Google, Beware: Facebook Patents Aim at Search

Last Updated Aug 31, 2010 3:01 PM EDT

Google (GOOG) has focused on its social media strategy through acquisitions, presumably as a challenge to Facebook But the contest is hardly one-way. Earlier this year, thought, Facebook bought Friendster's patent portfolio, including both granted patents and applications in process. They show how Facebook's interests necessarily continue into the search business.

The body of patents has obvious application in social media, and snapping them up made sense, as Liz Gannes noted on GigaOM:
The Friendster patents, which date back to the early days of social networking, are incredibly broad. They cover things like making connections on a social network, friend-of-a-friend connections through a social graph, and social media sharing. Friendster had received its first patent back in 2006, when it was already on the decline. At the time, Friendster President Kent Lindstrom told me the company had nearly forgotten it had ever applied for the patents, but added that "We'll do what we can to protect our intellectual property." From then on, Friendster frequently mentioned its patents as an asset, but to the best of our knowledge it never actually tried to enforce them.
However, the patents could potentially mean even more, as I realized when I accidentally stumbled across a patent -- Ranking search results based on the frequency of clicks on the search results by members of a social network who are within a predetermined degree of separation -- newly issued to Facebook.

This one patent, the application for which Friendster filed in 2004, is broad and covers rating existing search results, whether sponsored or generated by an engine, by how frequently members of a social network, "within a predetermined degree of separation from the member who submitted the query," click on them. It's an approach to using social network connections to pre-filter search results, and is an example of how social networks threaten search by reducing its relevance. Many people will be happy with recommendations of people they know (or think they do because of an online connection). Here are some other Friendster patents and patent applications that apply to search:
Given that absolute numbers of searches are down in the U.S., this must be a concern to Google, because integrating traditional search with social media will be the way forward.

Related: Image: Flickr user Search Engine People Blog, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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