Jessica, Kelly and Frank Invented Twitter

I’m not really in to Twitter and have been asked several times in the last couple of weeks to explain this dark ages behaviour. Sorting through some old patent disclosures, I found that I’d been part of a group that had tried to patent something that essentially was Twitter, in 2003, so it seemed appropriate that I should explain my inconsistencies.

In IBM we used a predecessor to Sametime 7.5, called ICT, for instant messaging. Like Sametime, it allowed you to set a status message with a limited number of characters. Most people left this as the default, “I am online”, “I am away”, but some of us would use it to describe what we were actually working on (this was before Blogs really took off).

We soon got a little bored with this (“I’m writing Java code” soon gets dull, no it was always dull), so we began to be a little more creative, setting our statuses to be little hidden messages that only a small group of people, or even just an individual would understand. It was completely unreliable. The chances of that person hovering over your name, on their buddy list, when you had a message for them was pretty small. That was part of the attraction, because if they did, it was a really nice feeling. It was the equivalent of catching someone’s eye in a meeting and knowing what each other are thinking.

The trouble was, the status messages weren’t persistent, once it had changed there was no way of going back in time. It seemed like a bit of a flaw, so we tried to patent a, “system for the persistence of sequential status messages” (hello Twitter!). It even had a nice little visual mockup included:

This is impressive, not for it’s similarity to Twitter, but for the fact that in the 5 years since, I’ve lost my hair and gained wrinkles, but Kelly looks exactly the same as she does now, i.e. 13. Anyway, the patent rightly got nowhere as there wasn’t anything technologically novel in it.

Over time we stopped setting these status messages, it was fun while it lasted, but I think we just got bored of it. I think this has started to happen for blogging and I think it will for Twitter too. They’re both here to stay, but not in the form they currently take. I think auto status generation will grow and inferences drawn from those will answer the question, “What am I doing now?”. I really don’t see people carrying on writing, “I’m playing cards with @youknowwho” for too much longer.

In the meantime, the thing that will really take off, will be email. 2009 will be the year when people start sending each other emails again, it’ll be like 1998 all over again and I can’t wait. Email is still my favourite form of electronic communication.

* I should also point out that I am wrong about everything like this, always and there is also the possibility that I just don’t get it.

10 thoughts on “Jessica, Kelly and Frank Invented Twitter

  1. I thought I was the only one left in the world who did not Twitter. I do not see the point of it. I have no interest in what others are doing and I am sure they have none in me either. /me scratches head {:o)

  2. I’ve seen some very early mockups of twitter when it was called “”. It seemed to be built around the idea of gathering people’s IM status messages.

  3. Email is too spammy (much like the telephone system has become). Modern personal messaging must involve some form for friend request before messages can be sent, plus the option to unfriend if you no longer wish to be bothered with the sender.

    Email and public telephone numbers need to be intercepted and filtered by some form of offshore human agent.

  4. I think the level of interest in others and the willingness to share means different people respond in very different ways to these tools. Personally I find twitter intriguing and useful, but then I an ego-maniac 2.0. I think as with blogs you get out of it what you put in 🙂

  5. It’s a late post but I’m fired up about Twittering.

    I agree with AC that email is too spammy. But Twitter feels like spam as well although the product being promoted is usually only the writer’s sense of self-importance or need for self-reflection.

    I’ve been on Twitter for a little while but only sent my first one last night. That was triggered by a colleague being stabbed. Only then did I wish that I had previously published my twitter account – the immediacy suddenly did feel valuable but with only 4 people following why bother? Okay, it’s a nice way of also getting that comment onto my Facebook account, etc.

    The horrible side is having people signing up and there being some sort of social duty to reversing the offer if you know them. I don’t want to be inside anyone else’s head and hear their brain dribble…

    I would accept Twitters from a whole range of people *if* I knew I wanted to see their posts. Perhaps Twitterers can give my applications some metadata that will allow posts to be filtered by level of importance and relevance to me. Only show me the most relevant 5% as a report once every week (yep, I’m a dinosaur and like to get stuff done).

    We’ve had a long running project called openSocial (yep, older than Google’s that’s why I own and .net) which is meant to improve on email and twitterish apps. I look forward to it seeing the light of day hopefully later this year.

    Earlier in the week was at a thing called PubCamp where most people were non-recovering Twitter addicts. Last night I narrowly managed to avoid a Twitter party. *Snort!* Twitter parties!

    Perhaps there’s a virtual world that will come along in which your virtual bot goes around emoting and living out your random Twitters? I guess it will then Twitter it’s collisions or social interactions? “Saying hello to Epredator’s bot again… Bump.”
    There’s no saving us!

  6. One of the interesting things is that this had a history of avatars, too – I think the chinposin’ guys are trying to build that onto Twitter but it looks like you had it ages ago 🙂

  7. oh my. That just brought back so many memories of how fun it was to invent and think and play… and sometimes that playing really meant something. Or maybe I had been so into working with Frank and Jess that it never felt like work at all.

    Thanks for the memory lane stroll, my brain is happy.

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