Google’s Comment Patents and How Pages’ Web Rankings Might Be Influenced by Commentors’ Reputations

A rumor surfaced last week that Google would launch a third party commenting platform to rival Facebook’s. Coincidentally, Google was granted two patents this week describing comment systems, and how comments might be ranked under those systems. But the patents appear to describe comments on two different services from Google that have been discontinued. One of the patents appears to involve Google Sidewiki, which had more of a Web annotation service feel than that of a commenting system, and and the other involves comments on Google Knol.

Google Sidewiki and Google Knol and Commenting

Google Sidewiki enabled people to leave a comment on virtually any page on the Web, and could be accessed through the Google toolbar. A 1999 survey of Web annotation services showed that they have been around since the earliest days of the Web, and they differ from commenting systems in that they’ve been aimed at providing ways for people to leave private or public notes about web pages, sometimes but not necessarily with the participation of the authors of those pages. When Google announced that they were closing down Sidewiki last September, they told us that:

Over the past few years, we’ve seen extraordinary innovation in terms of making the web collaborative. So we’ve decided to discontinue Sidewiki and focus instead on our broader social initiatives.

Google Knol originally appeared to be Google’s response to Wikipedia, except instead of a knowledge base created by the wisdom of crowds, it was instead intended to be a source of information where individuals could wrote about topics that they had some expertise upon, and provide the kinds of things that Wikipedia appears to disdain, such as original opinions and research, and the expertise of individual authors. It provided a way for users of Google Knol to rate and comment upon entries from authors, and a way for people to rate comments as well.

The patent involving comments on Google Knol explicitly mentions the service in its description. The other patent doesn’t mention S0idewiki, but describes fairly well how it worked, and one of the inventors listed on the patent mentioned his involvement in the project when it was launched.

Can the two patents provide us with some hints about the commenting system that might be released by Google sometime in the near future, and how Google might treat those comments? Both focus upon rankings and reputation scores for people who leave comments, and for the comments they write. Given Google’s inclusion of author profiles in Web search results, and towards showing content shared and endorsed by social connections in Search Plus Your World results, the reputations of people leaving comments on a new Google commenting system may play a role in how web pages might be ranked in the future in both Google’s Web search and social search.

The Sidewiki patent is:

Ranking authors and their content in the same framework
Invented by Michal Cierniak and Na Tang
Assigned to Google Inc.
US Patent 8,150,860
Granted April 3, 2012
Filed August 12, 2009

Abstract

One or more server devices may simultaneously calculate first ranking scores for a group of users and second ranking scores for a group of comments authored by the group of users. The calculating may occur during a same process. The one or more server devices may further provide one of a first ranked list that includes information identifying the group of users, the information identifying the group of users being ordered based on the first ranking scores, or a second group of comments of the group of comments, the comments in the second group of comments being ordered based on the second ranking scores.

The Google Knol patent is:

Reputation of an author of online content
Invented by William C. Brougher, Nathan Stoll, Sepandar D. Kamvar, and Michael D. Dixon
Assigned to Google
us Patent 8,150,842
Granted April 3, 2012
Filed December 11, 2008

Abstract

Methods, computer program products and systems are described for online-content management. Multiple online content items authored by multiple authors are received at one or more first computers for online publication. For each online content item, a reputation score is determined for the author of the online content item. The reputation score is based at least in part on one or more reviews of the online content item provided by one or more reviewers other than the author.

In response to a query for online content received from a second computer, a set of search results is generated that includes an online content item from the multiple online content items. A ranking of the online content item in the set is determined based at least in part on the reputation score of the author.

Agent Rank and Comments

Google may offer a third party comment system because Facebook has one. They might also be providing a service like this as a tie into Google Plus, and promote that social network, by providing a way for people to display their comments not only on the pages where the comments were originally left, but also on their Google Plus posts pages.

Google may also be introducing such a service to find a way to start associating comments with the authors who created them. The benefits of doing that include:

  • Verification that a commenter is who they say they are (as described in Google’s patent on Author Badges)
  • Reputation Scoring for Authors on content (comments) they leave at places outside of Google Plus and pages, articles, and blog posts they’ve tied to their Google Profile with authorship markup.
  • A move closer to a Web in which digital signatures from authors are more frequently associated with those authors create on the Web, as described in Google’s Agent Rank patents
  • The use of reputation scoring and digital signatures together to create an Author Rank, which might use content creator’s reputations possibly as a query independent ranking signal similar to PageRank.

Under an Agent Rank or Author Rank approach, different types of content could be given reputation scores, including; web pages, blog posts, articles, forum posts, comments, reviews, questions and answers, micro-blog posts and status updates, and even advertisements.

And page that includes content from multiple authors (including commenters) might be given a score based upon the reputation scores of all authors.

