Will Google Make Browsing A Web Page a Social Activity Too?

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Google is starting to show how social it might become with the introduction of Google + this week. I’ve signed up for an invite, and watched the demos, but I’m not going to weigh in on it until I have the chance to try it out (2011-6-30 – added: I missed my invite inadvertantly. Testing Google + now.)

Instead, let’s take a quick look at a Google Patent application that came out this week that shows another possible social tool from Google. This one allows you to start conversations with people who visit a web page, or have bookmarked the page, or contact people you already know while you’re on the page so that you can discuss it together. See a news story on a news paper site that you want to discuss with a friend, or even someone else who might be visiting that page. The process behind this patent filing enables you to do that.

Within your toolbar browser would be an instant messenging client attached to a “discuss this page” button, like in the screenshot from the patent filing below:

A screenshot from the patent of a web page, with a discuss this page button on the toolbar.

If you click upon that button, you see a menu that enables you to either talk to people who are already contacts or visitors to the page:

A screenshot from the patent of a web page, with a drop down menu showing a choice of contacts or visitors.

You are able to choose amongst people who may aleady be contacts:

A screenshot from the patent of a web page, with a menu showing your IM contacts.

Alternatively, you would be able to see who else is visiting the page or has bookmarked the page who might have the toolbar installed, and choose amongst those people:

A screenshot from the patent of a web page, with a menu showing other visitors to a web page.

Both you and the other visitor have to give permission to be contacted by one another for a communication to start. Note in the image above that there are also “bookmark” menu items. In addition to starting a conversation with someone who is presently visiting a page, this system would allow you to initiate a conversation with someone who has bookmarked the page that you are on.

The patent application is:

Initiating Communications with Web page visitors and Known Contacts
Invented by Joseph F. Karam
Assigned to Google
US Patent Application 20110161835
Published June 30, 2011
Filed: March 11, 2011


Methods and apparatus, including computer program products, implementing and using techniques for initiating communication between two users among several users while at least one of the two users is browsing a web page. User information is collected about each user among the several users. Page information is collected about what web page each user among the several users is browsing. A portion of the user information and page information for a first user and a second user is shared between the first user and the second user when a predetermined criterion is met, and request by the first user to initiate communication with the second user is processed.

Some additional details:

1. People using this system can set up status messages stating whether they are available for online interactions or want to be left alone.

2. You could save your conversations locally or remotely for future reference.

3. This application is built into the browser rather than existing as a separate application.

4. If one of your known contacts has previously bookmarked the page that you are on, there might be an indicator of that, such as a star next to their name.

5. When you’re on a page that might have a very large number of people browsing it at the same time, the list of other people browsing that you see might be filtered to contain a smaller and more manageable number. That filter might be based upon this such as:

  • Geographical proximity to the user,
  • How many times the other users have visited the same page,
  • How long time the other users have spent browsing the page,
  • Sub site proximity (i.e., when two users look at two different pages of the same multi-page article), and;
  • Other similar criteria

Some of these choices may be configurable by the user of the system, such as the choice to show local users

6. Privacy issues are addressed in the patent filing, such as the ability to toggle on and off this system so that no one else can see you as you browse a page, the ability to select which pages others might see you upon when you’re browsing them, or being able to use your true name or an anonymous name or generic name like “User X.”

7. Some of the topics that the patent suggests that people can discuss when they communicate while browsing a page can include:

  • Discussing or reviewing products, restaurants, hotels,
  • Planning travel,
  • Discussing articles,
  • Sharing parenting advice,
  • Studying foreign languages (e.g., reading a text in French and having a follow-up discussion between the teacher and the student), or
  • Collaborating on various web-based projects.


I can see using this system with clients or people that I’m working with to discuss different aspects of specific web pages. It could be really useful to be on the same page at the same time without having to use a screen sharing program, for instance.

I could also see people who are members of a community site interacting with each other also.

People who own a site might click on the “Discuss this page” button to interact with their visitors as well.

