Summary:

Wowd, a real-time search engine, may not have figured out how to get its own service to scale to a large audience yet, but it’s about to get some validation that it’s on the right track — in the form of two patents.

Wowd, a real-time search engine, may not have figured out how to get its own service to scale to a large audience yet (it depends on a downloaded plug-in), but it’s gotten some validation that it’s on the right track. The U.S. Patent and Trade Office is about to award the company two patents on its method for ranking search results based on usage data and its variation on peer-to-peer networking.

Wowd actually only filed for the patents in late October, but it paid extra for fast-track examinations and just got word they will be officially issued May 11. I spoke today with Wowd founder and CTO Boris Agapiev, who is named on the patents, and CEO Mark Drummond.

The first patent (#7,716,205) covers a method of ranking web pages based on the way people use them. Wowd calls this EdgeRank, after Google’s PageRank, and says it gives a search engine the ability to weigh anonymized information about where users click to go next from a web page. Wowd developed the technology to use for real-time and especially social search, so it could filter results based on the way a certain demographic of people has responded to them. The company plans to order search results for users after identifying, in anonymous fashion (to whatever extent that’s possible!), which other searchers have the most in common, and what they were likely to choose. It’s kind of like behavioral tracking for search — with the idea that counting these signals in a connected system will scale better than asking users to individually give pages a thumbs up or thumbs down.

The second patent (#7,716,179) is not search-specific. This covers Wowd’s distributed file system, which acts as a massive virtual machine, storing and delivering data in a distributed hash table. Like Skype, or other P2P networks, Wowd operates on a network of software installed on its users’ computers, contributing back their own visits to public web pages. The technology Agapiev developed enables Wowd to coordinate and communicate on that network quickly enough to compute real-time searches. Drummond said that when Wowd’s data center recently went down, few users saw an interruption in service because they were able to support each others’ queries. “We made ourselves irrelevant,” he said. Agapiev added he could see this method being used by CDNs and other startups needing to scale up quickly.

Drummond said Wowd doesn’t plan to do much with the patents besides “Demonstrate to our investors that we’re saying is true. This is hard, this is unique technology.”

What’s ironic is that Wowd itself is not yet at the scale that necessitates this patented technology, as Agapiev readily admitted. Wowd has 70,000 nodes in use, and an index of tens of millions of web pages visited by its users, compared to Google’s tens of billions of crawled pages. The truth is that unless you make something as useful as Skype, people are unlikely to join your peer-to-peer software network out of the goodness of their hearts. But if the time should come that Wowd would need to scale, it’s ready.

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