a black and white artistic representation of Melvil Dewey standing in a modern library

Hashtags – The Dewey Decimal System of the Internet

Hashtags, Decimals, and the Age-Old Quest for Organization

By Luke LaBree 🔎
CMO, Dennis Food Service

While browsing through various social media platforms recently, I couldn’t help but wonder: What if Melvil Dewey, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System, had been born in the age of hashtags? Would he approve of our #anythinggoes internet organization, or would he wonder how we ever found anything? It was here, somewhere between contemplating Victorian-era hashtag jokes and meme opportunities, that a comparison struck me: are hashtags the Dewey Decimal System of the internet?

The internet is expanding at an exponential rate; millions of posts are uploaded every day. Here, hashtags have emerged as a universal organization system for the world’s digital shares. In essence, hashtags are the Dewey Decimal System’s cooler, younger siblings. While Dewey meticulously categorizes and organizes books in libraries, assigning them specific numerical codes based on their subjects, hashtags effortlessly categorize content on the internet, especially on platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Just as you’d find Caribbean travel information in the 917.3 section thanks to Dewey, you’ll swipe through a world of dreamy destinations thanks to #TravelGoals.

Searching for knowledge in a library? Dewey is there to ensure you can find every last book on the evolution of popular dances. But in the digital realm, if you’re curious about dance trends, browsing #DanceChallenge on Instagram will have you busting out the latest moves in no time. The comparison is clear; library visitors use the Dewey Decimal System to discover related materials on a subject, internet users explore hashtags to find posts, discussions, and content related to that specific tag.

Providing an efficient path for new discoveries is where both systems shine. The Dewey Decimal System acts like a GPS for books, ensuring consistency across different libraries. Turn left at Fiction, and soon you’re nestled between Mystery and Romance. While hashtags work like signposts to outline the key topics in a given piece of content. A range of topics means multiple hashtags, opening up new routes of exploration. One moment you’re scrolling #HealthyRecipes, and the next, you’re indulging in #VeganDesserts. The Dewey Decimal System is universal across libraries, and hashtags perform a consistent function across the internet. Regardless of whether you’re on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok, #Foodie always promises a visual feast.

The most interesting difference lies in their contrasting worlds. Dewey’s domain exists within the hushed aisles of a library, where interaction is limited to whispered questions and stifled coughs. Hashtags, however, buzz with life. They not only categorize content but also encourage engagement and participation. They invite conversation, spark debates, and connect people across continents through content.

While Dewey helps us navigate a world of books in stacks, hashtags help guide us through 70 trillion gigabytes of internet content with focus and flair. So, yes, in my opinion, hashtags are the Dewey Decimal System of the internet. And maybe the next time you use one, give a nod to good ol’ Melvil Dewey. He might just have been the original #organizethis #trendsetter.

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