It is very easy to tag on Facebook now a days and can enjoy associating people with media but it took almost five years for Mark Zuckerberg to obtain a patent for Tagging and Tagging was arguably the feature that made Facebook the biggest photo site in the world and seeded the idea for creating the platform.
Now the company has finally won a patent for it.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office gave Facebook a patent protecting the ability to select a region in a piece of media (like a photo or video) and associate people or other entities with it. Mark Zuckerberg, longtime designer-turned-product architect Aaron Sittig and former Facebook engineer Scott Marlette were credited as inventors.
Zuckerberg has long talked about photo tagging as the innovation that helped him and other early Facebook employees initially conceive of the idea for the platform. The company did a competitive analysis of all other photo products out on the web and while Facebook didn’t offer features like high resolution or printing, it still outcompeted rivals simply because it centered its product around people, and not around technical capabilities. Last year the company said it was seeing more than 100 million photo uploads a day. It has not updated that statistic since.
Facebook has done well with the Friendster patents and patent applications that it acquired. a patent application for passing personal info between users based on degrees of separation became public. Now, thanks to the Friendster IP purchase, Facebook pretty much owns the technology for publicly identity-tagging digital media of any sort in a database.
Patent number 7,945,653 is titled Tagging digital media. If you added “with someone’s identity,” this would be one of the rare cases where the title would reasonably describe what the patent covers. Here’s the critical first independent claim:
A method comprising: receiving from a device of a first user a selection of an item of digital media, wherein the item of digital media is stored in a database; receiving from the device of the first user an identification of a person associated with the selected item of digital media; responsive to receiving the information identifying the person, sending a notification to a device of a second user that the person has been identified in connection with the item of digital media; and enabling the identified person to reject the identification, wherein the identified user is different from the first user.
Breaking it down, the claim involves the following:
- There is a database of unspecified digital media.
- Someone on a device (computer, smartphone, tablet, or what have you) brings up a file and associates it with the identity of a second person.
- The second person gets a notification and can reject the identification.
That is incredibly broad. Notice what isn’t in that claim as an inherent limitation:
- the context of a social network
- the type of database (or even what might constitute a database)
- in what form the files are used or made available to anyone else
- whether there is any sort of pre-defined relationship between the two users
- what type of digital file is in question: photo, video, ebook, article, web page, audio, or game, for example
This patent isn’t broad enough to cover any conceivable tagging of images, but in terms of commercial power, this is another big club now in Facebook’s hands. Additional claims add details (such as when the person notified is someone other than the one associated with the file or storing the associations between people and files), but they don’t restrict the reach of the first one. An additional independent claim even appears to cover code that would do this:
A computer program product comprising a non-transitory computer-readable storage medium containing computer program code for: receiving from a device of a first user a selection of an item of digital media; receiving from the first user an identification of a person associated with the selected item of digital media; responsive to receiving the information identifying the person, sending a notification to a second user that the person has been identified in connection with the item of digital media; and enabling the identified person to reject the identification, wherein the identified user is different from the first user.
Letting people associate each other with digital material in a database, whether as a way to further document the contents or to make people aware of the files, has become a standard feature in social media. And now Facebook has a great deal of control over who can do this and who can’t.
With photo tagging’s initial success, the company started thinking about other products and verticals that could be reinvented around social behavior. When it became clear that with limited engineering resources, the company wouldn’t be able to create every single possible idea on top of the social graph, it opened up the ability for other third-party developers to do so.
What is tagging? When you tag someone, you create a link to their profile. The post you tag the person in may also be added to that person’s Timeline. For example, you can tag a photo to show who’s in the photo or post a status update and say who you’re with. If you tag a friend in your status update, anyone who sees that update can click on your friend’s name and go to their profile. Your status update may also show up on that friend’s Timeline.
When you tag someone, they’ll be notified. Also, if you or a friend tags someone in your post, the post could be visible to the audience you selected plus friends of the tagged person.
Tags in photos and posts from people you aren’t friends with may appear in Timeline review where you can decide if you want to allow them on your Timeline. You can also choose to review tags by anyone, including your friends.
How does it work? Notifies a friend or Page when you post something that pertains to them, letting them know that they were mentioned;
Makes the post more visible because it appears in the news feed and timeline of the friend or Page you tagged (if the person has set the post to be visible to friends or public).
When a friend or Page is notified that they have been tagged, it increases engagement because they are more likely to comment on or like the activity in which they have been tagged. Without tagging, you could post a nice comment but your friend or the Page owners may never know they were mentioned. However, since your entire post including associated comments is automatically posted onto the wall of whichever friend/Page is tagged, there is an unspoken etiquette of Facebook Tagging that you need to understand.
Does it tag pages? Yes, Tagging a Page from another Page is a nice way to promote other brands in which you may have a relationship, but to do so, you need to be using Facebook as your Page. To change to your Page, click on the down arrow next to home and select your Page
The company won one other patent too: the ability to give gifts in a social networking environment. This one was credited to Jared Morgenstern, who is a product manager on the games team. Gifts were ultimately deprecated in 2010, but virtual goods have become an indirect source of revenue for the company through its currency Credits.
Facebook also applied for four search-related patents that control how results are shown to users based on their social proximity to the information or how often they access it. All of those patents are credited to Christopher Lunt, Nicholas Galbreath and Jeffrey Winner.
Keywords: Facebook, Tagging, Patent, Mark Zukerberg, media