Al Gore Tried To Buy Twitter. What If He'd Succeeded?

Al Gore Tried To Buy Twitter. What If He'd Succeeded?

Jeff Bercovici Forbes
11:35 a.m. CDT, October 9, 2013

Don't you just love all the stuff that comes out when a hot tech company declares it's going public? I'm thinking in particular about a tidbit from Nick Bilton's piece in the Times magazine about the intrigue and betrayals in Twitter's early years. (The piece is an excerpt from Bilton's forthcoming book about the company, "Hatching Twitter.")

Around the beginning of 2009, as Twitter was gathering momentum, cofounders Ev Williams and Biz Stone were "regularly turning down overtures to buy the company," reports Bilton. Among those making the overtures was former Vice President Al Gore, who "pitched Williams and Stone one night over copious amounts of wine and Patron tequila at his St. Regis suite in San Francisco."

On whose behalf was Gore pouring all that wine and tequila that night? That's a complex question to speculate about, given the dense web of tech-industry allegiances Gore has woven for himself since entering the private sector in 2001.

At the time of his approach, Gore was a member of Apple's board of directors, as he still is. He was also a senior advisor to Google, assuming it took place before August 2009, when he has said he "pulled back" to avoid conflicts of interest, following the lead of Google's then-CEO, Eric Schmidt, who stepped down from Apple's board then.

Speaking of conflicts, Apple has reportedly tried to buy part or all of Twitter several times over the years. In early 2009, it was said to be closing in on a deal to get it for $700 million, although that was never confirmed beyond the level of rumor. Google has also made one or more runs at acquiring Twitter, including one in spring 2009, according to Ken Auletta.

In other words, Gore was trying to buy a company that two companies he worked for were also (reportedly) trying to buy within the same timeframe of a few months. That's assuming he wasn't there as an envoy for either one; I've emailed Bilton and representatives of Gore asking for more details. (I'm not even going to get into all the conflicts that went along with his being a partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. In Silicon Valley, that kind of thing isn't even an afterthought.)

In fact, just a few months before all this, Gore and Joel Hyatt, his partner in Current TV, had attempted to sell the network to Google, where, again, Gore was a senior advisor, and which, they suggested, could merge it with YouTube. "Google, after giving consideration to the idea, never made an offer," Hyatt told me via email when I asked about it recently. "Instead, they stated that they were not going to acquire a television network. I continue to believe that the idea made great sense for Google and YouTube."

Was the bid for Twitter another attempt to meet some of the same objectives? It would have made some sense: Like YouTube at the time, Twitter consists of user-generated content, which was Current's original mission as well. And Twitter has a much stronger orientation toward news than the video platform ever did.

Twitter's main corporate focus at the moment, besides getting its IPO right, is convincing the television industry that Twitter is the medium's ideal force multiplier - that TV plus Twitter is stronger than TV on its own. Did Gore and Hyatt come to that conclusion on their own more than four years ago?

While Current's $500 million sale to Al Jazeera made a nice pile of money for its cofounders, it never came close to achieving any of their visions. A Current-Twitter fusion? That could have been a story with a very different ending.


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