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August 27, 2009

Twitter Under Assault

A new microblogging website, Yahoo Meme, similar in style and functionality to Twitter, was soft-launched in Portuguese in May. They have now launched a Spanish version. But what is unusual is that the word “meme” was first introduced by controversial British ethologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene to discuss “elements of cultural ideas, symbols or practices that are transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena…” That doesn’t sound a bit like Yahoo.

Just as in the 19th century, when Thomas Huxley was known as “Darwin’s bulldog” for his tenacious defence of Darwinism, Richard Dawkins has played a similar, modern-day role when talking about evolutionary principles and explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena.

Analogous with the above, you may have noticed that Yahoo’s Meme closely follows the etymology of the Greek word “mimema” for “something imitated” and that instead of a sweet little bird tweeting, it has a dog – admittedly not quite the image of Huxley the bulldog, but a dog nevertheless – barking “wow” in Spanish. A dog? Don’t you think it would have been more appropriate to have used a cat that could have ruffled Twitter’s feathers a little, like Yahoo Sucatash?

According to Wiki, examples of memes are tunes, ideas and catch-phrases. But now, microblogging? Yes, Yahoo has introduced its own version in Spanish and Portuguese offering similar features to Twitter. At first glance it seems like another clone where users can populate with text posts, music, videos, photos and links to MP3 files, and with a repost rather than retweet button, but is it really an exact clone?

According to, “After using Meme [see] for a while, it doesn’t quite seem right to call it a Twitter clone. Instead, Yahoo Meme is really more of a back-to-basics microblogging service that feels a lot more like Posterous or Tumblr than Twitter.”

It must be said that releasing the beta in Spanish was a bit odd. However, according to The Summer Institute for Linguistics Ethnologue Survey (1999), the following are the top languages by population: Chinese, Spanish, then English, so to opt for Spanish would appear quite justified. But why was it cloaked in such secrecy? Do they think they are closing in on rival Twitter? Unlikely as yet, as Yahoo’s Meme does not have an API, so third-party developers are unable to write any web tools for it.

Perhaps my adherence to the Messrs Dawkins and Huxley analogy was too abstract as Yahoo’s description of its new “meme” insists: “Today, a ‘meme’ on the internet is popularly understood as a fever and became content that is played by everyone.”

Not quite what Richard Dawkins had in mind, as in explanations about his original “memes”, were that they “propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist heard, or read about, a good idea, he passed it on to his colleagues and students. He mentioned it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea caught on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.” Does this mean that Yahoo’s “content that is played by everyone” is the same thing as an imitation of Twitter? One wonders.

As things go, not everything is well at Twitter. Not only has Yahoo started to imitate its service but there has been yet another DDoS attack and they are said to be in litigation for patent infringement from TechRadium, a Texas-based technology company.

Not that this should be taken as a legal precedent, but it does raise some eyebrows as to how far users can legally tweet. According to TechRadium on the National Law Journal’s website: “Alerting the public about a fire, hurricane or traffic accident on Twitter is an unlawful tweet.”

So does that mean that the use of Twitter to post hurricane updates will affect Chevron and Shell or that the Los Angeles Fire Department is in trouble for posting alerts about fires and road closures?

George Borkowski, chairman of the intellectual property practice in Los Angeles, said Twitter “is likely to challenge the validity of the patents, claiming that the technology is too generic or too obvious to warrant a patent.” Borkowski also claimed that as the technology “was already out there, so there’s nothing truly novel about the patent.”

These three major assaults on Twitter must have its board a little nervous as, yet again, and for the third day running, the formatting of Twitter was all over the place on all browsers on my Mac. During my various research forays, however, I did stumble upon Yahoo_Meme on Twitter, which is a little cheeky to say the least. It only has one tweet pointing to the Portuguese beta.

However, add to that the already competing services such as Friendfeed, a real-time feed aggregator which consolidates posts from social media/networking websites and RSS/Atom feeds; One Riot, a real-time web search engine used for locating news, videos and blogs; Tumblr, a blogging platform that allows users to post text, images, video, etc, where users are able to “follow” other users; and SPNbabble, which supports the OpenID standard for a single sign-on between many different websites using a common password for each.

