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Patent for Twitter

Twitter just got a patent approved that is very generic, but therefore also covers a lot of ground. It was registered 2008, so it was interesting to find a document I wrote 2006 that describes kind of the same thing. I leave it here for you to ponder, completely unedited (direct copy-paste from Word). Note that at the time iPhone didn’t exist, so I talk MIDP and WAP instead. These were the days when the term “Mobile Web” meant “Definitely not the Web you are used to, in the worst way possible”. An obstinate Apple changed all that.

At the time Twitter filed its patent there already existed many solutions doing the same or very similar things, so I’m (as always) surprised they could get the patent approved for something this trivial.

I have loads of idea documents like this. Worth digging through?

Business Idea: FreeText

Anders Borg, 2006-04-26


A service that provides free SMS and IM within the boundaries of the service, with possible future links to real SMS (at a lower rate than normal) and popular IM services. Revenue should initially come from  advertising via the phone.

Technically the solution would consist of a phone application in Java ME / MIDP 1.0 (to cover most feature phones) that handles the user interaction, message logging, auto logging-in etc. The central service would then serve as the user database, message switchboard, possible gateway to external services etc. Communication would be via packet data (GPRS, EDGE etc) so the cost would be much less than normal SMS rate.

Neither the phone application nor the service are that very complex, except when linking to external services, and the technology is the same with few or many users, so there are no direct hurdles on that side. Yet, everything needs to be tested extensively, as any glitch could affect 1000s of users immediately, and many users might generate enough traffic and data to force a considerably more expensive ISP account.


From a user perspective:

  • Sign up as a user (phone number, alias, preferences, hobbies etc)
  • Search for users on any of the above
  • Send messages
  • Receive messages (via polling)
  • Set up buddies
  • Check buddies’ presence
  • Log all sent and received messages, including saving them (locally or centrally?)
  • Filter/block specific users
  • Define and use phrases for quicker texting
  • Define and use emoticons for quicker texting
  • Configure for ads and free use or pay a fee (charged to phone bill)


Services like provide advertising for mobile sites. As they only present a simple line of text with a link, this would be easy to present via a phone application instead, that when clicked/selected would launch the phone’s browser to show the ad link site.

Service Options

  • Possible WAP-based user interface (for phones that can’t run Java)
  • Gateway to operators’ SMS services
  • Gateway to existing IM services
  • Possibility to attach photos and other complex info to messages (SMS or IM)

Features and Benefits

  • Much longer messages
  • Free (except for packet data fee)
  • Optionally encrypted
  • Multicast



  • Possibly a completely unique concept by combining SMS and IM behavior in the same user interface
  • Technical ability to develop both the service and the client application (fully owned solution and revenue)


  • Long term reliability is a big concern, especially with many users; e.g. what happens if all user data disappears?: most likely out of business


  • A big concern among phone users is the cost of SMS and the relative non-existence of mobile IM; clearly users want IM, but few deliver; the success of mobispine indicates the need is there


  • Direct or indirect competition
  • Free SMSs from operators, quickly being a fact in at least Sweden, but likely also elsewhere


There’s certainly competition, but so far I’ve seen none that combines SMS and IM with local advertising.


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Free SMS. Possible future gateway to normal SMS. No advertising, no fees and no IM.


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The concept is based on charging weekly for messages between peers (£1) and then also a possibility to send messages to users with only normal SMS for a rather high per-message fee.


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Very youth-directed marketing message. Uses shortcodes and incentives. Sending via the Web earns you credits.


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Also a web interface.


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IM gateway to existing services.



Currently the most downloaded application at Provides free IM within the confines of the service. Hence no gateway to existing IM services. Despite this it’s incredibly popular. It seems the need for mobile IM is huge and under-exploited.


Also Java clients for existing IM services can be considered competition, especially as many of them, even if they support multiple services, are completely free. I don’t understand the business behind that, as they don’t even show advertising.