Tech companies file lots of patents for outlandish concepts—it serves as good legal cover for research that might take place several years down the road (and great ammunition in the patent wars that flare up on a depressingly regular basis). But even by the standards of some truly quirky filings, a recent Google patent is pretty extreme.
In short, Google wants to automate social networking with a system that will generate suggestions for personalized reactions or messages. “A suggestion generation module includes a plurality of collector modules, a credentials module, a suggestion analyzer module, a user interface module and a decision tree,” reads the patent abstract. “The suggested reactions or messages are presented by the user interface module to the user.”
What’s the catch? In order to better imitate the flesh-and-blood social networker, Google would need to analyze data from his or her “e-mail systems, SMS/MMS systems, micro blogging systems, social networks or other systems,” according to the patent. That information would find its way to the platform’s “suggestion analyzer module,” which would (in conjunction with other bits of software) create the suggested reactions or messages.
In other words, for the supremely lazy (or those with too many social networks and too little time), Google could eventually produce a method for streamlining interactions with people online. But in order to take advantage of that technology, you’d need to open a significant chunk of your virtual life to Google’s software, something that could irritate privacy advocates; there’s also the likelihood that, if one’s email and other services are provided by companies other than Google, those firms will deny the search-engine giant’s attempt to access their databases. It’s hard to imagine, for instance, a Google rival such as Facebook permitting that level of access to its user data (although if “profile imitators” ever became a popular thing, the social network would just as likely build its own).
But stranger things have happened. If Google does build a product based on this patent, it could certainly help those who feel burned out on social networking—while raising that most meta of questions: what’s the point of networking with people online, if you simply direct a machine to do the bulk of the interacting for you?