More Fanciful? Google Glasses or Useful Online Reviews?


google_glassTwo weeks ago Google quietly obtained a patent that might lead you to wonder whether it could revolutionize online ranking systems, making Internet reviews more accurate and meaningful. Of course, this invention was overshadowed by the published Google application titled Optical Display System and Method with Virtual Image Contrast Control, which relates to Google glassesSee U.S. Patent Application No. 20130063486. But Google glasses merely relate to a wearable optical display that resembles a pair of glass lenses resting on a user’s face.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the cool factor presented by Google glasses, the much cooler and more relevant innovation embodied in U.S. Patent No. 8,396,879 relates to a method of ranking authors and their content in the same framework. I know, far less cool factor, but it could potentially create a completely new ranking system for user comments that helps users distinguish good reviews from bad ones. If Google can pull that off, it would solve so many problems now experienced by companies plagued by hostile, unfair, mean-spirited, damaging reviews. It could also provide a solution for those of us who genuinely want to know what we are going to get or what we might experience.

Indeed, many online stores offer users the ability to comment freely on items they’ve purchased, but these comments often carry unseen bias, both good and bad.  For instance, the reviewer may be an employee of the company that produces the item or a friend of the business owner. Similarly, the reviewer may be a real malcontent, or someone that simply has unrealistic expectations.

By way of illustration, last year I was looking to book a hotel for a business trip and I jumped online to look at some reviews. I am conditioned to expect that there will be a certain number of unhappy people no matter how good a place may be. In one particular review of a hotel that was a 4-star hotel, the reviewer complained that there was a parking fee. Now don’t get me wrong, parking fees and other additional fees can and do add up, but the reviewer’s comment was that one should be able to expect to receive free parking at a 4-star or 5-star hotel when they are paying $200 a night. Interesting. I’m not sure I’ve ever stayed at a 3-star or lesser hotel that did charge for parking, nor can I recall staying at a 4-star or greater hotel that didn’t charge for parking. Also, $200 a night for a 4-star hotel seemed lower than you would expect given the location and time of year. So it was clear to me that this particular reviewer was used to staying in lesser hotels and figured they could splurge and go 4-star without checking the hidden fees, which are admittedly annoying. But wouldn’t it be great to be able to sort through reviews? That would make the Internet much more user-friendly indeed.

Enter Google, who is looking to add an extra dimension to the system of user comments by creating a system that allows other users to rank those who leave comments. Individual users who found a comment to be poor can give that comment a particular score or rank. The average score of a reviewer’s comments can be determined by this system and applied to the user’s reputation. This would help other users gain a better understanding of which comments are trustworthy.

But is this really new? Well, not so much. The patent application that matured into the ‘879 patent was a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/540,024, which was filed on Aug. 12, 2009 and is now U.S. Patent No. 8,150,860. Darn! And I thought there was such promise for cleaning up the Internet. Yikes. I know how Charlie Brown must have felt now when Lucy kept moving the football every Thanksgiving!

So maybe Google glasses are going to be more popular and revolutionary than a method of providing a better mechanism for online reviews. As fanciful as it seems, Google glasses can be worn simply as eyeglasses, they will allow you to record what you see hands free, even share what you are seeing live with friends via an Internet connection.

But isn’t it rather odd that something as fanciful as a workable, hands-free, head-mounted and wearable computer system for the capture and transmission of images and video is more within reach than a workable system for weeding out the nonsense that plagues the Internet in the form of disgruntled reviews and obviously false sales pitches masquerading as reviews?

For the patent geeks among us, claim 1 of the ‘024 patent application seeks coverage for the following:

1. A method comprising: generating a light pattern using a display panel; forming a virtual image from the light pattern utilizing one or more optical components, wherein the virtual image is viewable from a viewing location; receiving external light from a real-world environment incident on an optical sensor, wherein the real-world environment is viewable from the viewing location; obtaining an image of the real-world environment from the received external light; identifying a background feature in the image of the real-world environment over which the virtual image is overlaid; extracting one or more visual characteristics of the background feature; comparing the one or more visual characteristics to an upper threshold value and a lower threshold value; and controlling the generation of the light pattern based on the comparison.

But what exactly does that have to do with Google glasses? It seems nearly incomprehensible. Light patterns? Virtual images? Overlaid? Extracting visual characteristics? Come on! Why can’t patent applications actually be written in simple English that describes what everyone can appreciate is cool and innovative and useful, like ‘a computer that you wear in eyeglasses that records and transmits images and video’? God forbid we actually explain what the invention is, but that is another problem for another day.

So where do I get these Google glasses? Unfortunately, applications for beta testers are now closed, but you can stay informed by signing up for information with Google. So sadly, you can’t get Google glasses and Google doesn’t seem to have a solution for the terrible, destructive and misleading Internet review situation. So for the moment it would seem that both Google glasses and useful online reviews are equally fanciful.

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