Should Yahoo Own Social Search and Rank in a Web 2.0 World?

[Disclaimer: I am the Evangelist and CEO of Zooomr]

Flickr Interestingness Rankings Patents Released � SEO by the SEA: William Slawski over at SEO by the Sea tips us off to two new patents in the Web 2.0 world this week. The patents are by Yahoo! and include US Patent Application 20060242139, Interestingness ranking of media objects and US Patent 20060242178, Media object metadata association and ranking.

From the abstract:

“Media objects, such as images or soundtracks, may be ranked according to a new class of metrics known as “interestingness.” These rankings may be based at least in part on the quantity of user-entered metadata concerning the media object, the number of users who have assigned metadata to the media object, access patterns related to the media object, and/or a lapse of time related to the media object.”

So if I read this correctly, it would sound to me like Yahoo would not like anyone else to be able to aggregate user activity around media to provide rank.

The biggest problems I have with this patent is that they 1. incorporate community user activity into Yahoo! ownership and 2. What right does Yahoo have to control how outside non Yahoo communities choose to highlight and promote their media? Theoretically if I’m digg, or reddit, or Zooomr (oh yeah, we are Zooomr) or any other site that would use “quantity of user-entered metadata” to come up with how media is ranked we could be in violation of Yahoo’s patent.

Serving up a selection of interesting photos based on the fact that a bunch of your users on your site like the photos as evidenced by the quantitiy of favorites, comments, voting, views, activity, where it’s been blogged, whatever, ought not belong to any one company.

Each community ought to feel free to aggregate their user data accordingly to highlight and show photos, news, videos, sound files, etc. on their site however the hell they want.

At Zooomr we are currently working on a rating system to highlight great photos on Zooomr. These great photos will largely be determined by activity as evidenced on the site by our users. We have no idea what Flickr’s secret formula magic donkey interestingness algorithm contains but it seems antithetical to the idea of user supported communities that for us to build our own for our own community that we could be threatened with a lawsuit for violating Yahoo’s exclusive right to rank user data.

At Zooomr today we have a feature where we rank users by how many times they are people tagged. We call it “most famous” is this rank based on metadata? Sure. But why should we not be able to rank our own users and their data any way we want for our community? Why should anyone be able to own how you slice and dice and rank community in a Web 2.0 world? Each community should figure this out on their own and give their users what they want without any one company owning this.

The second patent that Yahoo got was for metadata:

“Metadata may be associated with media objects by providing media objects for display, and accepting input concerning the media objects, where the input may include at least two different types of metadata. For example, metadata may be in the form of tags, comments, annotations or favorites. The media objects may be searched according to metadata, and ranked in a variety of ways.”

So maybe I’m totally off on this one again but it sounds to me that Yahoo again would not like competing social networks to be able to search by mulitiple user generated inputs like tags or comments or annotations or descriptions etc.

I think these two patents suck.

I’m sure I’ll get a lot of crap over this because Flickr can do no evil, blah, blah, blah, but no one company should own the right over other communities that they have no control over to rank and organize their data any way they want. User generated data doesn’t even belong to Yahoo! in the first place, it belongs to users of a given community and every community ought to be able to share their best works of media within their own community without having to worry about running afoul of a Yahoo patent.

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11 comments on “Should Yahoo Own Social Search and Rank in a Web 2.0 World?
  1. Jeremiah says:

    It’s not Flickr!….it’s Yahoo.

    My biggest complaint (as a flickr user) is the new Yahoo integration has created this overwhelming cascade of redundant services one has to subscribe to in order to user Flickr. You are forced to get a Yahoo ID, which then means a messenger ID, *another* f*cking email account, Yahoo! Photos (different from Flickr!) Yahoo! Folders (different from both), Yahoo 360 (LiveJournal and AOL had a baby at The MySpace Motel), etc, etc.

    Google has the right model, which is to let users activate services as they see fit, rather than the bountiful cornucopia approach.

    /digression

    There’s an article I read months ago about the patent process where an actual patent attorney described the process in better terms than I could hope. The general sense I got is that the vast majority of patent registrars have no intention of blocking competitors via infrigement actions, rather it’s literally to create a tangible legal entity that can be “secured”, in the financial sense of the word.

