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AN OVERBROAD PATENT ON employing a forwarding service to track online recommendations - This application from Microsoft seeks to patent the idea of...Tracking online product recommendations by modifying a URL when user forwards recommendation to another user and tracking a recommendation flow from the recommending user to the consuming user! 10 minutes of your time can help narrow US patent applications before they become patents. Follow @askpatents on twitter to help.

QUESTION - Have you seen anything that was published before 6/18/2010 that discusses:

  • Tracking of a recommendation to a consuming user by replacing original URL with a trackable URL

If so, please submit evidence of prior art as an answer to this question. We welcome multiple answers from the same individual.

EXTRA CREDIT - Recommendation may be of product, service, etc.

TITLE: Forwarding services for tracking online recommendations

Summary: [Translated from Legalese into English] Receiving a recommended resource identifier from a recommending user, generating a first trackable recommendation identifier based on the recommended resource identifier that is different from the recommended resource identifier, sending the first trackable recommendation identifier to the recommending user, receiving the first trackable recommendation identifier from a first consuming user other than the recommending user, generating a second trackable recommendation identifier based on the first trackable recommendation identifier that is different from the first trackable recommendation identifier, receiving the second trackable recommendation identifier from a second consuming user other than the first consuming user and the recommending user, and tracking a recommendation flow from the recommending user to the first consuming user and from the first consuming user to the second consuming user by looking up the second trackable recommendation identifier.

  • Publication Number: US 20110313833 A1
  • Application Number: US 12/818,170
  • Assignee: Microsoft Corporation
  • Prior Art Date: Seeking prior Art predating 6/18/2010
  • Open for Challenge at USPTO: Open through 6/19/2012
  • Link to Google Prior Art Search - "Find Prior Art"

Claim 1 requires each and every step below:

One or more computer-readable storage media encoding computer-executable instructions for executing a computing process on a computer system, the computing process comprising:

  1. receiving, from a recommending user, a recommended resource identifier that identifies a network resource;

  2. generating a first trackable recommendation identifier based on the recommended resource identifier, wherein the first trackable recommendation identifier is different than the recommended resource identifier and is mapped to the network resource and the recommending user;

  3. sending the first trackable recommendation identifier to the recommending user;

  4. receiving the first trackable recommendation identifier from a first consuming user other than the recommending user;

  5. generating a second trackable recommendation identifier based on the first trackable recommendation identifier, wherein the second trackable recommendation identifier is different than the first trackable recommendation identifier and is mapped to the network resource, the first consuming user, and the recommending user;

  6. receiving the second trackable recommendation identifier from a second consuming user other than the first consuming user and the recommending user; and

  7. tracking a recommendation flow from the recommending user to the first consuming user and from the first consuming user to the second consuming user by looking up the second trackable recommendation identifier.

In English this means:

A computing method comprises:

  1. Receiving a recommended resource identifier from a recommending user;

  2. Generating a first trackable recommendation identifier based on the recommended resource identifier that is different from the recommended resource identifier,

    • 2a. The first trackable recommendation identifier is mapped to the network resource and the recommending user;
  3. Sending the first trackable recommendation identifier to the recommending user;

  4. Receiving the first trackable recommendation identifier from a first consuming user other than the recommending user;

  5. Generating a second trackable recommendation identifier based on the first trackable recommendation identifier that is different than the first trackable recommendation identifier,

    • 5a. The second trackable recommendation identifier is mapped to the network resource, the first consuming user, and the recommending user;
  6. Receiving the second trackable recommendation identifier from a second consuming user other than the first consuming user and the recommending user; and

  7. Tracking a recommendation flow from the recommending user to the first consuming user and from the first consuming user to the second consuming user by looking up the second trackable recommendation identifier.

Good prior art would be evidence of a system that did each and every one of these steps prior to 6/18/2010

You're probably aware of ten pieces of art that meet this criteria already... separately, the applicant is claiming the idea of crediting the recommending user for sending recommendations which are clicked by another user.


"Online recommendations tracking through forwarding service" from the Applicant


What is good prior art? Please see our FAQ.

Want to help? Please vote or comment on submissions below. We welcome you to post your own request for prior art on other questionable US Patent Applications.


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It sounds like how every eCard website used to work, I can't find any specific reference to it though –  Steve Apr 24 at 10:01
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3 Answers 3

Twitter and other social networking services have been replacing regular URLs with trackable URLs (or, more broadly and obviously, using ANY method of tracking user clicks on a site to see who is recommending what) for many years.

Here is just the first article I was able to find: http://techcrunch.com/2009/08/25/twitter-wants-to-track-your-clicks/

Not only is TechCrunch the premier news source for Silicon Valley programmer types, but in 2009 Twitter was already the Social Network to Beat. This style of click tracking -- for recommendations and other huge swaths of consumer behavior -- has been obvious for many years if not decades. I'm sure Amazon has been finding clever ways of tracking recommendations via URLs since its inception in 1994.

Article about Amazon's appetite for recommendation tracking: http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/news/2005/03/67034 -- if Amazon didn't use URL replacement for this, it's only because they didn't have to or found a better way. Frankly I'm surprised that URL forwarders are still a thing; it's much more elegant to use Javascript.

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Skimlinks is a ad network that replaces links (like Amazon products) with links with the referral ID in them (or another affiliate network ID). They have been around since 2006 according to Crunchbase.

Crunchbase profile: http://www.crunchbase.com/organization/skimlinks

Company website: http://skimlinks.com/

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It looks like PayPal implemented this on March 24, 2006.

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=p/gen/referral-faq-outside

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The claims seem to cover a system where the recommender gets separate requestor identifiers for each person recommended. –  George White Apr 27 at 3:39
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