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:
- Proximity search methods using tiles to represent geographical zones -- a powerful way of undertaking geographically-relevant searching.
- Method for sharing relationship information stored in a social network database with third party databases -- accepting requests from third-parties for social network relationships
- Visual tags for search results generated from social network information -- visually tagging search results based on how many clicks they receive from social network friends
- Google Needs Your Privacy To Tell You What You Want To Know
- Google and Microsoft Fight for Search Future -- Whatever It May Be
- Facebook Needs a Major Video Site Hook-Up
- Google Wants To Clone Facebook To Protect Search
- Facebook's Biggest Obstacle: No One Trusts It