09/16/2013 12:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Miller's Tale in #140


In September 1463, William of Ilkeston was walking on the road to the yearly fair (or Faire) in Nottingham, England.

Trade fairs were a fairly new invention of the Middle Ages (or as it was then called, Modern Times), and like many burgeoning tradesmen, William of Ilkeston was keen to sell his new wares.

For nearly 1,000 years, since the fall of the Roman Empire, the whole notion of trade and markets had pretty much ceased to exist. Endless wars, the breakdown of law and order, robber bandits and marauding bands of Vikings, Goths, Visigoths and anyone else with a sword and an appetite for trouble made trade and traffic all but impossible.

But now, in the second half of the 15th century, the notion of trade and markets and buying and selling had begun to re-emerge in England. It was a new day!

On the road to Nottingham, William of Ilkeston ran into a number of other intrepid new tradesmen (or entrepreneurs, as they were called in France), who were also bringing their wares to market.

There was John of Kent who was bringing his sheep to market.

There was James of Canterbury who was bringing grain and vegetables.

There was Richard from far away Newcastle who was bringing knives he had made.

It was be an interesting fair (or Faire).

Along the road, which was in fact an old Roman road, a toothless woman of the old age of 35 approached William of Ilkeston.

"And what ye be selling my darling"? she asked him, perhaps angling for a free sample of whatever it was he had.

"Oh, I have something of great value... worth more than the entire Kingdom of England, some might say," and William held up a small sack.

The woman's eyes glistened as she stared riveted at the bag.

"What's in the bag that could be worth so much?" she asked.

This got the attention of others on the road.

"Diamonds?" she said.

William shook his head. It was not diamonds.


Again, a no.

"Emeralds? Gold?"

Again, no.

What could it be.

"Then what are ye selling?" she asked.

"Tweets," said William.

She woman scratched her head.

"You mean sweets? Like candy?"

"No my dear. I mean tweets, with a T"

"What's a tweet, love?" she asked.

"A tweet, my good woman," answered William, "is a short message, no more than 140 characters."

The woman paused to think for a long time.

Then, her eyes brightened.

"Oh... I get it. You are a preacher man. You got the World of the Lord in that there bag!"

"Oh no," said William. "Tweets are done by anyone. Not God. They are the thoughts of the average person... limited, of course, to 140 characters."

Now, a small crowd had gathered around William of Ilkeston as he held the bag aloft and explained to the crowd what it is he was selling.

"That's it?" a man in the crowd cried out. "You mean you got nothing in that bag but the random thoughts of folks like us?"

"Limited to 140 characters," said William.

"You can't eat it?" said a man.

"Nope," said William.

"You can't wear it," said another.

"No, you can't."

"You can't live in it or use it grow food or defend yourself."

"Actually," said William, "you can't even see it for the most part."

"And how much you think them tweets be worth?" called an old toothless fellow.

"About $31 billion, by my estimate," said William.

This caused the crowd to pause. All of the Kingdom of England and Scotland as well was probably worth no more than £3 million, in 1643 dollars that is.

"it's not possible," cried a man. "It's not possible that something that you can't eat, you can't wear, you can't live in, you can' use to travel on... that you can't even see could be worth that much... "

"Ah, but it is..." said William of Ilkeston. "In fact, one day, in the future, this magic invisible thing, limited to #140 characters will be worth more than all the holdings of Kings of England and France combined. Believe me. It's true."

The crowd paused for a second to let that one sink in.

Then, it all became clear.

"He's a witch!" someone cried.

"Burn him!"

And pretty soon everyone had taken up the call.

"Burn him."

So they grabbed William of Ilkeston, tied him to a stake, surrounded it by kindling and logs and proceeded to set him on fire."

As the flames climbed higher and higher, William of Ilkeston cried out "For the love of God, please don't do this to me. I am only trying to create a new platform wherein all people can share their ideas with one another and you'll be able to follow the tweets of your favorite people. Even the Pope will tweet."

"Blasphemy!" the crowd yelled..

"And too many characters!" added another.

But soon, William of Ilkeston was #dead.

And so it was the great idea of Twitter, which created value from nothing, would have to wait another 500 years or more.

Until now.

Quick, snap up those shares!