Zuckerberg patents aim to simplify Facebook messages

The world's attention may be focused on Facebook's initial public offering and the outsize valuation of the company - but the business of innovation continues in the background for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He's been named as a co-inventor on four Facebook patent applications (the top four) published yesterday by the US patent office.

The filings show Facebook is planning a heap of ways to make more sense of the multitude of different message types that users send and receive on the social network. Why? "It is easy for a user to become overwhelmed with the constant stream of incoming messages," Zuckerberg and colleagues admit in the preamble to patent application US 2012/0124483.

This firehose includes updates from pals, inbox mails, event notifiers, apps, web-chat clients and photosharing sites - like recently-acquired Instagram. The idea seems to be to try to make sending and receiving messages a more coherent, less distracting, process.

In patent application US 2012/0124146, for instance, one idea is that the network can learn how you usually communicate with a recipient. So if you normally send Facebook updates to Joe Soap, and then suddenly you begin texting him, the system will ensure your texts arrive in his Facebook inbox, rather than his phone alone.

Another of the patents, US 2012/0124147, suggests Facebook's servers automatically organise messages into related conversation subject threads. Still another, US 2012/0124148 seeks out contextual information related to messages (such as a link to a profile, or a profile picture) of someone who has provided key information in a thread.

None of this is startlingly innovative - but there's a landgrab going on in the computer-implemented invention field as patent lawsuits proliferate - and firms worry they may be the next target of a patent troll or a floundering rival out to make a buck.

For my money, the best Facebook invention revealed this week was this one: the bizarrely jury-rigged smartphone that allowed Zuckerberg to post to Facebook the moment he hit a button to ring the trading bell at NASDAQ as the IPO kicked off.


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