Social Circles, Content Sharing, and Social Visibility Pending Patents for Google Plus

Google published 8 patent applications at the USPTO today that describe key elements of Google Plus and a number of alternatives that may or may not become part of Google’s social network. These include 2 applications on how social connections can be sorted into different social circles, 4 filings about how content can be shared in the system, and 2 more pending patents on differences in what might be shown to the author of content created on the social network and what might be visible to people viewing that content who aren’t the authors.

A screenshot from one of the social circles patents showing a screen where you can add people to circles, and the circle types include private circles, publicly-shared circles, and shared circles.

The patent filings are pretty detailed, and if you’ve spent some time using Google Plus, you’ll recognize a lot of the features being described within the patents, and see some that you might wish were included and others you may hope are never added.

Unlaunched Circles Features

Imagine that you could set up some private circles and invite specific people to join those circles. Or that you could set up publicly shared circles and people can see those and request membership in them. Presently you can’t see the names of the circles that other people have created in Google Plus, and they can’t see yours.

We’re also told of the possibility of some social circles being automatically generated based upon information found in a user’s profile, from things such as demographic data, job data, or information about interests such as sports or hobbies. This particular feature sounds like the friends clustering technology that Google’s acquisition of Katango brought to the search engine when they acquired them last November.

Katango had developed an iPhone application for Facebook that people could use to automatically create groups or circles of friends for them automatically, based upon interests stated in profiles of even in things stated in interactions on social networks. The Google patents don’t go quite that far and instead are limited to just explicit information from profiles for such clustering and automatic circle creation.

Another feature indicated in the patent filings is the possibility of the system making suggestions to add people to certain circles. The example given is that someone in email data associated with a particular user might share the same last name, and they are someone who is contacted frequently through email. The suggestion might be to add the contact to a family social circle.

The creation of certain circles could be suggested as well based upon that email data as well, such as a “professional contacts social circle” if there are some email contacts that haven’t already been added to any circles and those people are emailed frequently.

Authorization of Access and Posting by Third Parties?

Another possible feature mentioned in the patents is that other sites could be given permissions to post to Google Plus on a user’s behalf. We’ve seen this with sites that allow you to log in with Twitter or Facebook and leave comments or track a Klout score or provide other services or information. A quick snippet on that from the patent filings:

In some implementations, information can be posted on a user’s behalf by systems and/or services external to the social network or the server system 112. For example, the user may post a review of a movie to a movie review website, and with proper permissions that website may cross-post the review to the social network on the user’s behalf.

There’s been some rumors of Google launching a third party commenting system sometimes in the near future. These patent filings don’t appear to cover that, but it’s possible that such a system might allow for this type of access so that when you log into your Google Account to leave a comment somewhere, you’re also granting permission to have your comment posted on your Google Plus stream.

Autocomplete and Rankings

When you write something in Google Plus, you can start typing in someone’s name, with a “+” symbol in front of it, and Google Plus will present a drop-down that you can use to choose from different Google Plus members. The order of people listed in those drop-downs may appear in an order based upon a ranking score, with contacts having a higher ranking score listed above contacts with a lower ranking score.

Or they may be listed based upon ranking scores for the different social circles they might be in. So someone from your “Family” circle might be shown before someone from your “Friends” social circle, if the Family Circle has a higher ranking score.

Those ranking scores might be based upon a popularity of contacts and/or social circles. If you tend to share information more with one contact than another, the first contact may have a higher ranking score. A social circle that is shared with more frequently might rank higher (as well as the contacts within it) than other social circles that you share less frequently with.

The auto complete will show people who aren’t direct contacts of yours as well, but someone who is a direct contact will show up as an autocomplete suggestion above someone who might not be a direct contact, but rather connected to you indirectly as a contact of someone whom you’re connected to.

Rankings within autocomplete suggestions could also be based upon a frequency of interactions as well. So if you often email someone, or they email you, they might rank higher than someone whom your infrequently connect with.