User and Comment Scoring Under Sidewiki, Knol, and Confucius

Both patents provide some ideas about how comments and their authors might be ranked. For example, in the Google Knol patent, we see this passage:

Users who submit reviews and comments, a form of derivative authorship, may also be assigned reputation points or indicators based on such authoring contributions, and a user’s overall reputation score may be a combination of normal authorship and derivative authorship–where normal authorship may be weighted more highly.

Also, a reputation may be a factor dependent on the amount of time that a user has been in a system, and the level of activity of the user within the system. For instance a user whose contributions average a rating of 3.0 from other users but who has made hundreds of contributions over many years, may have a substantially higher reputation score than does a user with an average of 3.0 from a handful of readers on a single submitted article.

In the Sidewiki patent, a user’s reputation score might be initially based upon things such as how long they’ve been a user of the commenting system, what their age is (users in a certain age range may provide better comments than users with ages outside of the age range), and the educational background of the user (users with high levels of education may provide better comments than users with lower levels of education).

An initial comment score might be based upon some things such as the length of a comment, and how well it fits into a certain language model. It’s possible that second signal might be an attempt for people to game a system like this by using software that might “spin” the creation of content by taking content from elsewhere and using an automated program to rewrite it.

A rank calculation component of this system may combine the user scores and the comment scores to come up with a quality score for comments. As we’re told in the patent:

The user ranking scores may reflect reputations of the corresponding users. For example, a higher ranking score may reflect that a user has a better reputation as an author (and/or rater) over another user with a lower ranking score. The comment ranking scores may represent the quality of the corresponding comments.

The Sidewiki patent really doesn’t tell us what they might do with the reputation and ranking scores that they might calculate other than possibly showing a public user ranking leader board.

The Knol patent provides many more details on how reputation scores might be calculated, and might use those when people search for content on Google Knol (and possibly on Google Web search as well).

Google Knol included an authentication process that people could follow to show that they are who they say they are. It provides for different reputation scores on different topics, and separate reputation scores as contributors on topics as opposed to reviewers or commenters.

This section of the patent stood out for me:

In addition, the reputations of particular authors may be used to adjust the reputations of other authors. For example, if Stephen King (who presumably knows his stuff, as the author of On Writing) gives 5 stars or a similar high ranking to another author, the reputation of that other author will increase more than it would if an unknown with a small reputation did the same.

In essence, the ranking of an author would depend on the rankings provided by other authors, and would depend in particular on the rankings of those other authors, where ranking by authors would be weighted according to the level of their own reputations (and their reputations would in turn be modulated, at least in part, by the rankings they receive from other authors)–in effect a PAGERANK-like technique applied to author reputations.

Such reputation indicators may then in turn be used to score web pages in search results (e.g., if a highly-ranked author gives a high score to a page, its search position will rise), along with other traditional factors such as PAGERANK scores, click-through rates, ratio of good scores, and spam scores. In some implementations, the authors reputation score can be influenced by the web page score attributed to web pages where the author’s online content is published, which web page score can be determined using traditional factors as discussed above or by other techniques.

Under a ranking system for content and comments that was originally developed for Google’s Confucius Q&A sites, we’re given many more signals that might go into scoring for content and comments as well. I’ve described the “credential scores” that might be generated for that system in the post, How Google Might Rank User Generated Web Content in Google + and Other Social Networks.

It’s possible that the kind of scoring there could be used with Google Plus and other social network sites, as well as blog posts and possibly comments on those posts that might be made through a comment system from Google.

Takeaways

At this point, we don’t know if Google will really be introducing a third party commenting system for certain. But it seems like something that they will probably do.

Under an Agent Rank/Author Rank approach, the reputation scores for authors could influence search rankings in social search and Web search. It’s also possible that the reputations of commenters could influence those rankings as well.

I’m not fond of third party commenting systems, and I wouldn’t use one if it meant that the comments from my past posts would disappear. I wouldn’t mind adding a comment system that co-existed with my present WordPress commenting system here, and allowed commenters the option of leaving a comment that included an authorship badge that could be tied to their Google Account.

Would you use commenting system that might cause how your pages are ranked by the search engines to be influenced by the reputations of commenters?

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31 thoughts on “Google’s Comment Patents and How Pages’ Web Rankings Might Be Influenced by Commentors’ Reputations”

  1. Thanks for the various paper Bill.

    I think google commenting system it’s the only weapon they can use to enforce the identification of comments authors.

  2. “Would you use commenting system that might cause how your pages are ranked by the search engines to be influenced by the reputations of commentors?”
    simple:no

    I would like to discuss with commentors,
    or offer comments for questions and I wouldn’t like to search for the “author rank” from my commentors before I approve comments.

