Kel Kelly

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Twitter Attempts To Herd Birds

October 31, 2010 9:10 AM

Twitter recently released new guidelines for use of the Twitter trademark. The guidelines are very thorough and cover trademark usage including:

  • Promoting your own account
  • Talking about Twitter in publications, on TV, at conferences
  • Displaying Tweets in your broadcast or online
  • Writing a book about Twitter
  • Using Twitter screenshots
  • Merchandise/manufactured items
  • Using the Twitter marks in your ad/marketing campaign
  • Naming your application/product, applying for a domain
  • Visual design of your website or application
  • Other things to know about the Twitter trademark

Twitter has been on the receiving end of a tsunami of bitch-slapping responses following publishing these new guidelines. Yesterday, Silicon Alley Insider published a post called Hey Twitter Enough Of This Crap About “Here’s How You Can Use The Word Tweet.” The vast majority of the new guidelines have to do with the usage of the word “Twitter” and its logo. Twitter has a trademark on the word “Twitter” and it is clearly trying to get its arms around usage. Just because 100 million plus people use Twitter doesn’t mean it can be a trademark gang bang with feathers flying all over the place. I’m sure well over a billion people drink Coke every year, but nobody is outraged over the rigid trademark guidelines Coca Cola established and enforces. Trademarks are everything to big brands. From Google to Apple to Target to BMW to McDonald’s, trademarks ensure the brand equity is not misrepresented, leveraged or stolen in ways that would harm the brand or benefit another company. Why should Twitter be held to a different standard? Because they have a bird in their logo? Seriously, if I started a technology company called GoogleGaggle, does anyone think Google might have a right to get pissy. Or if I started a new blog called SiliconAlleyInsiderButInBoston, do you think SAI would be OK with that and perhaps link to my site. Doubtful. I bet I would have a lawyer up my butt waving a Cease & Desist faster than I can type the word “help” in a Tweet.

So why all the outrage over Twitter’s new guidelines. It appears the bulk of it — which I agree with — is in response to how Twitter is attempting to dictate the usage of the word “Tweet.” At issue is that Twitter doesn’t have a trademark on the word Tweet. They have tried to trademark Tweet, but have failed repeatedly. Unlike “Google” which was a word that became common vernacular because the company introduced it to us, Twitter is trying to abduct a word that has been around since man heard the first bird open its beak and let out a sound. OK, that is a slight exaggeration, but you get the gist of what I am trying to say.

Maybe Twitter is attempting to abduct the word Tweet as a possible monetization strategy and is taking a page out of Lindsay Lohan’s playbook of perceived infringement. Remember when Lindsay filed a $100 million dollar lawsuit against E-Trade in response to its 2010 Super Bowl commercial referencing “that milkaholic Lindsay?” Lindsay settled the suit and it has been reported she made a pretty penny on the deal. How can that be? There must be a million girls named Lindsay who were born long before Ms. Lohan. How is it that Lindsay Lohan can somehow stake claim on a name she doesn’t have a trademark on and actually leverage it financially through a legal claim? Not sure but the answer must lie in the same vault that hold the answer to the question Why does CBS still stand behind Charlie Sheen?

What do you think about Twitter trying to dictate the usage of the word Tweet?

Please note: Comments on this blog are moderated. Any comments that are focused on personal attacks, bullying, threats or overall negativity will be removed.

Posted by Kel | in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

12 Comments on “Twitter Attempts To Herd Birds”

  1. Marcia Says:

    Another great post Kel! I completely understand why Twitter would want to control the way people use the word tweet since they are responsible for bringing the use of the word into the mainstream. Prior to twitter, you didn’t hear people using the word tweet on a daily basis. However, I think it will be impossible to change it now.

  2. Kel Says:

    i agree marcia. i can certainly see why Twitter is trying to get its arms around usage of the word Tweet. However, if Twitter took an honest look at the likelihood that this probably will never happen, they would be better off just letting it go.

