Social Networking patents always seem to stir up controversy.  One of the most successful social networking portfolios was the Friendster portfolio, which was bought by Facebook last year for almost 40 million dollars.  With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at what other early social networking portfolios are out there.

As is well known, Friendster was started in 2002, MySpace came along in 2003 and Facebook in 2004.  Several other competitors also appeared between 2003 and 2004.  While the IP holdings of Friendster, MySpace and Facebook have been discussed ad nauseum, many of the smaller social networks have slipped under the radar.

Tagged is one such network.  Tagged was founded in 2004 and marketed as a teen-only site.  Because of this focus, early on Tagged focused on privacy and security.  However, in 2006 the site opened up membership to all ages.  After opening up membership, the site appears to have had some legal troubles, but it is still one of the top  U.S. Online Display Ad Publishers.

Due to their fairly early entry into the space, Tagged has several important IP holdings.  Tagged owns three issued U.S. Patents and has several pending patent applications.

PAT. NO. Title
1 7,974,868 Full-Text Enhancing virally-marketed facilities
2 7,756,926 Full-Text User created tags for online social networking
3 7,529,797 Full-Text User created tags for online social networking

The two patents directed to tags have what appear to be broad claims directed to sharing descriptive tags between users in a social network.

Claim 6 of the ‘797 patent recites:

A social networking method for creating customized tags, the method comprising:

establishing an online social networking environment that supports tags;

operating a user interface that enables a first user of the social networking environment to:

create a first tag describing a second user of the online social networking environment, wherein the first tag represents a trait of the second user as attributed by the first user; and

convey the first tag to the second user to enable the second user to add the first tag to the second user’s tag collection; and

displaying the first tag in a profile page associated with the second user subsequent to the second user accepting the first tag conveyed by the first user.

This claim describes a method for a first user in a social network to create customized tags describing a second user.  The definition of “create” is important in determining the breadth of this claim.  The created tags are shared with the second user so that the second user may add the created tag to their tag collection.  A profile page of the second user displays the accepted tag.

Claim 1 of the ‘926 patent is similar, but instead of allowing users to create customized tags, the user selects tags from a tag repository maintained by the social network operator.

A social networking method comprising:

establishing an online networking environment to enable a plurality of users to engage in a social networking game; and

operating a user interface in the online networking environment to enable a first user of the social networking game to:

select a first tag to convey to a second user, the first tag representing a trait of the second user as attributed by the first user;

convey the first tag to the second user to enable the second user to add the first tag to the second user’s tag collection;

wherein the first tag is displayed in a profile page associated with the second user subsequent to the second user accepting the first tag conveyed by the first user wherein the first user selects the first tag from a second tag repository,

wherein the second tag repository includes a plurality of tags maintained by an operator of the online networking environment.

Both of these patents appear to have broad applicability to social networking applications.  Specifically, these two patents likely cover the sharing of descriptive tags by and between users of a social network, whether the tags are created or selected from a pre-existing list.  Similar features exist in many social networks.

The 7,974,868 patent, while narrower, is interesting because it took an astonishing seven years to issue.  The patent is based on a provisional application that was filed in March of that year, but only issued in July 2011.  Claim 1 of the patent recites:

1. A memory having stored thereon a set of instructions which when executed causes a processor to perform a method for automatic website adjustment based on website performance determined by tracking at least one performance metric indicating a rate of viral growth that is modeled by a virality function, the method, comprising:

collecting performance data related for determining performance of a current implementation of the website, the data comprising measurement of the at least one performance metric indicating the rate of viral growth which indicates website usage;

identifying an option for improvement of the website using the performance data;

analyzing the option for improvement by implementing the option as a test variation;

adjusting the website based on the option for improvement;

determining expected usage trajectory of the website by measuring the viral growth of the website;

wherein, the virality function is modeled as having a discrete time scale;

wherein, the discrete time scale is a week;

computing overlapping models to remove fluctuations within the week.

At first glance, this claim appears to be a fairly broad description of A/B testing improvements to a website.  However, the “wherein” clauses appear to limit the virility function to being based on a time scale of a week.  Thus, it is possible that this claim would not read on performing the testing based on shorter (or longer) periods of time.