Other Interesting Tidbits

The patent filings use the “at” symbol (@) rather than the “plus” symbol (+) to describe the way that you might trigger a link and a notice to someone that you’ve mentioned them in a post or comment on Google Plus, though it looks like both were being consider as alternatives:

In one example, a user can input the text “@Frank” (or “+Frank”) in a text region (e.g., content input area 305 of the content sharing interface 300) as part of a textual post.

Google Plus could potentially be activated and shared while using other applications as well, such as Office Productivity programs, so that people can share what they are working upon through Google Plus without having to leave those other programs. Here’s what the patent filings tell us about that:

In some implementations, the content-sharing application can be provided as an add-on to other applications that can be executed using a computing device. In some examples, a productivity application (e.g., a word processing application, a spreadsheet application, a presentation application, an email application) can be executed to provide a graphical user interface (GUI) through which a user can perform tasks (e.g., create and/or edit a document, a spreadsheet, a presentation, and/or an email).

The content-sharing application can be executed to provide a content sharing interface within the GUI of the productivity application. In this manner, a user can share digital content with contacts while working in the productivity application, without having to switch applications and/or accessing a social networking service website.

I’ve covered a number of “alternative implementations” or potential future features in Google Plus that we could possibly see, but there are more in the patent applications. What looks interesting to you that I didn’t write about?

The pending patent applications are:

Social Circle Pending Patents

Social Circles in Social Networks
Invented by Joseph Smarr, Paul Adams, Shimrit Ben-Yair, Jonathan Terleski, and Mandy R. Sladden
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20120110096
Published May 3, 2012
Filed: June 20, 2011

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for transmitting contact data for displaying graphical representations of contacts for display to a user, the contacts being contacts of the user within a computer-implemented social networking service, generating a first social circle of the user, the first social circle comprising a first subset of contacts of the user within the social networking service and defining a first distribution for digital content, generating a second social circle of the user, the second social circle comprising a second subset of contacts of the user within the social networking service and defining a second distribution for digital content, and, in response to user input, providing the first social circle and the second social circle for selection by the user to define a distribution of digital content, the distribution comprising at least one of the first distribution and the second distribution.

Social Circles in Social Networks
Invented by Joseph Smarr, Paul Adams, Shimrit Ben-Yair, Jonathan Terleski, and Mandy R. Sladden
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20120110052
Published May 3, 2012
Filed: June 20, 2011

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for receiving first user input, the first user input provided by a user of a computer-implemented social networking service and indicating first digital content that is to be distributed using the social networking service, receiving second user input through a distribution interface that is displayed to the user, the second user input defining a distribution for the first digital content, the distribution comprising at least one of a first sub-distribution that is defined based on a first social circle and a second sub-distribution, the first social circle comprising a first subset of contacts, and distributing the first digital content to contacts of the user based on the distribution.

Content Sharing Pending Patents

Content Sharing Interface for Sharing Content in Social Networks
Invented by Rita Chen, Shimrit Ben-Yair, Jonathan Terleski, and Joseph Smarr
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20120110474
Published May 3, 2012
Filed: June 20, 2011

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for displaying, within a web page, a representation of a content sharing interface, the content sharing interface including a content input area, receiving user input to the content input area, in response to the user input, expanding the content sharing interface to include an expanded content input area and a distribution interface, the expanded content input area displaying a graphical representation of digital content that is to be distributed, receiving user input to the distribution interface, the user input indicating contact(s) to which the digital content is to be distributed, in response to receiving the user input, displaying an icon within the distribution interface, the icon being a graphical representation of the contact(s), and in response to the user input, transmitting a post data set including digital content data and distribution data to a server computing system.

Content Sharing Interface for Sharing Content in Social Networks
Invented by Rita Chen, Shimrit Ben-Yair, Jonathan Terleski, and Joseph Smarr
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20120110464
Published May 3, 2012
Filed: June 20, 2011

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for presenting, within a web page, a graphical representation of a content sharing interface including at least one button icon, receiving user input to the button icon, in response to the user input, expanding the content sharing interface to include an expanded content input area and a distribution interface, the expanded content input area displaying a graphical representation of digital content that is to be distributed, receiving user input to the distribution interface, the user input indicating contact(s) to which the digital content is to be distributed, in response to receiving the user input, displaying icon(s) within the distribution interface, the icon(s) being a graphical representation of the contact(s), and transmitting a post data set including digital content data and distribution data to a server computing system.

