Bill Slawski recently called attention to a patent that describes a way to apply generic ratings to content as part of a process of modifying search results. The patent applies to search results, media content, books, websites and games and describes a way to show modified search results where some of the results are blocked from being displayed.
The patent mentions the phrase “search results” 95 times and the phrase “search result” 40 times.
So if you are interested in search, then this patent may be of interest, particularly if your practice of search encompasses text, video, audio and other forms of media.
Caveat About Google Patents
Google files many patents but it rarely confirms whether or not the algorithm described in the patent is in use in the search results.
At this point nobody knows whether the algorithms described in this patent are currently in use or will be in use.
How to Understand this Patent
In order to understand any patent (or research paper) it’s always a good idea to start reading from the beginning of the document. The beginning of the document is where it tells you what the patent is about.
People who scroll through the patent to locate the “interesting parts” tend to misunderstand what the patent is about because they don’t know the context of those “interesting parts.”
So if we begin at the start of the document, the patent abstract tells us what the patent does and how it does it.
The Problem that the Patent Solves
The section of the patent titled, Background, tells us the problem that this patent solves.
It states that users are interested in accessing content from all over the world. But the problem with getting that content is that different rating systems apply in every country.
Here is what the problem that the patent says it solves:
“Users are interested in accessing content (e.g., television programs, movies, books, videos, music, news articles, Web sites, etc.) that originates from many different countries, regions, or other groups.
Each country, region, or group may use a different rating system used to indicate content which contains material (e.g., violence, pornography, etc.) or which may be unsuitable for particular ages.
However, it can be difficult to understand the rating systems of different countries to filter content.
Accordingly, it is desirable to provide new methods, systems, and media for presenting content based on a generic content rating.”
What the Patent Does
The abstract at the beginning of the patent lists multiple things that the invention described by the patent does.
It begins by stating that it’s a way to present content based on generic ratings.
“Methods, systems, and media for presenting content based on a generic rating are provided.”
One of the prominent features of this patent is how it takes localized ratings, ratings from different countries and then converts them into what Google calls, “generic ratings.”
Generic ratings is a standardized rating system that an algorithm can use to rank and show the content that a user requires.
In this way the algorithm can apply a ratings standard regardless of what country the user is in.
In the below description, the patent uses the name “Process 700” to represent the algorithm.
The patent states:
“Process 700 can convert the content ratings associated with the received search results to generic content ratings….
As a specific example, in instances where a country-specific content rating is a United States content rating of “TV-G,” process 700 can determine that the generic content rating is to be “suitable for all ages.
Process 700 can use any suitable information and/or technique(s) to convert a country-specific content rating to a generic content rating.”
How the Process Does What it Does
Next it goes on to list the different things that the invention does.
This part is interesting because it provides the background information for understanding what it does and how it does it.
I have reformatted the description to make it easier to understand.
This is how it explains what the patent does:
“In some implementations, the method comprises:
- receiving search results;
- determining country-specific content ratings associated with the search results;
- converting the country-specific content ratings to generic content ratings associated with the search results;
- determining that at least one search result is to be blocked based on the generic content ratings and a user-selected generic content rating restriction;
- in response to determining that a search result is to be blocked, removing the search result from the search results to create modified search results;
- causing the modified search results to be presented;
- receiving a selection of content from the presented search results;
- determining a country-specific content rating associated with the selected content;
- converting the country-specific content rating to a generic content rating;
- determining that the selected content is not to be blocked based on the generic content rating and the user-selected generic content rating restriction; and causing the selected content to be presented.”
There are twenty one things listed that this invention does.
Here is a restated (and reformatted) version of the above description that is found in the section of the patent called Claims.
Out of the 21 claims made for the patent, this is the first claim:
“A method for presenting content based on a generic content rating, the method comprising:
- receiving one or more search results corresponding to a search query;
- determining location-specific content ratings associated with the one or more received search results;
- converting, using a hardware processor, the location-specific content ratings to generic content ratings associated with the one or more search results by transmitting an indicator of the location-specific content ratings to a server and receiving, from the server, the generic content ratings;
- determining that at least one search result is to be blocked based on the generic content ratings associated with the one or more search results and a user-selected generic content rating restriction;
- in response to determining that at least one search result is to be blocked, removing the at least one search result from the one or more search results to create modified search results; and causing the modified search results to be presented.”
The other 20 claims go into fine detail of how the first claim is accomplished, like claim number 8:
“A system for presenting content based on a generic content rating…”
Where the Process Happens
The patent describes the devices that a user will use when retrieving the content that is subject to being ranked by ratings.
This is important because it tells us what the context of the ratings and rankings are.
The context is accessing the content through mobile devices, desktop devices, but also through devices like televisions.
This is what the patent says are examples of user devices where the ratings-ranked content will be shown:
“User device …can include any one or more user devices suitable for receiving and/or presenting content.
For example, in some implementations, user device …can include mobile devices, such as a mobile phone, a tablet computer, a laptop computer, a vehicle (e.g., a car, a boat, an airplane, or any other suitable vehicle) entertainment system, a portable media player, or any other suitable mobile device.
As another example, in some implementations, user device …can include non-mobile devices such as a desktop computer, a set-top box, a television, a streaming media player, a game console, or any other suitable non-mobile device.”
The Kinds of Content that is Rated and Ranked
The patent describes the kinds of content that is rated and it seems to cover almost every kind of content that there is at this time.
The patent describes a process of receiving content and then rating that content. The content that is received and rated can be search results, websites, movies and even books.
Here is what it says:
“In some implementations, the mechanisms described herein can receive content (e.g., search results, media content, books, Web sites, and/or any other suitable content) from different countries, locations, and/or groups, and can convert a specific content rating associated with the content to a generic content rating.”
Next it describes using a user-selected content rating to rank the content. For example, if someone is on their phone and they want something that is child-safe.
The patent describes the process:
“In some implementations, the mechanisms can determine a user-selected generic content rating restriction and can determine whether the received content is to be blocked based on the user-selected generic content rating restriction and the generic content rating corresponding to the received content.
In some implementations, in response to determining that the content is not to be blocked, the mechanisms can cause the content to be presented on a user device.”
Takeaway About Modified Search Results
Something that isn’t widely understood is that there are many ways to rank a search result, and those ranking functions don’t always happen in the ranking engine where traditional ranking factors like links and so on happen.
This is the situation where a user asks a query and Google ranks results and then the algorithm modifies the search results and shows the modified search results.
The phrase “modified search results” is repeated twenty times in this patent.
“…removing the at least one search result from the one or more search results to create modified search results; and causing the modified search results to be presented.”
This is something to keep in mind when analyzing the search results and trying to understand why something is ranked. It’s not always because of “ranking factors” because there are many other ranking related processes going on.
Read Bill Slawski’s Article:
Read the Search Modification Based on Generic Ratings Patent
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