Twitter Confirms Your Tweets Belong to You

Twitter tweak

If you’re a Twitter user you might have received an email from Twitter founder Biz Stone last week about a change to their Terms of Service (TOS).

It’s highly unusual for Twitter to email their users directly, so it definitely got my attention. Turns out they’ve made a major update to their TOS, with key changes to the way Twitter addresses:

  • Advertising
  • Ownership
  • APIs
  • Spam

The biggest change has to do with ownership. There’s been some controversy since the micro-blogging service launched about who actually owns the content of your tweets. A few power Twitter users have profited from the compilation of various tweets into published formats and there’s been some confusion as to their legal rights to do so.

Well it’s now been confirmed that YOU actually own the content of your tweets, while Twitter reserves the right to “use, copy, reproduce, process, adapt, modify, publish, transmit, display and distribute” them.

A summary of the major changes to the TOS can be found in Twitter’s official blog post about the subject.

Twitter are also welcoming feedback from users about the new TOS, via the “feedback” link on the Terms of Service page.

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Twitter Sued for Patent Violation

Twitter isn’t having a good week. As well as suffering a mighty DDoS attack, it looks like they’re being sued for patent infringement.

TechRadium, a Texas-based technology company which makes mass notification systems for public safety organizations and the military, is suing Twitter for patent infringement. The scary part is that TechRadium may very well have an excellent case. The safety company has three patents relating to the delivery of mass notification:

1) Patent 7,130,389, applied for in 2005 and granted in 2006, consisting of a digital notification and response system.

2) Patent 7,496,183, applied for in 2007 and granted in 2009 – a method to provide digital notification; and

3) Patent 7,519,165, applied for in 2007 and granted in 2009 – a method for providing digital notification and receiving responses.

Clearly, TechRadium find the Twitter service to be too similar to their patented methods. Here’s an extract from the actual lawsuit, filed in Texas on August 4:

“On information and belief, Defendant, Twitter, makes, uses, sells, or otherwise provides throughout United States and within the geographical area covered by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas the systems and methods described by the claims in the ‘389, ‘183 and ‘165 Patents.”

TechRadium are deadly serious about this. They’re seeking a permanent injunction against Twitter for the use of their patented technology.

But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to Twitter. According to TechCrunch, Twitter executives were well aware of their vulnerable position in relation to potential patent lawsuits. In a meeting in February this year, staff discussed the likelihood of being sued for patent violation, recording in the meeting minutes:

“We will be sued for patent infringement, repeatedly and often. Should we get a great patent attorney to proactively go after these patents?”

So with one of the related patents issued as early as 2006, why have TechRadium waited so long to take legal action? One of the deciding factors have been market erosion. With the ever-increasing popularity of Twitter, it seems that TechRadium’s paying customers are choosing to use the social media service in lieu of TechRadium’s paid offering, since both services offer basically the same thing.

TechRadium is losing business and they’ve decided the time is right to defend their patents. Also, it looks as though the crucial Patent ‘165 was only granted to TechRadium in April, so they may have waited until they had all their legal ducks in a row before filing against the cashed-up Twitter.

We’ll keep you up to date with developments as the case continues.

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Q and A: How to Deal with Clients That Are Competitors?

Question

Dear Kalena (and Jacqueline in this case),

Are there any issues with an SEO company taking on clients that are competitors? Who will get ranked highest and is strategic marketing info passed on to competitors?

David Ash

Dear David,

In my opinion, an ethical SEO company has no place taking on clients that are in direct competition, like two businesses that are targeting the exact same market with the same keywords. Furthermore, a trustworthy SEO company definitely wouldn’t pass any strategic information on to competitors – look up a company before you work with them, and be sure to go past the first page or two of results. After all, an SEO firm probably knows how to push anything negative down in the SERPs, but they can’t make that stuff disappear completely.

For SEOs and search marketers themselves, taking on two clients that are direct competitors can lead to many ethical quandaries, so therefore, each client’s chosen keywords and even a non-compete clause should be written into your contracts. You should always protect yourself legally – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in that regard.

If you are planning on working with an SEO firm and you are concerned about that same company working with competitors, ask them about their confidentiality practices and such before you sign anything; if you are an SEO consultant wondering about dealing with two clients that compete, consider the differences between those clients. Are they really that similar, to the point where they would go after the exact same keywords? Do they have different specialties or do they operate in different neighborhoods? If your potential clients are two distinctive companies in the same industry, it is possible to still work with them ethically if you target separate keywords and focus on their differences (and of course, if you keep everything confidential).