    I would like to talk with whom I would => not with whom Google’s author rank tell me I have to discuss for a good ranking.

  3. Nice post Bill!

    I’ve been wondering about Google’s comment system as of late and expected something soon. FB is definitely moving quickly and there is no doubt Google wants all the activity & signals to not only be proprietary, but to come from their own properties as well.

    I would not change commenting systems simply for Google. To me, it goes against what they say about building sites, “for the user experience.” There is no way they will have a better platform than the top three straight out of the box. Anyone who switches to them right away may end up switching back when Google realizes not enough people use Plus/Comments to derive integrity out of their new signal set.

  4. It sounds plausible that using a commenters reputation could be used in the future. A comment takes some effort and you wouldn’t bother commenting on a spammy or bad blog. I like the idea and I don’t see any problems using it globally rather than on Knol and Sidewiki.

  5. Hi Bill, thanks again.
    In my honest opinion I think that author-rank won’t be something to pay attention to in the future. Someone will surely develop some black-hat technique to gain trust as an author.
    I already see a lot of spammy people trying to rank their own personal website and their G+ page…

  6. Thanks for the thorough examination, Bill. This is really interesting to think about. In theory, I love the idea of being rewarded for attracting, participating with, and affording the compliment of being an influencer in your respective space. However, I really think that’s an intrinsic reward and should not tamper with objective page authority. I do like Anton’s suggestion above regarding comments contributing toward personal ‘author’ rank, not the intellectual property’s rank.

  7. Most likely, Google will come up with their own comment system sooner than we think. Facebook has it so Google will do all means to get a grip of it by leveraging its search engine product.

  8. Disqus,Commentluv,livefyre are setting benchmark in the field of commenting system now.There are also some flaws in it as the comment is shown at that moment but as a SEO perspective backlinks will not be linked from them

  9. Sorry Magnus, completely disagree with “A comment takes some effort and you wouldn’t bother commenting on a spammy or bad blog.”
    Comment spam is as old as blogging, and cheap and easy to scale to the moon. Doesn’t mean it is effective (but it surely can be), but it is commonplace and easy to automate. I know what you are saying, but people get around it by creating thousands of fake personas and spamming like crazy. Be glad to share some Akismet data to support it. :)
    I think this is more directly attacking it – the accidental effectiveness of low level blog comments…IMO, they want to make crappy overly-intentional comments easier to root out of the algo to make the SERPs stronger, and tying a comment to a verifiable source would allow them one more signal to assign “good” and “bad” commenters – ignoring the empty, un-backed comments more aggressively, and more proactively rewarding those who help them to connect the dots. Google wants to know where you are and what you are doing with your technology (and money) and time on the web, they want to see what makes you tick…it’ll be interesting to see it come more into play.

    And once commenters have measured value, what kind of web would we end up with, really – the top guys would be selling comments to the highest bidder, watering down relevance even further. Pandora’s Box, indeed.

    But really appreciate the ongoing coverage and analyses of these patents Bill – always great fodder for thought!

  10. No surprise to me here. I would think that they are already grading comments and creating author rank based on a variety of factors, commenting being just one of them. No? If they can create a system that it will make it easier for them to capture the data and then validate the reliability of that data, that would be a good thing to do.

    I can see this being a big plus for blog writers too. I often will rate a blog by, not just the quality of the comments, but who those commenters are, specifically when I see ones I know or know of. Good content is a magnet for good people. The blogger can benefit from attracting those high ranking authors, and it would be nice if Google gave them a reward for their ability to do so.

    Overall, I really love that Google is putting so much attention into social signals. In years past, those weren’t there and they had to depend on inbound links as the good kind of finger pointing they were after. But we all know where that led. Social has the ability to give Google what they were after all along. And my guess it’s harder to let spam fool you in social – especially when you control the space as they apparently are trying to do.

  11. It sounds like Google are evolving so they become more social, they realise they are loosing quite a bit of traffic to Facebook. A Google comment system would fit nicely with Google+ and sounds like a natural progression after the inclusion of Google profiles in Web search results. I agree that a comment system would have to work in tandem with other systems such as WordPress, Disqus, Facebook etc. to maintain older comments already created.

  12. This is extremely interesting to me from a futuristic SEO perspective. I was always kind of shocked that Google didn’t take over social networking with their platforms and although they are popular they pale in comparison to other platforms. Google Knol has also always been a sort of mystery to me because it never really took off the way I imagined when I first read about it. I think ultimately from an SEO perspective garnering reputation in Google’s eyes is a good thing and they won’t ever penalize you or modify their SERP results against their own services. Thanks!

