Who would have guessed that the biggest online retailer in the world is actually the inventor of social networks.
Online commerce company Amazon.com (Stock Quote: AMZN) was awarded a patent for “social networking systems” by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which might make some other social networks (cough…Facebook) squirm.
Amazon now has the 7,739,139 patent on “a networked computer system [that] provides various services for assisting users in locating, and establishing contact relationships with other users. For example, in one embodiment, users can identify other users based on their affiliations with particular schools or other organizations.”
The key to understanding this abstract concept is to imagine the aforementioned Facebook… because that’s basically what they are describing. After all, as the patent goes on to say, “the system also provides a mechanism for a user to selectively establish contact relationships or connections with other users, and to grant permissions for such other users to view personal information of the user. The system may also include features for enabling users to identify contacts of their respective contacts. In addition, the system may automatically notify users of personal information updates made by their respective contacts.” But why would Amazon.com, an online commerce site, want a patent that seemingly describes Facebook?
Amazon’s claim to the social networking system is based on its 1998 purchase of PlanetAll, a social networking site launched it 1997 that is considered the precursor to today’s popular social media platforms. Back then, Amazon paid $90 million to Brian Robertson and Warren Adams (who are listed on the newly-issued patent as inventors) for the social network, which was started because, well, coincidentally, Robertson and Adams wanted to stay in touch with their college friends.
“PlanetAll is the most innovative use of the Internet I've seen," Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said at the time of the acquisition in a press release. "It's simply a breakthrough in doing something as fundamental and important as staying in touch. “