#WeMetTheInventorOfTheHashtag and #WhatAGuy

In this Town & Country exclusive, Chris Messina shares his forecast for digital trends and how businesses can maximize their interactions with customers.

Chris Messina has a knack for solving problems people never knew they had. Messina was working in Silicon Valley in 2007 when he was among the first 2,000 users of Twitter. He noticed the need for people to organize themselves on the platform that fit a tweet’s 140-character limit. In a tweet, he proposed the use of the pound sign as an easy way to create groups. Twitter called the idea too nerdy, thinking it would never catch on, but it did. The use of hashtags spread like wildfire across multiple web platforms and Messina is to be thanked for that.

But the hashtag isn't the only Messina brainchild that’s gone ‘viral.’ Ever heard of a little idea called the co-working space? He and his friends back in San Francisco were responsible for the concept in 2006.

“The idea was to create this global network of spaces run by individuals,” Messina tells Town & Country. “It was basically a selfish desire to go around the world and have a place I could work from with other like-minded people and it was in the early stages of social technology being created and it was kind of riding the early successes of that.”


A year before that, he worked on a project called BarCamp, a user-generated event model where anyone could host and join open structure conferences or workshops. These community-building projects, hashtag, the co-working space, and BarCamps, are the contributions he’s proudest of.

Messina also worked with Google on designing the Google profile. He left the tech giant in 2013 to do some consulting work and found himself working on Uber's developer platform. After attempts at a start-up, Messina returned to consulting.

Community Building 

To say that Messina has had a colorful career is an understatement. His prized contributions, however, revolve around the theme of community.

“It’s important to me because [when] I was growing up, I found it hard to belong anywhere,” he says. Once he moved to San Francisco, he found more of the like-minded people he had never known when he was younger. Then he realized, they needed a place for people just like them, hence the co-working concept.

He explains that a concept like BarCamp was meant to be a thing of the Internet and not something he or only one other person should take claim over. “If your idea is solid and clear enough but there are many different ways others can execute the idea, then you don’t need to control it as tightly,” he adds, “You actually want the idea to be adapted in various environments that it might find itself in.” 

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The ideas were planted on the Internet as its foundation, “a kind of sharing commons,” he calls it. “We think of these as creating generative systems—systems that allow people to deal and then adapt into their own needs and share the results of their own work.”

Messina’s 2019 Forecast

We took the opportunity to pick Messina’s brain on the digital trends that will make it big this year. In terms of social media, he sees the opportunity for e-commerce increasing on apps like Instagram. He also sees more discourse happening on the purpose of social media taking place within the year.

“There’s going to be a deeper conversation about what to do about to do about social media—both from an addictive perspective, as well as on how it affects the truth and integrity of the news… that may create a bunch of new behaviors, which are very positive and productive but can also be very negative and dangerous.” 


“In 2019, for the first time, there will be more people who are online than those who are not,” says Messina, “We’re crossing over the 50 percent threshold so that means we’re starting to reach a saturation point.”

He has recently been drawn to voice computing systems such as Alexa or Siri and he predicts that these tools will continue to evolve and play a bigger role in our daily lives. Its effects are not evident in the Philippines but with it swiftly winning over a key leader in tech such as the U.S., Messina knows it will go far. Amazon has already devised a version of Alexa specifically for hotels, we learn, and this will likely change the dynamic of the hospitality business. 

Using Technology to Build Better Relationships For Your Brand

How a business maximizes these tools may also help their brands advance. Technology is breaking the conventional business model for more custom products and services. “What the internet allows you to do is to develop individualized relationships with each one of your customers and figure out what products or needs they have,” says Messina. He compares this to the relationships we keep with friends on social media. When a friend (or business) creates a public post, it’s less personal and engaging than when that same friend sends you a private message. This is what he thinks is the next step for businesses. “Technology, over time, will allow businesses to scale relationships in ways that previously weren’t possible,” he continues.


Messina cites Nike as a role model for this new stage of personalization. “If I can get a custom shoe from Nike for more or less the same price as a mass-produced shoe, I’m probably going to choose the one that fits me and my personality. The one that allows me to express myself. Nike then becomes an extension of my own personal brand whereas other companies that are making stuff for everybody else will have a harder time building a much deeper, engaging relationship over time.” 

A more basic approach would be to tell a story about the values that the company holds. Sending a meaningful message would likely appeal to the customers that hold the same values. It will then become easier to build a relationship with them.

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Hannah Lazatin
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