Meet NY Startups’ Favorite Symbol: The #Octothorpe

On ancient maps, # was sometimes used to indicate the presence of a village.

The hash, the pound sign, the number sign, the hex—whatever you call it, the four-stroke cross-hatch possibly born at Bell Labs in the 1960s has had a fabulous re-awakening in recent years.

It’s called the octothorpe, according to punctuation nerds, and it’s been called “one of the great comeback stories in the history of competitive punctuation” along with the @ symbol and the asterisk.

For years, it was kept on the number row by computer programmers and best known to everyone else as the button you press when you finish recording a voicemail. But now, it’s cool:

On Twitter, the home of microbloggers, the octothorpe has a new career, reborn as the “hashtag”…This year GQ magazine, a major arbiter of the cool, has anointed # “symbol of the year.”

Thanks to Twitter, the octothorpe now evokes trendiness.

And two hot New York startups, Hashable and GroupMe, have adopted the octothorpe in their logos. Hashable’s logo is a blue and orange octothorpe that gives high fives; GroupMe’s is a smiley face with an octothorpe instead of eyes.

“We decided to use the octothorpe, or hashtag, or whatever it’s called, because our service was initially built on what we call pound commands. On GroupMe, you can use commands like #new, #mute, #add, etc. to interact with your groups. Plus it just sort of evokes a cell phone in some basic way,” Steve Spillman, community manager of GroupMe, wrote in an email. “We decided on it pretty early on.”

What other punctuation marks might be due for their 15 minutes? The Gray Lady is pushing the pilcrow (¶) and the sarcmark is still trying to break into the mainstream. Their time may come, but it’s clear who’s this year’s #1.

Disclosure. Meet NY Startups’ Favorite Symbol: The #Octothorpe