Facebook Wins Patent For Search Results Based On Clicks of Friends and Other Users

Today Facebook won a patent filed in 2004 for a search engine which ranks results or online ads based on the frequency of clicks by those connected to a user on a social network. Results would be accompanied by an image or text denoting how many people connected to the user clicked that link, similar to Facebook’s Like button/counter. The patent could, in theory, be used to create a search engine based on the clicks of one’s friends and friends of friends, or stifle a similar product of Google’s forthcoming social network Google Me.

The patent, filed for Facebook, Inc. on October 18th, 2004 lists Christopher Lunt, Nicholas Galbreath, and Jeffrey Winner as inventors.

It says a connection can be between “registered users who are related within two or more degrees of separation to the registered user within the online social network”. This leaves the degrees of separation up to Facebook, meaning results could be based on clicks by your friends, friends of friends, or every registered Facebook user. Searching for humorous content with results ranked by what your friends clicked could produce a more valuable experience than rankings based on clicks from across the web.

However, the patent doesn’t specify if results can be based on shared user characteristics, or connections to non-users, such as Pages. Facebook might not be able to use this patent to create a ranking system based on clicks of those within your network, country, or age group; or based on clicks by those who share a connection to an interest Page. If you were searching for political news, the power to see results ranked by clicks of those connected to the same political party could be useful, but it is not covered by this patent.

Facebook might not put the patent into use on its own products, though, as the site makes money from allowing Microsoft’s Bing to power its internal search. Instead, they might use the patent defensively. Social search could be a big part of Google Me’s differentiation from Facebook, but this patent could — again, in theory — restrict such features. Facebook owns or has applied for dozens of patents at this point, but it has not gone on the offense against rivals to date.