Best of luck!

-Jacqueline

SEOGroup.com and Ocean19.com

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New SEM Firm Rating Site: Tempting Fate?

Suspicious MindsWhen the guys at Search Marketing Standard magazine emailed me asking for my feedback on a new venture they were about to launch, I was intrigued. Would I review the brand new site and provide my honest feedback? “Sure”, I said, “What’s the concept?”

“Well”, they said, SEMCompare is a ratings and review site covering SEM agencies. The idea behind the site is to encourage clients to submit reviews on any of the SEM agencies they’ve worked with – good and bad.”

“Uh Oh”, I thought and the skepticism started to flow. After a few minutes of browsing the site, my skepticism turned to concern and my opinion of the site was confirmed: Trouble. With a capital T.

You see, back in 2001, Marketing Sherpa published the first issue of their Buyer’s Guide to SEO Firms. They’ve since changed the model, but the launch issue used a rating system where they gave the SEO companies (including my own) a score rating based on client reviews, search rankings achieved and their internal measure of SEO tactics used by the companies. This prompted some legal action by one or more firms reviewed within the Guide. To me, the SEMCompare site sounded like a very similar concept that could have the same disastrous outcome.

The problem with the concept of rating SEM firms is that there are no published search industry standards that SEM agencies are required to meet and no formal accreditation body imposing such standards. There are certainly de facto or unspoken industry standards that are widely accepted as a benchmark, but no governing body yet exists to regulate the implementation of such standards. As such, a site or service that imposes a rating system is by default claiming a standards yardstick by which all SEM firms should be measured – dangerous territory indeed!

Giving consumers the power to anonymously rate SEM firms opens up another can of worms: how to keep the system free of corruption by SEM firms and disgruntled consumers alike? I couldn’t believe my friends at SMS would open themselves up to so much potential grief, so I drafted some questions about the site and sent them off for a response.

Here are my questions and the answers I received from Matt Alland, Business Development Director for SEMCompare:

1) What prompted you to launch such a site?

Thus far, choosing an SEM company has been a confusing process, especially for those who are completely new to search engine marketing. There really hasn’t been a clear way for consumers to accurately review companies. While there have been some basic independent reviews of select SEM firms, there hasn’t been a more widely accepted industry standard. Having talked to a lot of people looking for a better way to find and compare SEM companies, we decided to create SEMCompare, and offer a new much needed service to this industry.

2) How is the site any different to the Better Business Bureau or Consumer Advocacy groups?

In many ways, we function in a similar fashion, but not precisely. While users submitting reviews are able to rank companies, we’re less concerned about the precise numbers, and put more emphasis on the reviews themselves – why a company did or did not work for a certain business or individual. Our goal is to be a launching pad for people starting their search for SEM companies, and a point of research. I don’t think our focus is to try and become a “scam alert” type site – we encourage users to do additional research on their own and look for those warning signs. Rather we hope people will use SEMCompare to find companies that work for their specific needs.

3) How do you prevent conflict of interest issues and manipulation of the system by SEM agencies posing as consumers?

We do a variety of things internally. I can’t mention everything, but we definitely do IP tracking, cookie tracking, and keep close tabs on email addresses, names, and trends in reviews. If we see suspicious spikes or unusual activity we make note of it and may deny posting those highly questionable reviews as a result. We will sometimes contact the reviewer themselves, and we always read over every review before it goes live to the site.

4) How do you protect SEM agencies from consumers who may have an axe to grind with a particular SEM staff member?

Once again, that goes into a lot of the review tracking techniques we use. If certain trends seem suspicious or unusual we take that into account. These are the same kinds of challenges any review site must go through, so luckily there are a lot of resources at our disposal at this point in time to combat deceptive or faulty reviews. And as a final note, we always have a flagging opportunity so people are able to dispute specific reviews deemed unfair. However, the site does not protect companies from bad reviews and it is not our job to take those down just because a company disagrees with it. Our main job is to prevent companies from posting reviews themselves and from reckless individuals looking to disrupt competition with floods of bad reviews.

