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.

The patent filings are interesting, however. The execution date on the patent assignments was June 23, 2011, but the recording of the assignments didn’t take place until October 3, 2011.

It’s likely that Google has been following where you browse and what links you click upon in order to offer services such as personalized search in the past, but the Wowd approach appears to look at those clicks to find new and popular pages on the Web. Definitely worth spending some time with…

The first three include two continuation patents that build upon the first, and they share a common abstract…

System for User Driven Ranking of Web Pages
Invented by Borislav Agapiev
US Patent Application 20110106793
Published May 5, 2011
Filed: November 8, 2010

System for user driven ranking of web pages
Invented by Borislav Agapiev
Assigned to WOWD, Inc.
US Patent 7,873,623
Granted January 18, 2011
Filed: April 13, 2010

System for user driven ranking of web pages
Invented by Borislav Agapiev
Assigned to WOWD, Inc.
US Patent 7,716,205
Granted May 11, 2010
Filed: October 29, 2009

Abstract

Linked documents are ranked by observing link selections for referred documents from referring documents and counting such selections. The counts for each of the link selections are stored at various computer systems of a distributed network, a centralized collection of computers connected through a local network, or a hybrid system (collectively, the “system”) consisting of combinations of distributed and centralized systems, and processed (e.g., using a discrete probability distribution defined by the counts of the link selections) to obtain page ranks for the referred documents.

The link selections may be observed by a browser extension running on individual ones of the computer systems of the distributed network and the counts of the link selections may be stored at locations within the system determined by a distributed hash table. Search request results may be displayed in a ranked order as determined by the page ranks.

System and Method for Recommendation of Interesting Web Pages Based on User Browsing Actions
Invented by Marko Svaic
US Patent Application 20110106796
Published May 5, 2011
Filed: October 29, 2009

Abstract

Recommended Web sites are presented in response to a user visit to a Web site, a history of previous user visits to Web sites, or a user-initiated search query. The Web sites that are recommended are those deemed most similar to the subject Web site or to the results of the search query, as appropriate. Information regarding Web sites is retrieved from locations within a distributed system as identified by a distributed hash table and similarity assessments between the subject Web site or query responses and those Web pages may be made according to that information, as periodically updated.

The next two patent filings include a continuation patent as well, and they share a common abstract:

DHT-based distributed file system for simultaneous use by millions of frequently disconnected, world-wide users
Invented by Borislav Agapiev and Igor Kabiljo
US Patent Application 20110106758
Published May 5, 2011
Filed: April 12, 2010

DHT-based distributed file system for simultaneous use by millions of frequently disconnected, world-wide users
Invented by Borislav Agapiev and Igor Agapiev
Assigned to WOWD, Inc.
US Patent 7,716,179
Granted May 11, 2010
Filed: October 29, 2009

Abstract

Content items in a distributed system are defined by a respective key, and each such content item is copied to R1 computer systems of the distributed system which have unique identifiers closest to a value of the respective key, where R1 is less than R2 which is less than R3, at least R2 number of the computer systems have copies of any respective one of the content items for all of the content items, and none of the computer systems farther than R3 in an address space of the distributed system have a copy of the subject content item. Modifications of individual content items are synchronized across all instances thereof responsive to a put operation and/or at periodic intervals.

Conclusion

Yesterday I wrote about a patent filing from Yahoo! that described how they may be crawling social media streams to find new and “recency-sensitive” pages. The Wowd approach would also be a way to find new pages and topics that might be very timely and topical. I would have suspected that Google might have already tried to do something similar in the past, but having patents that describe the process could be useful.

Google already collects data from toolbar users and people signed into Google Accounts to “improve the search experience” or through cookies. The Google privacy policy tells us in the section on cookies that:

When you visit Google, we send one or more cookies to your computer or other device. We use cookies to improve the quality of our service, including for storing user preferences, improving search results and ad selection, and tracking user trends, such as how people search. Google also uses cookies in its advertising services to help advertisers and publishers serve and manage ads across the web and on Google services.

I’ve seen many speculations over the years that Google also uses toolbar data to discover new pages on the Web, and the Wowd patents make it clear that is how Wowd discovered new pages.

This is an interesting group of patents, from their approach to distributing crawling of web pages by people with the application installed, to ranking “fresh” or “popular” recent pages, to the recommendation system Wowd has developed. It’s possible that Google may have purchased these patents to protect some of the things that they may have already been doing or were planning on doing, or that they may implement some of the technologies described within the acquired patents.

Added 2011/9/10 at 9:10 et – more on the back story behind this patent acquisition at: Wowd Assets Split Up Among Three Companies, Including Facebook. It looks like 7 of the Wowd engineers ended up at Facebook, and part of the terms of the sale of the patents to Google included licensing the technology to Facebook as well.

