Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Now Owned by LinkedIn, Digg’s Patent Portfolio Was All About Its Social News Interface

This week, word got out that various parts of storied social news start-up Digg have now found their way to different buyers, with the site living on as a new entity with Betaworks’, the technical team now at the Washington Post, and the patent portfolio to LinkedIn.

Though Digg isn’t completely dead yet, it’s in eulogy mode, with a flurry of memories of its culture and influence on media and tech, and postmortems about the road not taken.

This article is going to be a bit less emotional: Let’s talk about that patent portfolio. Indeed, LinkedIn bought Digg’s intellectual property, as was first reported by TechCrunch.

A source familiar with the deal described it in more detail: LinkedIn paid a little less than $3.5 million for one awarded patent and 15 to 20 patent applications.

The awarded patent is on the topic of “content visualization,” and it broadly covers the workings of Digg circa 2007, when the patent was filed.

The patent’s claims include users submitting stories, the system checking for duplicates, and then reordering stories based on user votes, and displaying content in various forms like a list, a “swarm” network visualization of content weighted by votes, and on a map.

That specific interface isn’t necessarily used by LinkedIn, though the company does have a social news component called LinkedIn Today. In fact, LinkedIn just added user voting and a trending story display to Today on Friday.

Besides the short-lived blip of Yahoo-Facebook, so far social Web companies have avoided actually trying to use their intellectual property offensively — though many have been shoring it up. For instance, Facebook did a deal to get the Friendster patents, and Google has bought up patents from start-ups like Wowd and Dealmap.

Named as the Digg patent’s inventors are Digg founder Kevin Rose, as well as Michal Migurski, Shawn Allen and Eric Rodenbeck, who are all partners at Stamen Design. It was awarded in November 2010.

The rest of the Digg patent applications don’t appear to have been published, with the exception of one that’s very close to the awarded patent and also bundles in some other applications about content and event visualization.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik