page moderators and owners have tools to remove comments if a complaint arises, but that becomes “daunting” when applying any sort of scale, Messina says.
“If it’s legal content, that’s something different, the platform itself probably needs to deal with that, but if it’s very subjective that puts these media companies that are largely understaffed and still trying to figure out their business model in the position of needing to cut off comments altogether, which stifles public discourse,” he says.
“So I’m hopeful that there will be a review of that decision because it may have pretty negative consequences if it goes unchallenged.”
Cameron is the homepage editor for WAtoday.