Facebook is rolling out hashtags on its social network, in an effort to play a greater role in real-time public conversations dominated by rival Twitter. 

The company started implementing hashtags since Wednesday whereby words in posts that are marked by “#” will be grouped together. Users can track conversations by searching for these hashtags, or clicking on a hashtag in a post. That action will pull up a list of posts the include the hashtag, with most relevant posts first, such as those by your friends, followed by most recent, publicly-available posts.

“To date, there has not been a simple way to see the larger view of what’s happening or what people are talking about,” said Greg Lindley, Facebook’s product manager for hashtags, in a blog post. “Hashtags are just the first step to help people more easily discover what others are saying about a specific topic and participate in public conversations.”

The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Facebook had spent months testing hashtags in its service. Instagram, the photo-sharing app Facebook acquired in 2012, had already incorporated hashtags but the iconic Internet mark had thus far been meaningless on the larger social network, which didn’t offer an easy way to track real-time events.

The move to integrate one of Twitter’s most iconic markers, illustrates how competition is heating up between the rivals. Although the services started very differently—with Facebook largely used for close friends and Twitter for public broadcast—the companies are now increasingly targeting the same digital ad dollars. Taking greater ownership of real-time public conversations, could help Facebook capture ad dollars related to live events, such as the Super Bowl and television episodes.

In a news release, Facebook noted that the recent “Red Wedding” episode of Game of Thrones, an HBO show, attracted 5.2 million viewers and spurred 1.5 million mentions on Facebook. A Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment.

Mr. Lindley said in his post that Facebook would release more related features arriving in the coming months, such as trending hashtags.

Not every post with a hashtag will be public, he added. Users can control who sees their hashtags by selecting the audience for a post.

Source: Wall Street Journal