Facebook was on Tuesday granted a U.S. patent for aspects of its news feed, as was first reported by AllFacebook. The patent, which covers methods for dynamically parsing and distributing information about what users have done on a social network to other users of that social network, names CEO Mark Zuckerberg as inventor along with other Facebook engineers and product people. It was originally filed in August 2006, before the Facebook news feed launched that September.
The patent is particularly valuable because news-feed style communication has become pervasive since it was launched on Facebook. However, it’s not clear that there aren’t precedents for the technology; for instance, the social network Multiply.com had a similar interface for keeping track of friends’ actions before Facebook launched its own.
Facebook, which said in a statement it was “humbled” and “pleased” by the patent, may well choose not to enforce it. In fact, one of the more important social networking patents, from the early site Six Degrees, was bought by LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman and Tribe.net/Zynga’s Mark Pincus explicitly to promote an open playing field for the sector by taking it away from people who might choose to enforce it in the courts. However Friendster, which was recently bought by a Malaysian company, made much of the fact that had obtained five U.S. social networking patents, at times using the patents to scare off the competition, at least in the press.
The core invention of the Facebook patent is as follows:
A method for displaying a news feed in a social network environment is described. In some embodiments, the method includes generating news items regarding activities associated with a user of a social network environment and attaching an informational link associated with at least one of the activities, to at least one of the news items. The method further includes limiting access to the news items to a predetermined set of viewers and assigning an order to the news items. The method further includes displaying the news items in the assigned order to at least one viewing user of the predetermined set of viewers.
Here’s Facebook’s statement, provided by email:
The launch of News Feed in 2006 was a pivotal moment in Facebook¹s history
and changed the way millions of people consumed and discovered information
on the site. We¹re humbled by the growth and adoption of News Feed over time
and pleased with being awarded the patent.
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