This is the kind of application that makes Google and the Web more social without keeping them behind a walled garden, or limiting your interaction to people whom you already know.

Would you use it?

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41 thoughts on “Will Google Make Browsing A Web Page a Social Activity Too?”

  1. Hi bill,
    i think it’s going far more than that. i believe that in a matter of 3 – 4 years almost everybody will travel the web connected all the time to i type of internet ID (whether it will bee Google or facebook or any other identity). this way the way we use the internet will change entirely.

    the profession of SEO will change to another perspective of making a website more viral and engaging in order to lead instead of cold algorithms optimization requirements and mechanic (or very professional) link building methods.

    i also think that the reason it isn’t working like this nowdays arises from the lack of social information in the web.
    when a critical mass of users will be browsing the web connected always to their identity the internet and SEO as we know it will be no more than a nice memory.

  2. So every search page will have a chat room on it? Does this mean that Google will start showing results in frames??? They truly will own the web then. Imagine searching for a site, clicking on a search results and still seeing their logo in your browser.


  3. Hi Sam,

    It is the kind of thing that could potentially make the Web itself, and any place that we can reach with our browsers a much more social place.

    I guess one of the big differences is that Facebook seems to only really be social when you’re on Facebook itself – the whole experience is there on their pages. This opens things up to expanding your social interactions to almost anywhere online.

  4. Hi Stav,

    It’s quite possible that the Web is evolving towards a time of digital signatures and identification, but I suspect that there will still be a role for anonymous use of the Web, and for people browsing and searching with expectations of privacy.

    Of course SEO will change – it’s ever evolving as it is, but I think that many of the technical problems that exist on Websites now will continue to do so 4-5 years from now as well. An SEO should be considering how to help make websites more engaging and viral as part of the whole of services that they offer today.

    One of the things that I liked best about this patent is that it did address privacy issues, and it explored how this system could be used in a manner that helps protect privacy to a degree. What it didn’t mention expressly in that section on privacy is that to use this system, you would have to be logged into your Google Account, so that Google would know who you are when using it.

  5. Hi Mark,

    Every Web page, not every search page. As long as you have the Google Toolbar, and the application enabled on it, you can push the “discuss the page” button and either talk to your already listed contacts, or possibly other people browsing the page.

    You would talk to those people in an instant message window displayed on your screen rather than some frame, according to the patent.

  6. Pingback: Google-Patent zu Website-Aktivität – SEO.at
  7. Hi Bill,

    Sounds to be a great idea. This seems to be a killer concept as it allows the companies to interact and open discussions with their prospective customers/viewers virtually at the same time. On the otherside, this could partially be the end of SEO.

  8. This pushes the level of interactions through Google designed tools to another dimension.
    The SEO profession will have to re-invent itself or rather adapt once more to keep up the pace.
    It will be a great challenge as traditional SEO methods will become even more obsolete even though the bottom line of quality content will remain, thankfully.
    I am sure the possible uses will rapidly grow go far beyond the supplier/client or teacher/student context and more and more sharing possibilities will develop through this media.

  9. Bill,

    I’m interested to hear your thoughts on Google +. I’ve avoided facebook for years since it was wide open for everyone and didn’t sort friends from co-workers and family. This looks like it has the potential to actually catch on (hopefully with more success than Google Wave). The demo pages are pretty interesting and they’ve already got the google plus buttons on quite a few websites over a short period of time. Do you know how long the beta / trial period lasts? I tried to get an invite but was too late.


  10. Hi Bill, wonder how this will loop back into one’s Google+ account e.g. if we are in the same circle or are friends/colleagues who discussed a website. That would be interesting. Also it would be interesting to see how this will relate to a business page on Google+ which might be in the works.

  11. Hi Stefan,

    I could potentially see Google add a feature similar to this to Google + some time in the not too distant future. I don’t think that it would spell the end of SEO because SEO is something that adapts and evolves. It does help make the Web itself a little more social, by bringing discusses off of a social network itself and on to actual websites.