  13. hmm is that means commenting for seo pupose will be now of no use?? or only google commenting will work why google is making this kind of change ?? Google this talk are just bouve from my head

  14. Bill,

    While I would welcome a commenting system and they have a captive audience (Blogger) I can’t help but think there is a tie in with the announcement that they will be more actively indexing user profile pages. They may have found that they can accurately supplement their social graph by identifying social circles outside of ones they already tap into. They need to extend their reach beyond what people voluntarily add to their Google Profile and pulling in this other data could add an important metric.

    My guess is like backlinks, there is normal social profile pattern that can be determined by algo. Profiles and patterns that fall outside the norm on the low side could be either dismissed outright or flagged as spam, those on the high side carry some additional authority.

  15. To be honest, I’m surprised Google didn’t jump on this way before Facebook launched their commenting system. Especially having had Blogger for so long…

    I guess its a potentially a signal but also a means of promoting uptake of Google Profiles and G+ #WINWIN

  16. It is a good idea, as usual. Using commentors as a ranking factor does seem to add value. Eventually they will even be able to judge what the comment says – like this is great (Google gives +++) or you have no clue what you are talking about (Google can give -). This is a ways off probably. Google has been keen on getting authorship down for awhile, it makes sense as it allows them to more easily do what you mention above.

    My guess is to be the best search engine they can they need to get authorship data from more than just some Google+ commenting system (and it really wouldn’t be so hard to use other know systems). To please the current CEO pushing people into using Google+ is desired. So I would expect them to give special benefits to those using Google+ (like paying attention to their comments…).

    It is a bit silly how Google discourages the value of some links (their dislike for sponsored links for example) while using indirect monetary reward to encourage what they want (like making their CEO happy by pushing Google+). I understand Google not liking bad quality links and some bad quality links are paid. I just don’t think the “Google rules” are the most effective, they are easy to use so I can understand Google’s interest especially without a reasonable competitor. http://curiouscatlinks.blogspot.com/2007/12/are-paid-links-100-untrustworthy.html

    We need a couple of better search competitors to keep Google from distorting search results too much to make targets CEOs set (like pumping the use of Google+) more important than quality results. Now the incentives at Google clearly allow things other than search quality to take precedence because their is little (if any) income drop-off due to not focusing on search quality alone (since no sufficient competitor exists – I do like DuckDuckGo myself).

    By focusing on authorship authority and respectability I believe that provides much better quality value than some current measures Google emphasizes. Authorship will allow Google (or someone else) to reduce the importance they currently place on paid links versus links encouraged by indirect financial and psychological incentives.

  17. This is very interesting. I plan on trying livefyre soon as well (@ Tracystief) and if Google releases a new commenting system, I would have to consider it. If Google releases a 3rd party commenting feature (especially if it has an API) I think it will take off really fast.

    I might consider creating a custom plugin that posts comments simultaneously to a facebook, twitter and Google+.

  18. I would use it if it does provide a level playing field for all, and not subject to manipulation or result in creation of a privilege group to manipulate and influence blog commenting and web page ranking.It will be interesting to see how this will play out.

  19. Very interesting stuff Bill. It’s pretty clear from all the “faces” showing up more and more in the SERPs that Google is pushing hard on having the “who” wrote content be as important as the “where” it was published. I’d love to see some sort of test of a popular journalist posting on two vastly different web properties and see if Google gives a bump to the less popular publisher because of the significance of a writer. For example someone posting on Wired and also some random no-name, no-following blog. I feel like there has been more change in search in the past year or so than the past 5 years combined, and there doesn’t seem to be a slowdown anytime soon.

  20. I dont understand, should google be able to locate who are commenting for only reason to raise PR? Personally, i comment where i like, because i reads many blogs every day, and off course i place my “stamp”.

    What i mean is, if google would use the comments later, to see who are making SEO and who are not, wouldn’t it then bee too easy to make fake comments in your competitors name, and then they would later be punished for making SEO blogging??

  21. I think it makes perfect sense for Google to develop a commenting system. I have some blogs where I use Disqus and I like it. However, I am concerned that if Disqus ever shuts down then I would lose my comments. I think if Google takes over in the third party comments business then Disqus likely will shut down.

  22. It’s hard to say whether or not it’s a good idea to implement this. For our company, it seems we are in that limbo spot. A lot of our competitors are spamming like crazy so it would be good to use to differentiate us from the spam, but on the other hand, we don’t get a lot of blog comments or social shares, especially by authoritative people, and I’d be afraid that Google would take this as a sign that we’re not worth being ranked high. That’s a tough one.

  23. The question how useful comments are for SEO also depends from the culture. In Germany where I live just a handful of blogs have a significant number of commentators.

  24. Without a new comment system we can still feed our author rank by comments: By using our Google+ profile instead of a web adress, of course after having installed our author rank there.

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