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Google +1 Takes on Facebook "Like" -- and Could End Up in Court

Google announced that it would implement Facebook Like-type recommendations in its search engine. The idea is to get search results overlaid with recommendations by people you know who have voted in the past for particular links.

Google appears to have targeted such competitors as Twitter and Facebook with the feature. Just one problem: the system, as described by Google, sounds as though it could run head on into the curated search patent that Facebook recently received.

Here is Google product manager Rob Shapiro's description of +1:

So how do we know which +1's to show you? Like social search, we use many signals to identify the most useful recommendations, including things like the people you are already connected to through Google (your chat buddies and contacts, for example). Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible. If you want to know who you're connected to, and how, visit the "Social Circle and Content" section of the Google Dashboard.

To get started +1'ing the stuff you like, you'll need to create a Google profile--or if you already have one, upgrade it. You can use your profile to see all of your +1's in one place, and delete those you no longer want to recommend. To see +1's in your Google search results you'll need to be logged into your Google Account.

In other words, Google will find people related to you through its system, which you could then call a social network. You see search results augmented by indications that people you know had rated them with a +1 click. Google might eventually supplement the relationships it stores with those imported from other social networks.

Now look at claim 11 in Facebook patent number 7,890,501, granted in February:

In a computer system for an online social network that includes a server computer and a database of registered users, a method for generating search results comprising: maintaining a database of registered users that stores for each registered user, a user ID of the registered user and a list that identifies other registered users who are related to the registered user in the online social network; receiving a search query; retrieving records that are responsive to the search query; for each retrieved record, determining a frequency of relevant clicks on a hyperlink associated with each retrieved record, wherein the relevant clicks are clicks by other registered users who are within at least two degrees of separation from the registered user in the online social network; sorting the retrieved records in the order of the frequency of relevant clicks associated with the retrieved records; and generating a search result page of the retrieved records sorted in the order of the frequency of relevant clicks.
Google clearly has a computer system. As it stores relationship information about people connected with a user, it's a social network. Because people have to log in to Google to use +1, it stores records for registered users. The company receives the search query from a user. The +1 button is a "hyperlink associated with each retrieved record." It would likely sort the records by frequency of +1 clicks and then generate a search page of the results.

There are also other claims in the patent that cover a search engine seeking relationship information from a third-party social network.

One of two things could happen. Google could pay a license fee, which would call management there and provide a nice source of revenue to Facebook. Or, Google could go ahead as it has often done and risk a lawsuit. It wouldn't be a slam dunk, but such an allegation of patent infringement doesn't seem like it could be easily dismissed out of hand, either. And Facebook certainly has the money for a long legal spat.

Ah, to be young and a patent attorney in need of long-term gainful employment.

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Image: Google
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