  12. Hi Lisa,

    Part of the nature of SEO is that it’s a technical process that focuses upon the framework of the Web itself, to help people promote and market their businesses. The Web is constantly changing and evolving, and SEO does as well. I’m not sure that there are such things as “traditional SEO methods.” There’s certainly no text book that could keep up.

    A social sharing and interaction system like this has many positive potential uses.

  13. Hi Jeff,

    So far Google + is different from Facebook in enough ways that it’s worth exploring, and I think that we will see a number of features integrated into it that don’t necessarily try to keep people within the confounds of Google the way that Facebook tried to limit social activities to within Facebook.

    It seems like people are a little more sophisticated about how they might use a social network these days than when Facebook was first made available to the public as well, and that might make a difference as well.

  14. Hi Donna,

    The key word there might be “potential.” Will Google decide to release this? Will they add it to Google + or make it available independently? Will all social endeavors from Google now be judged in part on how well they might integrate into Circles and Streams and Hangouts? I don’t know. But the process described in the patent could potentially get some use on mobile and benefit local merchants. It will be interesting to see if Google brings it out.

  15. Hi Dharne,

    Good questions. Google + brings us a much wider range of potential contacts who possibly have the Google Toolbar installed, and definitely have Google Accounts, so interacting with “contacts” who may have plussed a particular page, or bookmarked it is a possibility. I’ve heard rumors of those business pages as well – could they potentially be tied into Google Place pages, where you’ve been able to publish “status update” type messages for a while if you’re a business owner? Or would they remain independent of those pages unless you explicitly wanted to create a connnection between the two?

  16. I can see how this could be very exciting business and marketing wise but it’s not a tool I would ever use personally. I’m not a very social person; hence the long hours on the internet. The last thing I want to do is interact with others online; I like to browse in solitude. I fail to see how this feature would affect SEO though; it seems like it’s an added functionality for surfers but I don’t see how it would skew search results or make SEO obsolete.

  17. I think that’s the way Google is heading. They will fuse social media in search to beat Facebook.

  18. This sounds very cool. This is going to be a all new level of social media marketing. There will be alot of scope with this as well to improve it over time with updates ect, who knows where it could end up the possabilitys would be endless. On the google +1 side of things I wonder how long it will be before people figure out away to exploit the system for seo purposes? I have already heard rumours about it but not sure if to believe it yet or not.

  19. Hi Jackie,

    I wasn’t implying in any way that this would make SEO obsolete or impact SEO tremendously, though I do see some possibly interesting functions that it adds as well.

    I so suspect that if a site owner used this to contact people visiting his or her site, that they might consider that somewhat intrusive.

  20. Hi Mel,

    One of the biggest differences between Facebook’s approach to social networking and Google’s approach seems to be illustrated in this patent filing. Google enabling people to be social outside of Google, while Facebook seems to focus more upon you being social inside of Facebook.

  21. I reckon its a web war out there, its interesting how Google and others are coming up with a new addition in the technology every few days, keeps us on our toes always. Wonder what the future holds. Thanks for the post.

  22. Hi David,

    I suspect that Google feels like it needs to constantly show that it’s bringing new innovations to the Web. I won’t be complaining about it; some of the things they are launching are pretty neat.

  23. It seems like EVERY website has become or is becoming extremely social. I think the amount of social interaction will start effecting a sites ranking – making it a necessity more than an enjoyable social interaction.

  24. Hi Greg,

    I think that we are moving in a direction where every website will provide an opportunity for people to interact with the owners of a site, or with each other. I’m not sure that it will be essential for every site, but iIt seems to be the kind of thing that people are increasingly looking for.

  25. Bill,
    I can agree with that. Its funny, our web team just added icons for Yelp, Google Places, CitySearch, our Blog, Twitter, and Facebook to our site. Geesh, the need MUST be there eh? Anyway, thanks for the response.