Content Sharing Interface for Sharing Content in Social Networks
Invented by Rita Chen, Shimrit Ben-Yair, Jonathan Terleski, and Joseph Smarr
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20120110064
Published May 3, 2012
Filed: June 20, 2011

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for presenting a graphical representation of a content sharing interface of a social networking service on a display, receiving first user input to the content sharing interface, in response to the first user input, expanding the content sharing interface to include an expanded content input area and a distribution interface, the expanded content input area displaying a graphical representation of digital content that is to be distributed, receiving second user input to the distribution interface, the second user input indicating contact(s) to which the digital content is to be distributed, in response to receiving the second user input, displaying icon(s) within the distribution interface, and transmitting a post data set to the server computing system, the post data set comprising digital content data and distribution data.

Content Sharing Interface for Sharing Content in Social Networks
Invented by Rita Chen, Shimrit Ben-Yair, Jonathan Terleski, and Garrett F. Boyer
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20120109836
Published May 3, 2012
Filed: June 20, 2011

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for receiving user input indicating a distribution for digital content, the distribution indicating one or more contacts to which the digital content is to be distributed, processing the distribution based on one or more policies, each of the one or more policies providing a limitation on distribution of digital content, based on the processing, determining that the distribution violates at least one policy of the one or more policies, and in response to the determining, transmitting notification data to display a notification to a user that the distribution violates the at least one policy.

Visibility Inspector Pending Patents

Visibility Inspector in Social Networks
Invented by Ray Jiunn-An Su, Jonathan Terleski, Joseph Smarr, and Shimrit Ben-Yair
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20120110088
{ublished May 3, 2012
Filed: June 20, 2011

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for transmitting a content data set to a computing device for displaying content to a non-author user, receiving user input from the non-author user, the user input corresponding to the content, and, in response to receiving the user input, transmitting first data and second data to the computing device for display to the non-author user, the first data comprising a number of contacts associated with an author user, the author user having authored the content, the second data being a sub-set of the first data and comprising a number of contacts associated with the non-author user.

Visibility Inspector in Social Networks
Invented by Ray Jiunn-An Su, Jonathan Terleski, Joseph Smarr, and Shimrit Ben-Yair
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20120110076
Published May 3, 2012
Filed: June 20, 2011

Abstract

Methods, systems, and apparatus, including computer programs encoded on a computer storage medium, for transmitting a content data set to a computing device for displaying digital content to an author user, the author user having authored the digital content, receiving user input from the author user, the user input corresponding to the digital content, and, in response to receiving the user input, transmitting first data and second data to the computing device for display to the author user, the first data comprising a number of contacts that are able to access the digital content and the second data indicating one or more relationships between the author user and the contacts.

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21 thoughts on “Social Circles, Content Sharing, and Social Visibility Pending Patents for Google Plus”

  1. Pingback: Social Circles, Content Sharing, and Social Visibility Pending Patents | Inbound.org
  2. I try to explain my thoughts, first there are many qestion marks and I hope you can read between the lines, :-)

    there are some puzzles on the way to get a “semantic search engine= and this is the best way to earn money…

    Panda =>a topic clustering system => not only for websites, rather for authors => I’m really sure since I
    have heard the first time something about =>

    Author Rank,author reputation… and G+
    ==>
    and comment system….(?)
    and “In some implementations, information can be posted on a user’s behalf by systems and/or services external to the social network or the server system 112. For example….=> reviews”

    Penguin algorithmus…. you can’t have the www without links, but if you need a link as a reputation system => for the best authors (because you would get a semantic search engine)
    1. you have to filter the possibility to spam
    (i.e why should Peter – who is not an author of webdesign-indotde – write a comment with this link to this site?
    This doesn’t make sense) but if Peter has a profile on G+ ["we know him"] write a review or something else on a website and send this to G+ ==> we know Peter is a real person… => so this must be good (?) for the website /author of this site => because “we know about Peter”.

