Facebook has won a US patent on news feeds behind the kinds of real-time updates that make social-networking Web sites a hit with users.
“The launch of News Feed in 2006 was a pivotal moment in Facebook’s history and changed the way millions of people consumed and discovered information on the site,” Facebook said on Friday by e-mail. “We’re humbled by the growth and adoption of News Feed over time and pleased with being awarded the patent.”
The patent summarizes the “invention” as “a method for displaying a news feed in a social network environment.”
The method was described in US Patent and Trade Office paperwork as including comments and links posted by social network users for sharing with other members of the online community.
That broad concept strikes at the core of Twitter, which lets people share thoughts or observations at any moment of the day using text messages of 140 characters or less.
Twitter analytics team member Kevin Weil said on Monday that users of the service are creating 50 million messages per day.
Word of the patent awarded to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg “et al” this week sparked concern among fans of microblogging service Twitter and other social networking services that thrive on real-time News Feed style updates.
The patent gives Facebook a potential weapon to fend off competitors on an Internet battlefield where social networking is a hot trend, analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley said.
“It is not just Facebook taking on Twitter,” Enderle said. “It is taking on MySpace or any other social networking service. You might even argue it is a defensive move against Google.”
Early this month the Internet search powerhouse added a Buzz social networking feature to its widely used free e-mail service Gmail.
Google Buzz allows Gmail users to get updates about what friends are doing online and offers ways to share video, photos and other digitized snippets in a challenge to social networking stars Facebook and Twitter.
“Facebook is probably more concerned about Google than Twitter and MySpace combined and squared. Any time a 600 pound gorilla enters your room you are pulling out your heavy weapons,” Enderle said.
The patent could be challenged, with Facebook having to prove that it is valid and that news sharing wasn’t being done elsewhere on the Internet prior to the time it was filed in 2006.
“This isn’t about who won the Olympic gold yesterday; this is for sharing what happened to me as well,” said Michael Barclay, a California patent attorney and a fellow at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “That is pretty broad. I would not be surprised if someone had been doing just what is in this patent before 2006.”
One place to look for such evidence would be online social-networking service MySpace, which launched in 2003.
“You have to study the claims of this very carefully,” Barclay said of the patent. “The first part is validity, is the patent any good. My reaction is maybe this patent isn’t any good.”