Category Archives: Social Media and Social Search

Google’s Social Search Patent Application

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 — along with Twitter, which we announced a few weeks ago.

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Yahoo Patents in Facebook Patent Infringement Case

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:

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Google Plus Roots are Showing in Grouptivity Patent Filings

Google has been busy over the past couple of years acquiring a good number of small startups, including some that may help or have helped contribute features to Google Plus, such as Fridge, Tweet counting SocialGrapple, people sorting Katango, the team behind JustSpotted, social ranking PostRank, and social movie recommendation service fflick.

the logo for grouptivity

Google hasn’t publicly announced every acquisition that it has made, and the search engine has also purchased intellectual property such as pending and granted patents from some companies as well, without necessarily buying the companies behind the patents. For example, in August of 2010, Google was assigned a handful of patent filings from Appmail, LLC, recorded at the USPTO in May of 2011. A pending and a granted patent from that group appear to be related to Grouptivity, which was a social service run by Appmail that used a social mail service to enable people to share content they found on the web with others, either privately or publicly. That service allowed for the creation of groups to “keep your personal contacts separate from co-workers and other categories.” As a publisher-centric web service, grouptivity was described as a service that:

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Twitter Differences in Different Countries

If you’ve never used Twitter before, it can be a little intimidating when you’re first starting out. You’re faced with a message on the front page of the site telling you to “Follow your interests,” and promising “instant updates from your friends, industry experts, favorite celebrities, and what’s happening around the world.”

Then you sign up, and you’re faced with an empty text box with a question above it asking you “What’s Happening?” You have no friends added yet, you’re not following any industry experts or favorite celebrities, and there’s no news about what’s happening around the world. But you might see tweets in more languages than just English, according to a whitepaper presented last month.

Languages used in Tweets by people in the most active countries to use Twitter from a Yahoo Study.

The site does have ways to help you search for and find people to follow and interact with, and will recommend people to follow in a few places, but trying to figure out exactly what to say in that box that asks “what’s happening,” isn’t that easy. I remember spending more than a couple of days trying to figure that out myself.

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Are You Trusted by Google?

Are you a robot? A spammer? A sock puppet? A trusted author and content developer? A trusted agent in the eyes of Google? (More on trusted agents below.)

When you interact on a social network, or write a review online or update information to an internet mapping service, how much does the service you are using trust the content that you add, or the changes that you might make?

These aren’t rhetorical questions, but rather ones at the heart of approaches from services like Google Web search and Google Maps, which are focusing more and more upon social signals and social collaboration to provide the information that they do to the public.

If you’ve seen a +1 button within Google’s search results or on a site, and you’ve clicked upon it, or shared a page or post or site in Google Plus with others, you’ve engaged in endorsing the work of the author who created that site. How much weight does Google give that endorsement?

If you find an error on a Google Place page, such as an incorrect phone number or bad street address, and you take the time to try to correct that, what process might Google go through to decide if you’re telling the truth?

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Agent Rank, or Google Plus as an Identity Service or Digital Signature

What does it mean to call Google Plus an Identity Service? Might that have implications for how web pages might be ranked by Google? If we believe that Google might start incorporating authority signals into those rankings, it very well could.

At the Edinburgh Intl TV Festival on August 28th, 2011 at a Q&A with Eric Schmidt, Andy Carvin from NPR asked about Google’s insistence on the use of people’s real names, and received a prolonged response that pointed out the use of Google Plus as an identity service with the possible use of a ranking signal built into it.

But my general rule is people have a lot of free time and people on the Internet, there are people who do really really evil and wrong things on the Internet, and it would be useful if we had strong identity so we could weed them out. I’m not suggesting eliminating them, what I’m suggesting is if we knew their identity was accurate, we could rank them. Think of them like an identity rank.

The Return of Agent Rank and Portable Digital Signatures

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Facebook Patent Application Describes Receiving Data from Logged-Out Users to Target Ads

Is Facebook targeting conventional and social ads to the social network’s users and their connections, based upon visits to pages outside of Facebook that show Facebook widgets or use Facebook tracking pixels, while the Facebook users are logged out of Facebook?

On Sunday, Australian tech developer Nik Cubrilovic wrote a post titled, Logging Out of Facebook is Not Enough, which describes how cookies from Facebook are sent to Facebook everytime someone visits a page that contains a Facebook widget of some type, even after that person logs out of Facebook.

A Facebook engineer wrote the first comment to the post, explaining that the cookies in question are there for safety and security purposes, to provide customizations to users, and to help Facebook maintain and optimize their services. He notes that Facebook has no interest in tracking people, and, “We don’t have an ad network and we don’t sell people’s information.”

The Wall Street Journal picked up on the story yesterday, and did some exploring of their own, including contacting Facebook, who responded with a interesting statement.

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Google’s Asymmetric Social Network and Plus Authoring Patent

When you write a post at Google Plus, the social network allows you to link a web page and display an image from that page to the post, as well as defining who your post should be seen by. A patent filing published last week describes some of the processes behind adding those features, and provides us with screen shots of interfaces from an early version of Google Plus. It also shows off some of the thinking that might have led to the use of circles in defining the idea of an “asymmetric social network.”

The posting interface is shown in a number of screenshots in the patent filing:

Some interface images from the patent that are similar in many ways to Google Plus, and the ability to add links and images to posts and to decide between sending posts to subscribers or making them public.

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