Facebook Feb. 23 secured a patent for technology related to its vaunted News Feed, securing the foundation of the social network for years to come.
The patent, which Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg and seven of his subordinates applied for in August 2006, covers a system for "dynamically presenting a news feed about activities of a user of a social network."
This should preserve what has essentially become the most popular user interface for the world's leading social network of 400 million users.
The News Feed automatically draws users' activities within the social network from various databases within the network and displays the content, which can include links to users' content and photos and videos. Users may decide what and how they choose to display in their News Feed for others to see.
Since feeds have become the staple of social networks MySpace and Twitter, some bloggers see the patent as a cautionary flag for rival social networks and services that may choose to render content in a fashion similar to the News Feed.
Facebook is famously protective of the content users create within its walled garden. Invitations from other Internet companies to let Facebook content extend beyond the network are carefully scrutinized. Facebook strives to strike the correct balance between protecting users' privacy and keeping users from leaving the network to spend time on other Internet sites.
If users are constantly leaving Facebook to visit other sites, it decreases time spent on Facebook and reduces the ad impressions Facebook garners through its social ads. This is part of the reason Facebook does not make every piece of content generated by users in its network accessible to search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo.
Patenting the News Feed offers Facebook a powerful hammer to keep growing its social network while preventing other social services from piggybacking on its success. Facebook itself acknowledged the importance of securing the patent in a statement e-mailed to eWEEK:
""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. We're humbled by the growth and adoption of News Feed over time and pleased with being awarded the patent.""
ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick noted that the patent appears to cover implicit user actions, such as when users edit their profiles or friend fellow users. Kirkpatrick noted:
""LinkedIn contacts making new connections or changing their jobs would be the most immediate example that comes to mind. If offering a stream of updates of the non-status messages of friends is something Facebook alone could deliver, that would be a major loss for the rest of the social Web.""
Altimeter Group founding analyst Charlene Li shrugged off the play, though she admitted it may slow a company like LinkedIn down. Li told eWEEK:
""I don't think it's that big a deal. They wouldn't necessarily go after someone like LinkedIn-it would look just plain stupid. More importantly though, it will cause LinkedIn to spend extra cycles to review the patent, which will slow them down.""
The patent will certainly give sapling social sites pause before building a competing service.