Wow! Google Acquires Wowd Search Patents

Earlier this year, Google acquired the patents of a real time search engine started in 2009, Wowd (a play on the word “crowd.”) Wowd had no web crawlers, but rather relied upon users downloading a browser application, so that every page they visited was nominated to be included in search results. A Press Release from February, 2010 tells us about the search engine:

Wowd is a real-time search engine for discovering what’s popular on the Web right now. Unlike other engines in the space, Wowd focuses on discovery and exploration of the entire Web, i.e. surfacing trends, breaking news, social media topics, and popular pages. Wowd then taps into the “attention frontier” of its user community to build real-time search results. Wowd makes it easy to discover the latest trends, topics, and hottest Web pages.

In August of last year, Wowd released a search tool for Facebook, to add a number of features to the Facebook experience, including custom feeds, game spam blocking, and social search. A look at the Wowd website however tells us that “the team has decided to pursue new opportunities,” with some members of the engineering team joining Facebook. There’s no date on the message.

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Do Search Engines Use Social Media to Discover New Topics?

A new patent filing from Yahoo raises the question, “How much has social media influenced the expectations of searchers, and forced search engines to change?”

Before I can begin to even think about that, I have to ask if looking at Yahoo patents even a good idea after their 2009 deal with Microsoft to have Bing power their search results.

The Yahoo patent application was filed after the agreement between Yahoo and Microsoft, and was published last week. Are Yahoo patents are still worth spending time with? After reading through the Yahoo patent application about how the search engine might use information from social media platforms to discover recently hot topics and webpages that are relevant to those topics, I would say that they are. The terms of the agreement between Yahoo and Bing includes a 10 year exclusive right for Microsoft to use search technologies developed by Yahoo, and doesn’t stop Yahoo from applying those technologies itself.

The patent filing explores “recency-sensitive” queries, where searchers are looking for resources that are both topically relevant as well as fresh, such as novel information about an earthquake. If you’ve been watching twitter streams, Facebook updates, and other social media, you’ve seen that sometimes these sources are the best and fastest places on the Web to find that kind of information.

It’s possible that a search engine that ignores sources like those isn’t going to be able to return any relevant results for those types of queries – what the patent’s inventors call a “zero recall” problem.

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Driving Directions a Local Search Ranking Factor?

Do Requests for Driving Directions Count in Local Maps Rankings of Businesses?

I love local search. It follows many practices similar to Web search, though different often in ways that do reflect an attempt to map the real world. Google’s Streetview cars are a little like Google’s web crawler Googlebot. Instead of collecting URLs for Websites, Google Maps collects addresses to associate with businesses, nonprofits, government offices, parks, landmarks, and many other destinations. It has its own challenges as well, such as the street views car being turned away at sentry guard booths for military bases, or not being able to drive down “private” roads. Google Maps also can’t use latitude and longitude coordinates in places like China since their export and use is classified by that country as if they were munitions.

A mobile phone screen showing the location of a searcher, near the Googleplex

I’m also often frustrated by local search. Driving directions from Google often begin by telling you to go “east” or “west” on your first turn. I’m not Mason or Dixon, Lewis or Clark, and I don’t carry an in-car compass with me when I drive. I often have no problems with driving directions other than that, for the first 99% of the trip, and then have problems with the last few hundred feet.

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Google Acquires iLOR Patent Used to Sue Google

Might Google start providing more link options in Google Instant Previews as a result of this acquisition?

A company that filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Google in 2007,on the day that their last patent was granted, has now assigned all of their patents to Google. The flowchart below is from one of their patents and shows multiple link options available when someone hovers over a link.

A flowchart from one of the iLOR patents, showing link options available after hovering over a link

The company, iLOR, LLC, applied for a preliminary injunction against Google’s Notebook application, and Google successfully filed a motion for summary judgment to terminate the claims against it, and was awarded around $660,000 in attorney’s fees. The case set a new standard (pdf) on appeal on when attorney’s fees should be awarded in patent infringement cases when the decision regarding the fees was reversed on appeal.

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Google Acquires More IBM Patents In September

Google seems to be making a regular habit of acquiring patents from IBM, with a new acquisition of 39 granted patents and two pending patent applications on September 30th, recorded at the USPTO today. Like the earlier transactions this year of 1,030 patents tranferred in May, and 1,023 patents assigned in August, there’s a wide range of technology included in the transaction between Google and IBM.

The list of patents includes one filed in 1996 involving the use of an API and a java applet, which sounded pretty interesting (I listed it first), especially considering the ongoing Oracle-Google litigation involves java and APIs. Some of the other patents included are listed in that patent as being related to it. Other inventions include such things as file archiving approaches, distributed database information systems, encryption, user authentication, and managing configurations of computer systems.

Google and Oracle are set to go to trial on October 31st on claims that Google infringed java related patents held by Oracle, in which Oracle is claiming more than $1 Billion in damages.

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How a Search Engine might Weigh Anchor Text Relevance Differently

One of the things that’s clear about how search engines work is that when they find a link pointing to a page using certain anchor text, that page might be seen to be a little more relevant for the text found in that link. Google pointed out that about anchor text relevance in one of the earliest white papers about how the search engine works:

This idea of propagating anchor text to the page it refers to was implemented in the World Wide Web Worm [McBryan 94] especially because it helps search non-text information and expands the search coverage with fewer downloaded documents. We use anchor propagation mostly because anchor text can help provide better quality results. Using anchor text efficiently is technically difficult because of the large amounts of data which must be processed. In our current crawl of 24 million pages, we had over 259 million anchors which we indexed.

The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine

But one of the assumptions that many make is that each link, with its anchor text, is equally as important as any other link and that if a page has lots of links pointing to it with certain anchor text included in those links that it will rank more highly for the terms found in that text than it otherwise might in the absence of all those links.

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