Twitter is a Twelve-Year-Old

This post is about Twitter's recent decision regarding its internally-generated patents. I know I'm late to the party. But I suspect that my own take might be a bit off the wall.

Here goes:

Twitter is like one of those 12-year-old athletic world champions who are plastered all over the ads, or a child movie star who wins the Oscar and is the world-wide spokesperson for the WWF.

In other words, Twitter is far too young to have such a big megaphone in the world. It lacks the maturity borne of the limitations that go by the name "aging".

Whenever I hear one of these kids go on about world peace just around the corner, sustainable energy replacing oil next year, free government-subsidized ice cream for everyone, etc., ... I don't get all exercised about it.

Instead, I say simply: "What else did you think a 12-year-old would say?"

I mean Twitter hasn't even reached puberty yet, let alone had their heart broken, been divorced, become estranged from their own kids, watched as their body began to fail them, or buried their peers who expired due to aging.

They're kids! Not only shouldn't they think about such things, they can't do so -- at least they can't do so with any degree of wisdom.

But the only reason we get to (are compelled to) hear their views on utopia is that they aren't just any 12-year-old. They are the most important, most powerful 12-year-old in the world.

So my first thought when I read about the Twitter patent news above was: "What else did you think a 12-year-old would say?"

My next thought was that this decision was "sleeves off their vest". In other words, patents are irrelevant to Twitter.

Why are they irrelevant?

Patents are irrelevant to Twitter because they have something even stronger and better than patents to protect their monopoly on navel-gazing (and on Arab dictatorship-overthrowing).

What they have are network effects. Strong network effects.

IMHO, the "Follower" feature of Twitter buys them these strong network effects.

Network effects of this quality give Twitter a monopoly on what it does. Compare the weaker network effects of YouTube. YouTube has Vimeo for competition. Bonus points if you can figure out why YouTube's network effects are weaker than those of Twitter.

So this point is that if commentators criticize Twitter for being imprudent on its approach to patents, the response Twitter can give to its investors is: "We don't need no stinkin' patents. We have strong network effects."

Finally, my business partner told me that a patent lawyer had looked at the actual Twitter language on the second link above and found loopholes that contradicted the thrust of the document.

Whether that is true or not is not interesting to me. Now if you want to pay me to read that legal language to find the holes in it, well then let's talk. But short of that, I ain't reading no contract language for pleasure.

Instead, as you can see, this post begs for a follow-up post. Reading closely the discussion above you might notice that I am proposing that a corporation's approach to its own patents, and how that approach changes and evolves over the life of the corporation, is analogous to human aging.

The Twitter actions discussed above appear to be in response to Yahoo! recently suing Facebook for patent infringement.

In a future post, I'm going to look at Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo!, Google and other companies, look at how those companies approach their own patents, and how that has changed over time, and analogize those evolving approaches to the "ages" of those companies.

And just like humans, the sort of "aging" I'm interested in is not so much chronological aging, but rather biological aging. For example, when describing the biology of my own body to others, I say: "I'm a 50-year-old man (next year), with a 25-year-old heart (resting HR of 40), and 75-year-old knees (too much basketball)."

I think the Internet has accelerated the aging of these web companies. Chronologically, some of the web pioneers look like those 12-year-olds with white hair and rickety bones.

Another post for another day.