Twitter takes big-time Google attorney

Ronny Kerr · July 13, 2009 · Short URL:

After big week in legal news, social media startup hires Alexander Macgillivray

twitterEither Twitter predicts an increasing amount of legal fights in its future as it continues to grow in popularity, or the San Francisco-based startup is just playing it safe.

Alexander Macgillivray, former Google deputy general counsel for products and intellectual property, has been hired as Twitter’s new general counsel, as reported by the New York Times over the weekend.

After working at Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Macgillivray moved on to represent Google in lawsuits concerned with Google products like Web Search and Google Scholar, among others.

In a post on his blog, titled “On Leaving Google,” Macgillivray describes his experience first by praising his fellow employees: “The people at Google are phenomenal.” He then goes on to describe the “fascinating” work he did at Google, including the famous refusal to hand over search query information to the Supreme Court and the ongoing case over whether books shared on Google Books constitute fair use.

If events over the past couple weeks signal what Macgillivray has to look forward to at Twitter, he should be kept busy.

St. Louis Cardinals Tony La Russa was seeking “unspecified damages” from Twitter last month, claiming a page falsely using his name caused him “significant emotional distress [and] damage to reputation,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Twitter took care of the false account, as it usually does, and La Russa dropped the charges last week without any settlement. Twitter is working on a Verified Account feature now to prevent this kind of thing in the future.

Still, in the same week that the baseball manager dropped his charges, Twitter hit headlines again with news that Los Angeles-based non-profit medical-marijuana dispensary Artists Collective was utilizing it, along with other social networking sites Facebook and MySpace, to advertise their sales: “Love for our members. Brownies on sale for $5. All new patients get a free brownie. While supplies last.” While Facebook took swift action against the weed sellers, the Collective seems to be doing fine on Twitter (where they’re perpetually posting a petition against Facebook). Medical marijuana is legal to sell in California, but federal law prohibits it. Depending on how Obama’s administration addresses this incongruence in laws, Twitter’s newest attorney could possibly be forced to address this issue.

On top of everything, this latest hiring news arrives in the same weekend that Google revealed a bit of an obsession with Twitter. As of now, the giant company has over 45 Twitter accounts setup for the purpose of tweeting about updates to Google software, developers’ news, and more. And while some are going so far as to argue that Google should outright purchase Twitter since it finds the social networking search engine so powerful, not even rumors of the sort have surfaced.

Still, both of these bits of news evidence some kind of awkward relationship blooming between the massive tech giant and the teeny social startup.

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What is Twitter?

Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweets. It is free to sign up. Users then follow other accounts which they are interested in, and view the tweets of everyone they follow in their "timeline." Most Twitter accounts are public, where one does not need to approve a request to follow, or need to follow back. This makes Twitter a powerful "one to many" broadcast platform where individuals, companies or organizations can reach millions of followers with a single message. Twitter is accessible from, our mobile website, SMS, our mobile apps for iPhone, Android, Blackberry, our iPad application, or 3rd party clients built by outside developers using our API. Twitter accounts can also be private, where the owner must approve follower requests. 

Where did the idea for Twitter come from?

Twitter started as an internal project within the podcasting company Odeo. Jack Dorsey, and engineer, had long been interested in status updates. Jack developed the idea, along with Biz Stone, and the first prototype was built in two weeks in March 2006 and launched publicly in August of 2006. The service grew popular very quickly and it soon made sense for Twitter to move outside of Odea. In May 2007, Twitter Inc was founded.

How is Twitter built?

Our engineering team works with a web application framework called Ruby on Rails. We all work on Apple computers except for testing purposes. 

We built Twitter using Ruby on Rails because it allows us to work quickly and easily--our team likes to deploy features and changes multiple times per day. Rails provides skeleton code frameworks so we don't have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to add something simple like a sign in form or a picture upload feature.

How do you make money from Twitter?

There are a few ways that Twitter makes money. We have licensing deals in place with Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft's Bing to give them access to the "firehose" - a stream of tweets so that they can more easily incorporate those tweets into their search results.

In Summer 2010, we launched our Promoted Tweets product. Promoted Tweets are a special kind of tweet which appear at the top of search results within, if a company has bid on that keyword. Unlike search results in search engines, Promoted Tweets are normal tweets from a business, so they are as interactive as any other tweet - you can @reply, favorite or retweet a Promoted Tweet. 

At the same time, we launched Promoted Trends, where companies can place a trend (clearly marked Promoted) within Twitter's Trending Topics. These are especially effective for upcoming launches, like a movie or album release.

Lastly, we started a Twitter account called @earlybird where we partner with other companies to provide users with a special, short-term deal. For example, we partnered with Virgin America for a special day of fares on that were only accessible through the link in the @earlybird tweet.


What's next for Twitter?

We continue to focus on building a product that provides value for users. 

We're building Twitter, Inc into a successful, revenue-generating company that attracts world-class talent with an inspiring culture and attitude towards doing business.