Besides the problems with Twitter internally, it seems by coincidence that it is being “hunted by the pack” from all these possible angles. But is it the legal connotations that have confused us in the TechRadium case about what our understanding is regarding the law and what is permissible to microblog? That question seems to be in the lap of the courts (certainly not the gods if Richard Dawkins has anything to do with it) – and alongside it, a process that could potentially take years to settle.

John Sylvester is the media director of V9 Design & Build (, a company specialising in web design in Bangkok, and who is an expert in search engine optimization and web marketing strategies.

15 Responses to “Twitter Under Assault

    avatar Tina Lindgren says:

    Thank you for a vey informative article – I really enjoyed reading all about meme.
    thank you John đŸ™‚
    Best Wishes

    avatar Joe says:

    Even though I tried Twitter I think it is absolutely
    Why in the world would people be so
    intrested In hearing if I’m eating Mac n Cheeze
    Or getting in the shower…
    It makes me wonder why people can’t enjoy
    Their own life without trying to be in the
    Spotlight all the time!!!
    Whatever happend to people having a private life!

    Dear Joe, I agree that for most of us it is a sign of social malaise and egocentric helplessness, but if you look at breaking news, “new media” does have its dubious attractions: see

    avatar Herb says:

    I completely agree with Joe. Twitter is for twits who have no life. As far as using twitter for business, I’m sure there are other ways to promote, but since it’s so popular with the current generation (whatever they call themselves) it’s one easy way to get in front of their faces.

    avatar Anand Mistry says:

    I think – Now, yahoo users will get more. Twitter is very big brand & Only Yahoo can compete Twitter. This is really great news for me. Because, I spend one hour daily on Twitter.

    Twitter is good and the laws are exactly as you explain. This post is awesome. The Richard Darwkins thing though I think you’ll find goes back further a field and more recent ecological explanations of the world make much more sense in the internet environment. I’m very tempted to add the new doggie Twitter over on Yahoo. Yahoo are good and they are definitely onto something by focusing on the Spanish community. As indeed it would be interesting to see if it takes of in the more northern Basque speaking areas, chuckle. Anyway I just read this on my phone then quickly came back to the computer to post my appraisal. Well done I’m so glad I subscribed to your site. It’s the best ever.
    Yours faithfully,

    avatar Dan Brown says:


    It is coming “under assault”…more than you even know.

    This is in “beta”..but already its better than “Twitter”…IMHO

    For ecxample, you can post up to 500 vs.140 for twitter…your post from them can also be posted to your “twtter” account at the exact same time….and much more.

    Its already has monetization model…

    Really think…this has a big shot of taking a lot of market share…in the coming days, weeks, months.

    Has a huge amount of more “functions”…and its really aimed at people and company’s doing business on line.

    For more info…check out:

    Dan Brown


    avatar Vialuna says:

    Yes great article.
    Meme – French for Same!
    …and the bird has met the dog…anyone seen Woofer? Surely not legal to have such an exact copy. I’m sure we’ll see the two in court soon.

    avatar Yusuf Kirmani says:

    Very informative article. But one thing is clear that mostly people are promoting their business through Twitter. A recent survey tells us that Twitter is not so popular in young generation. They are still in grip of Facebook, orkut, myspace. Let us see what meme will do.

    avatar Julian says:

    Great article. I love to find out about new social media platforms. I wonder if meme has any plans for an english version soon.

    avatar Carol Neiley says:

    “Meme” means not only same in French, but self — as in “moi-meme,” or myself. Good name, in any case.

    avatar maurice says:

    Has anyone, rather than searching wildly for its meaning, even slightly recognized that meme, in french, means the same??????

    avatar Tony Smith says:

    Micro-blogging sites like Twitter or meme are launched to give an escape to people’s anger, anguish, happiness or other feelings. This is like the escape valve of a pressure cooker and is meant to keep the human society in control.

    Tony Smith

    Twitter is only popular for marketing and networking in most cases. Take those out of twitter and it would disappear overnight.

    What is sad is that as soon as a site gets popular nowadays, people swoop on it with litigation trying to get a greedy share of the cake.

    We have the goold old US of A to thank for this crazy trend for suing anyone who creates something or does anything.

    avatar Bankruptcy record says:

    What’s the matter of “yahoo Meme”? it is ok, nobody will abandon Twitter and go to “Meme”.

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