You always hurt the ones you love.

That bullying boy in kindergarten, tugging on a girl's pigtails until she cries? He's got it bad for her. He just can't express it yet. Similarly, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Eric Schmidt turned heads by teasing Twitter during this week's Morgan Stanley technology conference.

In referring to Twitter and its kind as little more than a "poor man's email systems," Schmidt is simply protecting his turf. With "Twittering" replacing "Googling" as the media's Web verb of choice these days, it's hardly surprising that the search giant would start getting defensive.

Google isn't really taunting Twitter -- it's negotiating. Taking Twitter down a few pegs helps drive a lower price and soothes antitrust regulator concerns. And if history is any kind of dependable professor, Google is now three weeks away from swallowing Twitter whole.

Wait, hear me out!
On Oct. 1, 2007, Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Steve Ballmer took a shot at Facebook. "I think these things [social networks] are going to have some legs, and yet there's a faddishness, a faddish nature about anything that basically appeals to younger people," he told Times Online.  

That may seem like a hypocritical thing for Ballmer to say, given how Microsoft angles for pimply teens with its Xbox 360 and Zune. Sure enough, three weeks after taunting the social-networking site, Microsoft announced its $240 million investment for a piece of Facebook.

This is how it works, people. When there's a perceived threat, you poke it with a stick. If it moves -- and you're a cash-rich company -- you buy it. You saw it happen when eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) bought PayPal after its own payment platform failed; when Google bought YouTube after its own video service failed to catch on; and when companies such as Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) and News Corp. (NYSE:NWS) snapped up social-networking sites to attract younger audiences.

You always hurt the ones you love? Sure, but you also always buy the ones you need. Enjoy these last few weeks of being single, Twitter.

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