Google Reader Patent Applications

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Looking at some patent applications is a little like taking a peek under the hood of a running car. You already know that it’s a car, and you have a good idea of what’s hidden under the hood, but it can be interesting to pop the latch, and see the moving parts run around some.

Google has had four new patent applications published, and their focus is on managing feeds and the Google Reader. Google Reader has been around since 2005, and quite a few people are using it. I haven’t explored how it works too deeply, but I thought that some commentary on it from Niall Kennedy that came out a couple of Decembers ago was interesting:

Update 10:40 p.m.:Jason Shellen, PM of Google Reader, called me to let me know that Google built its feed API first and the Google Reader application second as a demonstration of what could be done with the underlying data.

Jason confirmed my documentation below is very accurate and Google plans to release a feed API “soon” and perhaps within the next month! Google Reader engineer Chris Wetherell has also confirmed the API in the comments below.

The patent applications seem to echo that approach – building a way of handling the feeds programmatically first, and then creating the interface of the reader second. I had that image in my mind of someone building an engine first, and then designing a car around it as I read the patent applications.

I’ve taken a few notes while going through these, though the best way to learn about Google Reader might be to get behind the wheel and try it out.

Personalized content feed suggestions page
Invented by Jason H. Shellen and Mihai Parparita
US Patent Application 20070083520
Published April 12, 2007
Filed October 7, 2005


A user may be presented with suggestions of content feeds to which she may subscribe.

The suggestions are based on documents, such as web pages, accessed by the user. The content feeds suggested to the user are content feeds associated with at least some of the documents accessed by the user.

The user may accept or reject any or all of the suggestions. A suggestion of a content feed may be suppressed based on a rejection of a past suggestion for the same content feed.

1) Identifies whether or not a page has an associated feed, and if it does, provides a suggestion that a user to subscribe to it, unless they already have, or previously rejected subscribing to it. That suppression of a suggestion might kick in only after a few rejections or be limited to a predefined period of time.

2) When identifying whether the page has a feed, this process would also identify the web page, and try to determine the location of the feed.

3) The system defined by this patent application also tracks:

  • Content feeds to which the user has subscribed,
  • Any filters the user has defined for the feeds,
  • any labels the user has associated with individual feed items, and;
  • An indication of whether each feed item has been marked as “read” by the user.

4) When “XML feed information” is referred to in this patent application, it includes:

  • RSS
  • Atom Syndication
  • VCalendar calendar format, and;
  • Other syndication formats

5) Different versions of a feed reader interface are described, including a web based version and a desktop installed standalone version.

6) Autodiscovery of a feed can be done by looking at an HTML link element with attributes rel=”alternate” and type=”application/rss+xml” in its HTML source, as well as an absolute or a relative locator (in some embodiments, the Uniform Resource Locator (URL)) of the content feed. A document may be parsed for any information indicating the existence of a content feed associated with the document.

7) Instead of presenting and suggesting subscription to feeds at the time of a visit to a page, the suggestion may be made in a batch suggesting subscriptions to the pages that were visited which had feeds.

Indirect subscriptions to a user’s selected content feed items
Invented by Benjamin G. Darnell, Carl Laurence Gonsalves, Christopher Jason Wetherell
US Patent Application 20070083536
Published April 12, 2007
Series Code: 11
Filed: October 7, 2005


A label may be applied to one or more content items by a user or in accordance with predefined criteria, rules, or filters.

The labeled content items are associated with a secondary feed associated with the label. Other users may subscribe to the secondary feed and be presented with the labeled content items. The label may be system-defined or user defined.

A label may be applied to a content feed in order to apply the label to the content items in the content feed.

It was interesting to see some of the thought processes in this patent filing, which focused upon providing indirect subscriptions to feed content – or sharing feeds gathered by someone else.

Someone may wish to share some or all of her favorite feed content to others; friends or family or other users at large.

A person can tag feeds in a way that allows them to be shared with others. The others are said to be provided “indirect subscriptions,” and those tagged feeds are repackaged into a secondary content feed. So, when you tag some feeds with a “sports” label, you are creating a feed that you can set for others who may be interested in sports to look at.

Indirect subscriptions to top N lists of content feeds
Invented by Carl Laurence Gonsalves and Jason H. Shellen
US Patent Application 20070083894
Published April 12, 2007
Filed: October 7, 2005


A user may subscribe to a content feed group that includes a set of content feeds.

The content feed group includes a first set of content items from the set of included content feeds. The content items are presented in response to a subscription to the content feed group.

After a change to a content feed group, such as an addition or a removal of a content feed from the set, a second set of content items, reflecting the changed set of content feeds, are presented.

The previous patent application described being able to subscribe to someone else’s content feeds under a specific tag that they have set up. This one adds the ability for someone who has subscribed to that secondary feed to make changes to those feeds. If you subscribe to someone’s “sports” feed but don’t want to see the RSS feeds involving NASCAR, for example, you could change your subscription of the feed not to show those specific feeds. You could also add some new feeds for you to view by tagging those with the sports label.

Privacy options can be set on a per tag basis, so that while someone can give you access to some of their feeds, they don’t have to let you see all of their feeds.

Content feed user interface with gallery display of same-type items
Invented by Christopher Jason Wetherell
US Patent Application 20070083468
Published April 12, 2007
Filed: October 7, 2005


Additional content items that satisfy predefined criteria with respect to a user-selected content item are identified.

The predefined criteria may be that the selected and additional content items have particular characteristics that are the same.

Information corresponding to the selected and identified content items is presented to a user.

Characteristics based on which additional content items may be identified may include data type, source, and absence of content. The information may be presented in a gallery view, which can be a thumbnails gallery for images or a playlist for digital audio or video.

This last one focuses more upon interface details in viewing feeds, especially feeds that include images, video, and audio (showing playlists).

I’ve been pretty satisfied with using Bloglines for reading feeds, but I see some aspects of Google Reader that Bloglines doesn’t handle, such as the sharing of some labeled feeds. It sounds like I may have to try it out.

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