The hat tip is “a cultural expression of recognition, respect, gratitude.” It’s more modern incarnation takes that tradition and translated it to the internet what the constraints of Twitter created “h/t.” It’s an efficient way to acknowledge someone who inspired or taught you without eating up the available characters.
It also happens to be a fantastic reminder of how constraints can drive creativity.
Initially I thought of the hat tip like an entry in a book’s bibliography – but it’s actually richer than that. It’s not just the citation but the reference to the individual who turned the author onto it in the first place.
Now, in addition to knowing what inspired the writer (the reference itself), you can know who.
The added layer of context is both rich and alluring. Much more than a simple citation the hat tips can let the reader on on a conversation that was previously invisible to them – who their favorite author is talking to about topics that interest them. In addition, because hat tips are typically unsolicited nods (outside of courtesy, there’s normally no obligation to reveal how you came across a source), they act as an endorsement of the taste of the discoverer / referrer.
I don’t have any data on the click through rate or search rate of recommenders, but personally, I find myself clicking through links to a hat tipper with much greater frequency than even links to the referenced article.
I suppose I shouldn’t find it surprising that one of the best ways to get seen is to provide value to others. I’m just pleased that this trend seems to be picking up momentum. It improves the reading experience and adds a new piece of information that has really never before been part of the narrative. It reminds me of Brian Eno’s idea of Scenius – which helps to demonstrate that genius is rarely an individual endeavor (h/t to Austin Kleon).