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14 thoughts on “Wow! Google Acquires Wowd Search Patents”

  1. Did you have to nominate pages for inclusion as you browsed with the the tool bar active? because if it simply passively monitored all web traffic viewed, surely all top pages would be porn related or videos of cats or small children falling over.

  2. I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the posts on this blog and the various patents. Pretty cool stuff.

    Is it possible that maybe “mainstream” is just too slow to adopt new technologies? That’s why the old Google link model still works and has been working for some time. People aren’t ready for it. I live in Silicon Valley and we’re a small part of the world here but I also know friends who STILL use Yahoo Mail and Hotmail when Gmail exists. Why? Half the people I talk to doesn’t know that Chrome is a web browser OUTSIDE of the valley case in point: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4MwTvtyrUQ

    It’s going to take some time…my point is, to this day, the link building model and anchor text architecture STILL predominantly defines search results.

  3. Hi Bill,

    As you know, i have visited your blog quite a few times over the last year. A good reason for this is posts like these that involve a lot of research that I dont have time doing. Google does a lot of great things, but I cant help but feel that its always profit driven rather than just for user experience. That’s often why I try and stay signed out of my accounts while surfing and if I want to check rank of any of my sites of course I have to turn personal search preferences off. I also cant help but feel as Google goes head to head with Facebook and MSN that they are getting cleverer and we have much less privacy. Though as they are all so big your only choice now seems just not to join them, which kind of means you are stuck with firefox and very little else. Still thank you for all your insights, as it is better to know than be standing alone in the dark, dreaming of the ‘good old days’.

  4. Love the idea, but I am a little worried about the execution. Won’t this show what people are looking at that is popular, not what is actually relevant? It seems a little recursive to follow what people are doing online, and making it a search engine, because we know people click on recent news stories, and read twitter, so why not just go to the source?

    I am being glib of course, but you get the idea.

  5. Hi Liam,

    It sounds like if you have the application turned on that any page that you visit is nominated to potentially be included in search results – but they don’t necessarily have to be, and it’s quite likely that Google would apply some of the filters that they have, such as their safe search. But that wouldn’t potentially stop videos of cats or small children falling over from not showing up as “hot” pages.

    It could potentially help to show some very timely pages though, that might be on topics like natural disasters or very recent newsworthy events.

  6. Hi Vince,

    Thank you.

    I think we’re seeing that people are a little more willing to adopt some technologies faster that others. The recent very high levels of demand for the iPhone 4S are a sign of that, and I’m seeing a lot of people with iPads as well.

    Chances are that the Google Link model will be around for a good number of years, but will be augmented by a growing number of signals as it has been over the past decade.

    But it’s not whether or not the users of search are early adopters or not when it comes to changes in the algorithms at the search engines like Google. Google has built a perception of having a culture of innovation, and bringing new innovations to what they do is probably their strongest form of marketing what they offer.

  7. Hi Bruce,

    It’s good to see you.

    I think Google understands that profits will follow if the user experience is one that people will enjoy and return to, and they don’t want to sacrifice that if they can. If they forget that, they may find that people are performing less and less searches and subsequently clicking upon less ads.

  8. Hi Robert,

    I think that following the methods described in a few of the Wowd patents can help Google find very recently popular pages, such as the kind of stuff that you might see announced as parts of hot trends in places like twitter. I also think there’s a role and place for showing those types of results alongside pages that might be more strongely relevant for a query, and was built to be around a while.

    For example, if I search for “earthquake,” I might want to learn more about a very recent earthquake, in which the Wowd approach might help, or I might want to learn more about earthquakes. Including both types of results provides a stronger set of search results.

  9. Honestly this is the first time I’ve heard of Wows. While there methods of finding out pages is unique, in that there is no bot or crawler, but rely on their users to feed their search engine, I find this intrusive to my privacy. Never been a fan of toolbars or anything that tracks the pages I surf. Don’t even use Chrome, despite it being fast, because I have issues with it. It’s like Google is like tracking my every move when I use that browser, it’s really a scary thought.

  10. Hi Bill

    Thanks for the reply. I think you’re right – if packaged and marketed correctly as Steve Jobs and Apple did so well, the mainstream will jump on it.

    With things like linkbuilding and how to rank websites… and anything that requires a little digging, effort and discipline, the majority of the people will never make the necessary steps to master it.

  11. Hi Vince,

    That’s perhaps a reason why Google might look at additional ranking signals that people might not be as likely to try to manipulate. And perhaps when people who own websites realize that Google is putting more weight on actual clicks from people on links they find, and less weight on links and anchor text, there might be less people doing things like blog comment spam and forum post spam, people buying blogs to take them over and post new posts filled with spam links, and similar practices.

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