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Twitter Launches Clickable Stock Symbols, StockTwits’ Howard Lindzon Says “Hey, We Already Do That!”

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Tonight, Twitter quietly rolled out another feature — one that may seem simple and straightforward at first glance but could actually have big implications. The company said via its very own Twitter account that users can now click on stock (or “ticker”) symbols in any tweet to view search results for those stocks and companies.

To make this possible, Twitter is essentially introducing a new hashtag — or what is being called a “cashtag.” Instead of the ubiquitous “#”, the addition of the symbol “$” added in front of any ticker will instantly provide context for that stock, aggregating all tweets that use the ticker under one label. Twitter gives the example of “$GE” — General Electric’s ticker symbol — although this will obviously work for any company, like Apple ($AAPL) or Google ($GOOG), allowing users to peruse conversations happening around those stocks in realtime.

Drew Olanoff of The Next Web was the first to notice Twitter’s new feature, and pointed out that Twitter’s new feature closely resembles functionality that StockTwits has boasted for some time now.

This similarity was not lost on StockTwits co-founder and CEO Howard Lindzon, who as Drew pointed out, recently sold the remainder of his Twitter shares last week.

In fact, Lindzon said that Twitter’s new feature “hijacked” StockTwits’ own use of the “$” symbol to structure their internal data, even though he says that the company had told him that this was not functionality they planned to add.

In a blog post entitled “The Twitter Hijacking of Stocktwits $ … The Cashtag,” Lindzon says:

It’s interesting that Twitter has hijacked our creation of $TICKER ie. $AAPL. 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.

The CEO continued on saying that the curation features Twitter is beginning to test out are similar to those that StockTwits has been thinking about for more than four years and has implemented, joking, “Twitter is about advertising dollars. They have $1 billion of venture money on the line. Lot’s of pressures I am not interested in … I wonder how well that will do for $FXCM (buying ads on twitter) converting hits from rappers into FOREX accounts.”

Lindzon said that he was “disappointed of course that Twitter is hijacking our idea and time,” and in the comments responded to fans saying that he had, to this point, seen no attribution from Twitter anywhere in regard to this feature. As to what kind of recourse is left for StockTwits, Lindzon said that they will continue to push on, taking stock (!) in the fact that Twitter has a lot of pressures and a lot of breadth (he cites its social graph and product), but StockTwits has the community, and depth and a unique approach, where Twitter so far has none.

Lindzon concludes:

I am disappointed of course that Twitter is hijacking our idea and time (will only confuse the masses), but Stocktwits moved beyond that basic functionality 4 years ago. In a dirty way, it’s the ultimate compliment so we will take it as such for the moment and keep rolling out functionality that makes us the best real-time communication platform for people that love stocks and markets.

We definitely have not heard the end of this issue as it relates to StockTwits, in particular, and Twitter’s new clickable “$” really that just scratches the surface. As Drew points out in a follow-up post, cashtags could be just the tip of the iceberg.

Unstructured data leads to a poor user experience, and Twitter has unstructured data in spades. To begin offering a search mechanism that is actually useful, the company may begin employing other symbols to use as secondary hashtags. This could do wonders for the company in a number of obvious ways, but whether directly in this way, or in other ways as it decides whether it’s a media company or a technology company, it’s not the last we’re going to see of Twitter stepping on the toes of startups (a la StockTwits).