The world's hottest social network isn't Facebook

The leading social network isn't available on Wall Street or run by a 28-year-old billionaire in a hoodie. Twitter is the one to watch

Every time you hear a cellphone ring today it means another 20-something Facebook millionaire is being born. As I write this post, Facebook's newly printed shares are trading at $41.50, or nearly 10 percent above the opening price. Thanks to its $100 billion+ IPO, it's been all Facebook, all the time across much of the Webosphere this week.

Which makes it all the more ironic that Twitter, Facebook's younger, more bashful cousin, is the social network that's making a real difference in the world and is best poised for world domination.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Cringely confesses his love/hate relationship with social networking in "A tale of two Facebooks." | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

I have to admit I'm one of those who predicted years ago that Twitter would be merely a blip on the technology landscape. Surely, I thought, it would be snarfed up by Facebook or Google, both of whom are rumored to have been in acquisition talks with Twitter for years. It is, I thought at the time, merely a feature, not a service unto itself.

I was wrong. Twitter has developed into a phenomenon with an impact that dwarfs that of Facebook, Google, or any other Net giant you care to name. If you don't believe me, ask the folks in Iran, Egypt, Tunisia, Moldova, and a dozen other exotic locations where Twitter has helped to keep the revolutionary fires burning.

But Twitter is leading in other ways, too.

In January, Twitter announced a controversial policy where it would allow certain tweets to be censored in certain locations, if legally required to do so. That sounds bad until you consider the alternative: blocking all of Twitter outright for a particular country. It was a nuanced response to a pernicious problem -- the squelching of Net freedom by oppressive governments -- over which Twitter has no control.

Last month the microblog took another groundbreaking step and came up with a new model for business process patents. The Innovator's Patent Agreement is essentially Twitter's nonaggression pact with the rest of the Internet; it states that Twitter will only use its patent portfolio to defend itself against attacks, not to eviscerate its competitors. This might be the thing to help lead the high-tech industry out of the path of patent self-destruction it seems hell-bent on pursuing.

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