The Facebook Tagging Patent

Facebook has been awarded a patent for tagging people/things in photos and other digital media. As Inside Facebook reports, it also has a patent on “purchasing a gift in a social network environment.” On top of that:

Facebook also applied for four search-related patents in the last month that control how results are shown to users based on their social proximity to the information or how often they access it.

This brings up a lot of questions.

  • The photo tagging patent refers to “selecting region within the digital media”; does that mean tagging someone in the whole photo/video–not just a certain part of it–falls outside the patent?
  • Is gifting “in a social network environment” really novel or nonobvious enough to deserve a patent?
  • Would Google+1 be affected if Facebook got its social search patent?

I wrote a paper during college on software patents, and I still feel that I–and many others, including some patent officers and judges who settle disputes–don’t fully understand what is being patented. Any comments from those more technically inclined would be appreciated.

Is Google +1 Really Positive?

Yesterday Google announced the +1 button, widely compared to Facebook’s “like” button.  By clicking on a +1 icon by a search result, you can let your friends and the world (or no one, if you set your privacy settings accordingly) know that you recommend it.  Right now, your friends include your Google contacts, but they may expand to encompass Twitter connections as well.

Interesting.  Very, very interesting.  Critics have been quick to point out the flaws: you need a Google Profile (what is that?), Google has limited knowledge of your friends (Facebook ain’t sharin’!), and by the time you know you like a page, you probably won’t want to go back to your search results and +1 it (new verb) (Google hopes to change this by putting +1 buttons on websites).

But consider the following:

In short, +1 becomes the new PageRank. OK, that’s kind of catchy, but more accurately, +1 recommendations can become an important new signal for Google to use as part of its overall ranking algorithm, during a time when it desperately needs new signals.

And this I’m afraid of. Honestly, I don’t want the opinions of the masses (or the scheming of those trying to cheat the system, which will inevitably occur) affecting my Google search results.  I know some elements of Google’s algorithm are already “democratic” in that sense, like the importance of linking.  But people’s behavior seems a more reliable indicator of quality than their randomly chosen +1’s. Am I wrong?

Is Google Going from Good to Great?

I just finished the chapter in Good to Great about the Hedgehog Concept: how great companies focus on a single concept that they can be the best in the world at and are passionate about. But today it seems like some companies, including Google, are trying to branch out into many different areas.  Does that mean they cannot become “great” companies, a la Jim Collins?

The hedgehog concept can be fairly abstract.  Abbott Laboratories became the best at “cost-effective health care,” although this included a variety of products, from diagnostics to hospital supplies.  I know that Google’s mission is to “organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” but what do cars have to do with that?  Is this an instance of making the world’s information useful?  That seems like a stretch.  And what about Gmail, for that matter?