    I suck at explaining this stuff.

  2. Jeremiah says:

    I should qualify the flickr complaint – it’s only *new* users that have to get a Yahoo buffet to have a flickr membership.

  3. Mark Probst says:

    Yahoo is forced to patent stuff like that. Why? Because everybody else is doing it, too! Don’t blame Yahoo or Flickr – blame the government for allowing software patents and blame the Patent Office for again and again granting trivial patents.

    My prediction: If/When Zooomr gets big, it’ll patent trivial stuff, too.

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Mark while I certainly blame the government for giving Yahoo a patent wide enough to drive a truck through — I’m surprised they just didn’t go for patenting the showing of digital photographs on the internet — I still think it sucks that according to this patent no one else can use user generated activity to highlight content in their community.

    So it will be either be nice to Yahoo and make sure they like you or risk having your community shut down because you decide to allow your users to direct what gets highlighted and promoted on your site.

    I’m not buying by the way that this is Yahoo, not Flickr. It was the Flickr people’s name on the patent.

    It’s not Flickr!….it’s Yahoo.

    Jeremiah, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the two are very much one in the same.

    No one company should “own” user generated content and the ability for non Yahoo sites to sort their users content however they would like.

    These patents fly in the face of what Web 2.0 ought to be about which is openess in community building — not proprietary ownership of communities.

  5. Thomas says:

    It seems to me that they want to patent their algorythm, not the concept, which they should be more than withing their rights to do, especially with other services around blatently knocking off flickr

  6. Mike D says:

    This reminds me of IBM recently going after Amazon for violating five incredibly broad patents related to doing business over the internet.
    http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/20481.wss

  7. Thomas Hawk says:

    Thomas, I have no problem with them patenting their specific magic donkey formula/algorithm. But I read this far more broadly, that for other companies to attempt to use their own user generated activity based on their own algorithms that this would violate their patent and idea of ranking media by user activity.

    If someone wants to clarify from Yahoo that this is all this is that would be great. Alternatively if someone with a legal background wants to offer their input that would also be welcome.

  8. Jeremiah says:

    Thomas – I’m not sure where your complaint lies – is it Yahoo’s overly broad patent claim?

    Is it the patent system itself? Is Zooomr going to patent anything?

    Lastly, IANAL, however, it’s my understanding you can’t patent a concept, only a methodology. In other words, you can patent a specific design of telescope, but not astronomy.

  9. Mark Probst says:

    Thomas, of course it sucks! It sucks big time! My point is just that this is not an isolated incident but standard business practice in the US software industry and the lies with the government and the Patent Office. If you ask me, I’d abolish software patents this instant.

    And I don’t give a damn whether it was Yahoo or Flickr. It’s not like I’m a Flickr fanboy – I’m pretty pissed off by some of the stuff they do (NIPSA’ing people, shutting down accounts without warning or explanation, …). Right now they’re the best photo sharing site for me. If/when that changes, I’ll switch.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Calm down … They’re not patents, they’re patent applications. If they issue as they are currently claimed (and that’s a big if), you won’t have to worry about them for 2 or 3 more years.

    In the meantime, would you like to know what the patent office thinks about these applications? You can watch the prosecution of the patents online. Here’s a bookmark to the prosecution history for one of them:

    http://portal.uspto.gov/external/portal/!ut/p/
    _s.7_0_A/7_0_CH/.cmd/ad/.ar/sa.getBib/
    .ps/N/.c/6_0_69/.ce/7_0_3AB/.p/5_0_341/
    .d/1?selectedTab=ifwtab&isSubmitted;=
    isSubmitted&dosnum;=11350981#7_0_3AB

    Think you got some prior art? Then send it to the patent office. You have to send it within 2 months of the application publishing, but the office is considering changing that time limit to 6 months. See:

    http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/
    documents/1100_1134_01.htm

    Don’t just complain about the system, try to make it better. It’s part of the reason why the U.S. is where it is today technologically, and the way things are going with outsourcing, it may be our only hope for the future.

    Cheers.

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