    localisation => we (G+) know about Peter => he hasn’t written -public or not public – that he was at Berlin, why should he review a pizza service at Berlin (?)

    but we know that he spent his holidays at Portugal ( he has written something about in his email to his friend) >=> so it is possible and good if he is writing a review on a site about Portugal…… (!)

    before I asleep yesterday I have all this puzzels in my mind and if I where Google I would like to give those “comments, reviews” more weight than a link => in some cases.

    because Peter may allow a seo agent to comment in his name, but will Peter give his G+ password to a seo agent to comment on G+ for him?

    and it is a possible security against “all those who would degrade the author rank of a person”. => it is absolut simple to comment in my name with my email address, because I have to write this address in my impressum => to have only an email form is not allowed at Austria or Germany.

    Conclusio: if I where Google, links lose weight and reputation from an author gain weight => if I know this is a real person and if it does make sense, that he is writing about this or that ….

    Do you agree Bill, and if not why not…

    thanks!

    Monka

  3. @Monika, its all factored into google’s ranking algorithm to some extent. The transition from ‘just links’ to other, modern factors is an ongoing process that started already many years go. First we had sites with links, now we have the social component. In between there are more and more grey shades.
    When google started out they probably had a dozen algo factors, 10 years later there were 200 variables (officially) in the algo and in 10 years they may be a thousand.
    Google can’t change his algo from one to another over night. This would cause the index to collapse, and since they do not have any competition, they can an will do things slowly but steadily. Because of their status they don’t need to look much ahead anymore. They can just consume what is on the table right now and act accordingly.

  4. adding google plus to our site is a best way to get indexed and ranked by google….eventhough it wont have that reach like facebook …its awesome…:)

  5. Hi Monika,

    Google is definitely working towards adding additional ranking signals involving social sharing and endorsements, and the authority of real people who might be associated with specific companies, who might have degrees from real schools, may have published in peer reviewed journals, been granted patents, written content on the Web on certain topics, engaged in discussions in different social media (blogs and blog comments, forums, Q&A sites, microblogs, etc.) on certain topics as well.

    Both the number and types of signals have increased, and their overall weight together may influence rankings. It’s not that links carry less weight, but rather that there’s more weight to distribute overall.

    While looking at social engagement signals, Google is likely going to look at collaterial data such as the location where posts on Google Plus might be made from, what type of device was used, and the date and time. If someone responds to a comment on Google Plus from India, and a few seconds later writes a review of a restaurant while in Texas, and then shares a link from Manchester a couple of minutes later, Google might get a little suspicious. Those might be a sign that those signals shouldn’t count.

  6. Hi Andreas,

    Good point. Chances are very good that Google won’t replace one set of signals with another overnight, but will try to present an experience to searchers that doesn’t change that much that quickly.

  7. Hi Shony,

    Do you think that adding Google Plus to your site really helped make a difference in the indexing and ranking of your pages?

    We know that the relevance of your pages and links still play a role. The question is how much of a difference might Google Plus make?

    Setting up authorship means that you have created a link from a Google Plus page to your site, and created an association between your author or authors and their Google Accounts and your site. That does have some potential to improve indexing and ranking. We just don’t know how much of an influence at this point.

  8. Google Plus seem not very good for our site. Cause i can’t see the future of this social network. Facebook, Twitter are much more helpful and effective.

  9. Google’s commenting system… Seems like Google’s next move to compete with Facebook on the social share and on the way- save them trouble with evaluating real interest. Google already index Facebook comments and probably had some pretty good reason to do make this move recently. Google engineers seems to focusing their efforts on social interactions, lessening the power of links (since they are a a pain in Google’s butt). Indexing Facebook comments probably does not give Google the in-depth view about the real people who find interest in the suggested content. Google comments will. This will be the new Page Rank as the people who comment on your blog post will give or take some of the trust of the suggested content. It will give more website owners a reason to implement Google commenting and give more of their respective audience a reason to join Google +

  10. Bill,

    Do you think that Google created a lot of these patents with G+ as a way to protect themselves and or possibly go after Facebook or any of the other large social networks down the road to litigate for “stealing” their software and or patents as we recently saw with Larry Ellison going after Google for 4 lines of code out of over xxx,xxx lines?