5) Marketing Sherpa published a Buyer’s Guide to SEM Firms that rated SEM firms and this prompted some legal action by one or more of the firms within the Guide. How do you resolve to avoid similar legal problems?

We don’t review companies at SEMCompare, but rather provide the platform for people to do so. While we try to weed out as many suspicious reviews as we can, at the end of the day we can’t really endorse or condone reviews on the site. We would expect that people will use their own sensibilities, look into the reviews and follow up with companies themselves.

Despite a number of challenges and imperfections that are bound to exist for this type of site, we’re excited to be the first to really take on this concept fully. Ultimately, the benefits of having an industry accepted review site outweigh the challenges that exist. Review sites are pivotal in so many industries now: automobiles, cameras, consumer electronics, as well as industries like web hosting and web design. SEM is certainly a unique industry, but the same core elements of a review site remain the same, and people’s concerns are no different than with any review site that has existed before us.

Ultimately, we’re excited about the opportunity SEMCompare will be able to offer to consumers, giving people a new means to share their experiences and learn more about the differences between companies instead of randomly selecting providers. This is something the industry thus far has not had, and a service like this offers a chance to simplify and standardize the process of comparing the hundreds of companies out there.

Something from the above exchange triggered a huge red flag for me: “At the end of the day we can’t really endorse or condone reviews on the site.” What? So you aren’t endorsing your own site content? Then why bother creating a site around such content at all? Unless the site’s primary goal is to sell magazine advertising to SEM firms with reputations tarnished by bad reviews? Things that make you go hmmmm.

SEMCompare claim to have already received hundreds of reviews with over 150 SEM companies evaluated. Some of the companies reviewed have an already litigious history, which is alarming. Even more concerning is that a few of the negative reviews are for companies that I’m very familiar with and that have excellent and ethical reputations in the industry, making the true motivations of reviewers seem highly suspicious. I can’t help thinking that many of the reviews I read would make legal departments trigger happy.

Here are some sample negative reviews taken from the site yesterday:

“Paid over $19,000 over 9 months and our natural traffic declined by 30%. They setup duplicate pages (static versions of our dynamic content) and we were penalized by Google. “

“They never (not once) delivered on expectations, and most of their deliverables were sub par. I came to find out late in our relationship that they outsourced the majority of work that our company outsourced to them…thus they were nothing more than a parasitic middleman.”

“The only thing they were good at was stealing my money… I think they even got me banned from Google for three months for using black hat techniques.”

“Their sales team was absolutely relentless in trying to get more money from us. Even when I was complaining that deadlines were being missed, they would try to sell me something. There is no way on earth that I’d recommend this company to anyone.”

“In summary, [company name removed] misrepresented their expertise, their technology, and showed no integrity as they breached their contract, refunding nothing to us. I strongly warn anyone and everyone to avoid spending any resources with this organization. Take your money and burn it. You’ll get more satisfaction from that experience than with working with [company name removed] .”

All I can say is OUCH. Maybe the guys will prove me wrong, but it’s my prediction that this time next year the headaches caused by SEMCompare will see it self-implode.

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Q and A: How do I cancel a domain transfer with Domain Registry of America?

QuestionHi Kalena,

Hi! I just read some of your blog posts about Domain Registry Of America! For those of us who have already sent in our check and whose check has been received by DROA, what’s the best way to get out?

Everywhere I’ve seen on the internet assumes you haven’t already done so. Turns out I looked up DROA’s reputation too late. I only looked it up because I received another email from namejuice.com, telling me that they have received a request from droa to transfer my domain name to them. I haven’t confirmed or accepted the transfer, which I’m not sure is a good thing.

Will they take my domain name away if I don’t accept this transfer? Help! I want to avoid any further interaction with droa other than getting my money back or at least keeping my domain name. Then it’s to hell with them!

Thank you.

Raymond

Hi Raymond

I’m so sorry to hear of your experience with DROA. Unfortunately, I don’t know what the best thing is to do in your situation. If you haven’t yet given NameJuice permission to transfer your domain and you don’t want DROA’s registration service, perhaps you can:

1) Cancel your check
2) Tell namejuice that you made a mistake and you no longer wish to transfer to DROA
3) Tell DROA that you wish to cancel your order

I don’t know what DROA’s current stance is on order cancellations. If you signed their contract and they refuse to cancel your order, you might need to contact a lawyer to sort it out.

Good luck!

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