A newly published pending patent application from Google provides some insights into the display of social search results. Before digging into it, here’s a quick peek into the evolution of social search on Google.
The Evolution of Social Search on Google
In December of 2009, Google introduced social search, showing social search results to searchers at the bottoms of those search results. The people who were included in those results came from a few different sources according to the Official Google Blog post announcing it. This “social circle of friends” would come from connections listed upon your public Google profile, such as a link to your Twitter profile or FriendFeed profile, or people you chat with or email on Gmail, or from some websites that you might subscribe to on Google Reader. Those social results are specific to the people viewing them, so you would need to be signed into your Google Account to have them displayed to you.
Google also introduced “real time” search results in the same month, which displayed a scrolling set of results relevant to a query that you performed from a number of sources including news sites, blogs, and social sites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and others:
Our real-time search features are based on more than a dozen new search technologies that enable us to monitor more than a billion documents and process hundreds of millions of real-time changes each day. Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of our new partners that we’re announcing today: Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku and Identi.ca — along with Twitter, which we announced a few weeks ago.
I’ve been faced with a pretty difficult decision, choosing the last of the patents, or patent families to include in this series of posts about the most important search-related patents to people who promote sites on the Web. I find I just can’t choose one.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been arguing with myself over a choice of at least two sets of patents. One patent that I wanted to include involved responding to informational needs by going beyond matching keywords to expand the query terms used in search results to include synonyms and pages on related concepts. There are a number of related patents granted to Google that describe how the search engine might identify synonyms, and it’s worth spending some time with all of them.
Large Data Sets
One of the interesting features at Twitter is the near real-time trending topics section which enables you to see hot topics that are the subject of tweets. Twitter allows you to see tweets about these topics on a world wide scale, or nation wide, or even on a smaller regional scope. With Google Trends, you can see topics that are recently popular at the search engine as well. But many of those are popular topics over a period of hours or even days. What if instead you could see hot topics in Google searches in much shorter periods, such as over the last 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes? What if you could see these trending searches on a nation wide basis or for much smaller regions? I’d love to see what hot searches were taking place over the last half hour in my part of Virginia, for instance.
A Google patent granted this week explores the topic, and describes such a hot query system.
Method and system for displaying real time trends
Invented by Hiroshi Kuraoka and Takayuki Tei
Assigned to Google Inc.
US Patent 8,140,562
Granted March 20, 2012
Filed: March 24, 2009
Last Thursday, the Wall Street Journal published a couple of articles that point to a new direction in the future from Google, With Semantic Search, Google Eyes Competitors, and Google Gives Search a Refresh. On Friday, Barry Schwartz reported at Search Engine Land that Google’s Head of Spam, Matt Cutts announced that Google was working upon an “Over Optimization” penalty for websites that were stuffed with too many links and had excessive links pointed to them, in the post, Too Much SEO? Google’s Working On An “Over-Optimization” Penalty For That.
Thursday evening I visited the Philadelphia offices of Seer Interactive to give a presentation on some of the changes in Search and Social activities involving SEO in a free presentation hosted by Wil Reynolds and the Seer Interactive team. Amongst the possible changes I pointed out included more emphasis on search as a knowledge base, with more Q&A results, and a greater emphasis on information extraction around entities as described in the Wall Street Journal article.
There’s been some chattering on the Web recently that Yahoo! might pursue a patent infringement case. If true, I suspected that the Overture patents on Advertising might be part of any case brought. Looks like I was right in thinking so.
Earlier today, AllThingsD published a fairly detailed post titled Yahoo Sues Facebook for Patent Infringement, Which Social Network Calls “Puzzling” (Including Filing) which tells us about the some of the history, implications, and reactions to a legal complaint filed earlier today which lists 10 patents that Yahoo! claims Facebook is infringing upon. The article includes a copy of the complaint which listed the patent numbers involved, and specific claims based upon each of those patents.
The patents included Overture’s advertising patents as well as Yahoo! patents on advertising, social networking, customization, privacy, and messaging.
After reading through the complaint, I wanted to take a look at the patents and share them. What implications does this patent infringement case have for Facebook, not only focusing upon advertising, but also upon acting as a social network? Here are the patents involved in the case:
A Google patent granted last week describes how the indexes at different Google data centers may contain pages that are indexed and classified as global, and pages that are indexed and classified as regional. Last summer, I wrote about how Google may predict which data center might provide the best results for a query. Google was also granted a number of patents last August that provided some insights into how Google’s Planet Scale Distributed Storage of Data may work.
Those patents from last summer give us an intriguing but incomplete look at the pages contained in Google’s data centers. The newly granted patent appears to fill in some significant gaps. Imagine that each data center might contain some unique pages and content that’s regional in nature, and some content that might be replicated across more than one data center that’s global in nature. The global content could potentially take up between 50% and 75% of storage area on each data center.
Nuance Communications, which partners with Apple Computers to provide the voice recognition software behind Apple’s intelligent assistant Siri, had 4 patent applications published today at the USPTO that focus upon search and search technology. While the company has at least 274 granted patents and 104 pending patents listed as assigned to it at the US patent and trademark office, these appear to be the first that focus upon the operations of a search engine. They reference the Dragon Search application built for iPhones:
The topics covered in the Nuance patent portfolio primarily involve speech recognition technology, but include some areas that companies like Google have been focusing upon within a few of their patents as well, such as statistical language models and document segmentation algorithms, as well as a browser for the voice web which was filed in 1998.
When a judge writes a judicial opinion upon a case, he often includes more than just his ruling on the case. It usually contains an analysis of the present law, the legal atmosphere, and how the ultimate holding on the case was arrived at. Those written rulings can also include some legal opinions on issues that don’t necessarily play an essential role in the outcome of the case at hand, and those are often referred to as “dicta.”
When you read a patent, you’ll see that it’s broken into a number of parts. The most important of those is the claims section, which is what a patent examiner focuses upon when prosecuting a patent, and deciding whether or not it should be granted. There are also description sections in patents which give a richer and more detailed look at how the technology behind a patent might be implemented (with emphasis on the “might”). Often those descriptions include material that isn’t reflected within the claims section of a patent, and in many ways, those description sections could be considered as similar to the dicta that I mentioned sometimes appears within judicial opinions.
Stanford University was granted two new patents today under the name, Scoring documents in a database, both of which were filed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office on January 19, 2010. These two patents, assigned to Stanford and listing Lawrence Page as inventor, are described as continuation patents of the following patents assigned to Stanford which focus upon PageRank: