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Ticker symbols as clickable hashtags. StockTwits invented the concept four years ago, but Twitter, in co-opting the functionality for itself, could bring it to the masses.

Monday, Twitter announced via tweet that it had converted ticker symbols, the symbols used to identify publicly traded companies, into clickable hashtags on the web. The 116-character message wasn’t received well by StockTwits, which makes a social network for investors that centers around these symbols.

“Now you can click on ticker symbols like $GE on to see search results about stocks and companies,” Twitter said in a update.

Essentially, Twitter recognizes the dollar sign, followed by one to six letters, as a clickable entity on the web. The functionality was previously made available on Twitter for iPhone and Twitter for Mac. The links function like hashtags, meaning that users can click them to view all the other tweets that include the same ticker symbol. The point is to allow for more focused financially-driven conversations and searches with a filtered view of tweets.

Sound familiar? It should. StockTwits is a four-year-old, venture-backed startup that began its life as a little Twitter app for investors to exchange and follow stock-specific tweets through ticker symbol hashtags, or “cashtags” as the company calls them. The app, which still hinges on cashtags, has since evolved into a full-fledged social network for investors.

The company has created tools for investor relations professionals and marketers. It’s also cemented syndication deals with publications to display StockTwits messages alongside stock quotes. Messages posted from StockTwits reach more than 40 million unique users each month across StockTwits, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and content distribution partners, the company said in March.

StockTwits CEO and founder Howard Lindzon is none too happy about Twitter encroaching on his company’s territory. “It’s interesting that Twitter has hijacked our creation of $TICKER,” Lindzon said in blog post. “It only took four years to ‘fill‘ this hole, though a few months back they told me in a detailed email it was not a hole they wanted to fill.”

Lindzon said Twitter will confuse mainstream users with the clickable ticker symbols. “I am disappointed of course … but Stocktwits moved beyond that basic functionality four years ago. In a dirty way, it’s the ultimate compliment,” he said.

The information network declined to respond to Lindzon’s remarks.

Twitter has earned a reputation of being developer-unfriendly of late, shutting down, purchasing, or hobbling applications that compete with its core product. Is the company being the bad guy again? Perhaps, but one could make the argument that ticker symbols as hashtags is a natural addition for a platform where people use hashtags to focus conversations around specific topics.

No bother, Lindzon said in his post. His company will keep on trucking, building new features for its stock-tracking community members. Still, if Twitter makes popular the idea behind StockTwits, one has to wonder what will become of the small startup.

Photo credit: Jorg Hackemann/

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