  3. Jen Says:

    Great post, Kel. The question as to whether Twitter can commandeer a word that’s been in the English language far longer than its 4-year-old site is an interesting one. If you recall the alleged memo from the NY Times standards editor to the paper’s staff this summer, he reportedly prohibited the newspaper’s staff from using the word Tweet outside of “ornithological contexts.” One of his main arguments? The word “Tweet” has not yet proved its staying power in the standard English language. He said, “Someday, ‘tweet’ may be as common as ‘e-mail.’ Or another service may elbow Twitter aside next year, and ‘tweet’ may fade into oblivion.” He’s right. With the extremely fast pace of technology these days, in a few years saying “Tweet” may sound as relevant as “Page me, and I’ll call you back on my Zack Morris cell phone.” While Twitter is experiencing rapid growth and is certainly a powerful marketing tool for brands right now, my opinion is that it would be a bit hasty to let a trendy micro-blogging service usurp a word that’s been around for centuries.

  4. Liz Says:

    Though I am definitely one to drink the Twitter Kool-Aid (ok, more like guzzle), I think the guidelines are a little much. I doubt I will start capitalizing Tweet as a noun, and there’s just no way the grammarian in me will stand for capitalizing it when used as a verb. Sorry, @biz!

  5. Amanda Says:

    This is an interesting post, Kel. Although Twitter is making ‘tweet’ a popular phrase as the site gains popularity, I would argue that Twitter can’t lay claim to a word that existed before the site. Facebook can’t lay claim to ‘poke’ or ‘friend’, both of which existed before Facebook. Twitter didn’t invent the word, and even if the site is a major player in the social media realm, it does not have enough power to take charge of a word that existed well before the internet.

  6. Kel Says:

    jen, i love, love, love your perspective. thanks for sharing it. your examples amplify the point in a resounding way. they also made me laugh. thanks for that!

  7. Frank Says:

    Kel, cool post. From a branding perspective, I totally get where Twitter is going and why they would want to own the word Tweet, however I think they need to “get the poison out of their system” and let it go. To me, it’s a byproduct of what you do on Twitter the brand and an exercise in futility…it would be like the first ever lawnmower company trying to trademark the word “mow”. It’s ridiculous.

  8. Kel Says:

    amanda, thank goodness facebook didn’t try to stake claim on the word “poke” since it is now viewed as a laughable feature and often used as the butt of jokes. did you see the snl weekend update mark zuckerberg skit where they made fun of poke? too funny.

  9. Kel Says:

    liz, you must be “wicked smaht.” i didn’t even know there grammarian was a word. haha.

  10. Kel Says:

    frank, i love the lawnmower example. and i love that howard stern helped raven “get the poison out.” haha.

  11. Mike Langford Says:

    As an entrepreneur who has used the word “tweet” in his product name, Tweetworks, I have given this topic a LOT of thought.

    Twitter has no more claim to the use of the word tweet than Google does to “search” or “Blogger” does to “blog.” (Yes, I know Google owns Blogger but the point is still valid.)

    While “tweet” as a synonym for “post” was coined i the Twitter user community it has started to spread to other short social updates. I know I use it when talking about updating via Facebook and Foursquare for example.

    The real challenge for me, and other entrepreneurs, is whether I want to continue to use “tweet” in my product name and be tied to Twitter. One area where I have struggled to date is in differentiating my product from others in a very crowded Twitter application market. There are dozens of other products with the word “tweet” in their name and hundreds more with “tw” at the beginning.

    There is no longer a real benefit to using the word tweet. At the outset, it had value in letting people know what the product did. On the surface, it let you interact with Twitter and when you dove in a bit deeper you saw the other facets of the offering. But now the market itself, not Twitter, has diluted the term tweet to a point where it carries little real value.

    I will be rebranding soon and doing a massive pivot for the product and the business but Twitter’s push to own tweet had nothing to do with it.

  12. Kel Says:

    go mike go! you bring up a ton of great points, particularly from a naming perspective. when i was at toysmart, nobody could distinguish between any of the brands because they all had “toy” in the name — toysmart, smarttoys, etoys, etc. even more important is the limitation that the word “tweet” brings to a brand’s association. often time companies name based on where they are at that moment in time and it can limit their future expansion from a brand awareness perspective. even more tragic — and something i think tweet in a name presents — is when the technology evolves and you are stuck with a name that reflects something now viewed as old. analog devices is a great example of this. the world has gone digital and their name makes them look like something old and stale.

    good luck with the rebranding, mike!

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