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Decoding the Top Twitter Hashtags of 2011

Twitter recently released a list of the eight most popular hashtags of 2011. Since it first appeared in August 2007, the user-invented convention has become a shorthand, an indexing tool, and a vehicle for irony. The hashtag provides context and with more than 200 million people using Twitter, trending hashtags offer insight into the collective conversation. From death and destruction to popular uprisings and plain, old-fashioned navel-gazing, here’s what we talked--err--tweeted about about this year:
1. #egypt and 8. #jan25
Social media played a critical role in the organization and reporting of demonstrations that surged across Egypt starting January 25. So much so that the government shut down Internet access for much of the country.

2. #tigerblood
The unhinged Charlie Sheen was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular topic in the actor category. But it was his assertion that he has “tiger blood” that captured Twitter’s fascination.

3. #threewordstoliveby
Some hashtags beg for user participation. This one was started by Maria Shriver (@mariashriver) in March. Her three words? Pass it on. In fact, that was the original hashtag of the tweet that started the trend: “Here are three words to live by: pass it on. #passiton

4. #idontunderstandwhy
I don’t understand why this hashtag struck such a chord, unless it’s that in our modern world there is much uncertainty and misunderstanding. Examples ranged from the Seinfeld-esque (“#idontunderstandwhy people flex”) to the serious (“#IDontUnderstandWhy we're enemies.”)

5. #japan
The March 11 earthquake in Japan left 15,842 dead, 5,890 injured, and 3,485 people missing. The hashtag was deployed to show support for the devastated nation and to raise money for recovery efforts.

6. #improudtosay
This one is a good illustration that participatory hashtags also offer an opportunity for sarcasm. For example, “#improudtosay I love taking pictures of myself in mirrors.”

7. #superbowl
Nothing unites the world like a sporting event. When the Packers played the Steelers at Cowboys Stadium, the world watched poised over its keyboards.
The most popular hashtags certainly sum up the year, but there were a few topics we were surprised not to see on the list:

1. #stevejobs
While Mac App Store, iPad, iPhone, and iPod were all on the list of top ten tech topics, the passing of Apple’s co-founder and torchbearer didn’t break the hashtag barrier.
2. #justinbieber
The Beliebers failed him.

3. #obama
It’s surprising that in an election season and a recession, the sitting president did not make the hashtag OR topics list. Or is it? #stateofamericancivilsociety
4. #occupywallstreet
Then again, Twitter creator Jack Dorsey is part of the 1 percent.

Which hashtags do you think summarized the collective consciousness the most in 2011?

Photo source: danielmoyle (cc)

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