    Also it seems that they need to expand signals for relevant content beyond backlinks now more than ever and thus the big push for G+? Agreed or no?

  11. Hello Bill
    thanks for editing my answer to Andreas :-)

    “….If someone responds to a comment on Google Plus from India, and a few seconds later writes a review of a restaurant while in Texas, and then shares a link from Manchester a couple of minutes later, Google might get a little suspicious. Those might be a sign that those signals shouldn’t count….”

    I’m really happy that you have the same thoughts as I because the last days I’ve heard that I’m a litte (or big) “crank” as I try to discuss this… ;)

  12. Hi Michael,

    I think there’s value in all three, and to a degree the value that you get out of them is going to be related in some way into what you put into them.

  13. Hi Eitan,

    Google doesn’t have access to information about Facebook comments that they would about Google comments, such as the IP addresses associated with those comments, the geographic locations where they might have been made from, the types of devices that were used to make them, and more. These are some of the signals that can help Google determine whether some accounts are fake profiles, and can help them calculate reputation scores for people creating content and comments.

    With Google comments associated with Google Accounts, and possibly Google Plus profiles and activities, Google has a much richer source of data about people making comments.

    Links may present a whole different challenge to Google, but they’ve also been a strength of Google’s for many years. I don’t see an Agent Rank or Author Rank as a replacement for PageRank, but rather an additional signal that Google can use. In some cases, it can be a more valuable signal, especially when it comes to things like recency-sensitive topics where relevant pages haven’t had much of a chance to accrue links.

  14. Hi Michael,

    Google’s primary purpose with filing these patent applications is likely to protect the intellectual property behind them rather than to use as a weapon against Facebook or other social networks. If Google didn’t file them, they might be subject to litigation from others.

    As I mentioned in my response to Eitan, for some types of queries, like ones involving very recent events, looking at backlinks isn’t as helpful as looking at social mentions and sharing and other social engagement signals.

  15. Hi Monika,

    You’re welcome.

    I’ve been discussing things like named entities for years. I wrote about Google’s Agent Rank on Search Engine Land back in 2007, and watched as what I wrote was largely ignored. The topic has gotten a lot more attention in the last 6 months or so than in most of the 5 years that I’ve been writing or talking about it. I wouldn’t worry about the people who can’t look past title tags, meta descriptions, exact match anchor text, and so on, to see the importance of signals that will increasingly impact SEO.

  16. Google+ as had a massive impact upon search results within Google obviously and I’m not sure its for the better either. They are clearly seeking to take over the social network space as these patents clearly demonstrate.

  17. Hi Christopher,

    It’s hard to tell how much of an impact Google Plus has had upon rankings. Considering the amount of other signals that Google uses to rank search results, we have little chance of isolating any one ranking signal and determining how much of an impact it has had.

    I’m not sure that the patents are really that clear of a sign that Google is attempting to “take over the social network space” as well. They are a sign that Google wants to protect its intellectual property within the area, though.

  18. Referring to the social circles, some are calling this the Google bubble. I’ve heard in several cases of folks swapping to Duck Duck Go because they don’t like it. I think its alright, as the content is more relevant to me based on who i’ve met and what we’ve shared – but for some professions this is a negative.

  19. Hi Thomas,

    Not sure that I would fall into a circle of people who might consider Google Plus as a Google Bubble. The numbers of searches at Google are growing, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article which stated that the new Knowledge Base results are drawing more searches and searchers to Google.

    As a searcher, I can’t say that I’m really satisfied with the search results that I’m seeing at Duck Duck Go, or even at Bing at this point. I’m all for competition, and I think it’s one of the things that would help drive search to become better. I just wish there was more.

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