Posted by Karen B on July 30th, 2009
I had an interesting experience at the Design Automation Conference this week. We (the EDA industry and our customers) created and adopted a standard in just 10 days. Seriously.
It wasn’t a standard for exchanging design data – the type of EDA standard I’m used to at Synopsys. Instead, it was a standard for communication among people at the conference and with those who wanted to attend but weren’t able to. It began – as standards often do – with a few people coming up with a good idea, trying it out, seeing its potential, and then convincing a broader audience to adopt it. I was amazed how quickly it happened.
I’m talking about the standard Twitter hashtag – #46DAC – which dozens of people and companies adopted for this year’s conference.
Before you roll your eyes and scoff, “Twitter, that’s silly,” let me tell you how the standard came about. I think it’s an interesting new dimension in the standards game.
If you’re not familiar with Twitter and hashtags, they’re actually quite simple. Twitter is a free web-based service that allows people to send short messages simultaneously to virtually everyone on earth who has a computer. People can listen to each other, talk about any subject, and create conversations on topics as diverse as your imagination allows. Millions upon millions of people are now actively and openly using Twitter, and their messages are out there for anyone to find.
With the massive amount of chatter generated by Twitter, a means of searching for messages about a specific topic became imperative. Keyword searches alone were not adequate. For instance, if you search for Twitter messages containing the word “DAC”, the results will include the Dallas Athletic Club (which seems like a very popular gym) and other completely unrelated messages with the word “dac” in them. Twitter users themselves came up with the concept of including the same word – known as a tag – in messages relating to the same topic. Preceded by the “pound sign” or “hash mark”, the tags became known as hashtags. Example: If everyone who sends messages about the price of gold were to include #goldprices in their messages, a search of the word #goldprices would bring up everyone’s messages on this topic.
It was clear that if people were going to send out DAC-related Twitter messages, we’d have to come up with a unique hashtag to make them discoverable amidst the stream of generic “dac”s. It seemed obvious that it could be #DAC. A quick search of #DAC revealed that it was already being used by the Denver Boy Scouts and something related to trucking companies. What about #DAC09? It, too, was already in use by a digital arts conference.
A few of us talked it over and proposed the unique hashtag #46DAC. We began using it as we posted Twitter messages about the upcoming conference. Searching for #46DAC in the Twittersphere worked fine – all of our messages (though they were few) were filtered out of the enormous amount of unrelated messages.
About a week before DAC was to start, I realized that #46DAC was not in widespread use among Twitter users who had started talking about the upcoming conference. Some messages contained #DAC09 so they were tangled up with the other conference, some contained #DAC but they were mixed up with the boy scouts, and many contained no hashtags at all so they were lumped in with all sorts of unrelated messages about gym-goers, trucking, and topics mysterious to me.
I started a campaign. For every message I could find that was related to the Design Automation Conference, I sent a suggestion to its originator to use the common #46DAC hashtag. My colleagues on Twitter teased me, “Once a standards person, always a standards person”. The hashtag caught on quickly, and a search of #46DAC during the next few days yielded a growing number of DAC-related messages. I could immediately tell which people and companies using Twitter were listening and which were not (or at least, which ones didn’t want to participate for whatever reason).
By the time DAC began, #46DAC Twitter users were generating a stream of reports, opinions, event notices, and prize opportunities as they participated in the conference. As people watched the stream, more and more of them joined in, adopting the #46DAC hashtag as a standard. Throughout the show, a search of the word #46DAC yielded a stream of interesting messages to people at the conference and to people who weren’t.
Conference attendees watched the live stream on 2 big plasma screens mounted on a tower at DAC. They watched it on their iPhones as they wandered the show. And they watched the stream from afar. (Yes, I know of at least one person who watched the stream while on vacation.)
As I experienced previously from a social media conference where a hashtag was used, I expect the #46DAC stream to continue for a few more weeks, then dwindle. As planning for next year’s DAC begins, I expect the #47DAC to emerge.
This standards activity reminded me what standards are all about: Building a community of people willing to do something the same way while differentiating themselves. All of us who used #46DAC in our Twitter messages became part of a common buzz at the conference, yet we brought our personal and unique perspectives on DAC with each message.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you to my readers who voted for me in the “EDA’s Next Top Blogger” contest. Thank you so much. (I won. I’m honored.)