  26. You’re welcome, Greg.

    That’s a lot of new buttons. Hopefully people will interact and engage with you on places like your blog and twitter and facebook. Sounds like you’ve got the infrastructure in place now.

  27. This definitely sounds like one of google’s best updates because of the ability it gives people to interact or use it for seo.

  28. Hi Craig,

    It’s an interesting idea, but I’ve been wondering if this would be launched as a standalone product if it comes out, or as part of Google Plus. I’m not sure.

  29. I can not wait to see it in action. It sounds like a really neat idea, and I am sure that it will give a notch to Google. Hopefully it does not become more of a nuisance to people that do not want to be contacted.

  30. Hi Sam,

    It sounds interesting, but I don’t know if it’s something that Google is planning on implementing with all of the things that they’ve been doing with Google Plus, including the ability to share pages on Google Plus and discuss them there.

    The way that it’s described in the patent filing, I think people can indicate that they don’t want to be contacted if that’s their preference.

  31. I love the idea of socially interacting with people that are on your site. I am a real estate broker and this type of technology would work great for people searching for homes. Is anything available currently that may help with this. Thanks for the info.

  32. Hi Don,

    I’m not sure if there is anything like this presently available elsewhere, and it’s not something that we’ve seen Google introduce at this point. It’s possible that we might see something like it as part of Google Plus, though Google’s been busy introducing other features there.

    The toolbar mockup in the pictures from the patent do look a little like the Google toolbar that we see when we are at Google and logged into Google Plus. At this point, I think the only thing we can do is wait and see.

  33. Hi Bill
    I don’t understand how they wrote this Patent ..
    We developed this product in 1999 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gooey .

    We developed this product again check http://www.whoislive.com – Introducing: Social Browsing!

    For the first time ever, see who is visiting the Websites you are on and what they are up to in real time! Discover great new content and meet people who share your interests. Make your web experience social with WhoisLive!

  34. Hi Bill

    You can use Whoislive on any website .You need facebook account only to register , except facebook everything’s the same , You will see this in our new version.

    They copied everything from “gooey” . I developed this product in 1999 ,You can read more in this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gooey .

    Google will have the same product like Whoislive . how they think about Patent 🙂 🙂

  35. Hi Eran,

    I’m neither the patent examiner nor one of the inventors on the patent so I don’t know if they have/had any knowledge of the product that you’ve developed. 🙂

    It is a pending patent application, rather than a granted patent – US Patent Application 20110161835, so it’s possible that it might not be granted based upon prior art. (I should probably make that a little more clear in the post above.)

    I’m not sure how well it matches up with what you developed but there do seem to be a number of similarities. There are some differences as well, like the bookmark aspect of it, which tells you if someone you might be a contact with has bookmarked the page in the past.

    It looks like what you’ve come up with is being used pretty much just on Facebook at this point in time rather than anywhere on the Web. I don’t know if that’s a difference that makes a difference.

  36. Hi Eran,

    What you have come up with is definitely an interesting and useful invention.

    If you think that the invention described in Google’s patent application is too much like what you’ve invented, you may want to try to get in touch with a patent attorney or with Google. Sorry I can’t give you legal advice, but it’s probably worth trying to do something about it.

  37. When I registered for Google Plus it asked me to invite friends and follow them. Before it would just let me add +1 to my favorite websites. Seems like Google is getting closer to converting it more Social everyday. Some of my friends on Facebook even said they are getting tired of all the Facebook format changes and are switching to Google plus. I had no idea it was getting more social until they displayed about 30 people and asked if I wanted to become friends and follow their stories.

  38. Hi Clark,

    Google had been integrating more social features into many of the things that they offered over the past few years, and Google Plus was something of a culmination of many of those efforts. The plus button came out before Google Plus launched, and you had to have a Google Account and Google profile to view the things that you clicked a +1 button for, but that wasn’t the Google Plus network yet.

    Funny thing is about many of the recent changes at Facebook is that a number of them seem to be in response to Google Plus.

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