Communicating information describing current or activity of computer system users among computer system users

US 8 832 209B2

drawing #0

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A computer-implemented method receiving receives information describing a current or future activity from a user of a computing system via a mobile device. The current activity is an activity occurring at a current time when the information is received, while the future activity is an activity occurring at a future time relative to a time when the information is received. The method transmits the information describing the current or future activity to a backend database coupled to the Internet and remote from the mobile device. The information describing the current or future activity is accessible to at least one recipient having access privilege to information associated with the user and describing the current or future activity via the Internet.

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Claims

1. A method comprising:
(a) receiving, at a computer system, location information and status information from a mobile device of a user of the computer system,
(i) the location information representing a geographic location of the user, and
(ii) the status information manually provided by the user on the mobile device;
(b) storing the location information and the status information of the user in a database maintained by the computer system; and
(c) sending the status information and the location information of the user to an additional user of the computer system for display, the additional user granted access by the user to the status information and the location information by the user.

Show 4 dependent claims

6. A computer program product comprising a non-transitory computer-readable storage medium having instructions encoded thereon that, when executed by a processor, cause the processor to:
(a) store location information and status information of a user of a computing system in a database responsive to receiving the location information and the status information from a mobile device of the user,
(i) the location information representing a geographic location of the user,
(ii) the status information manually provided by the user on the mobile device; and
(b) receive the location information and the status information of the user provided from the mobile device; and
(c) send the location information and the status information of the user to an additional user of the computer system for display, the additional user granted access by the user to the status information and the location information by the user.

Show 3 dependent claims

10. A method comprising:
(a) receiving location information and entered information from a user of a computing system,
(i) the location information representing a geographic location of the user from a mobile device of the user,
(ii) the entered information manually provided by the user on the mobile device;
(b) storing the location information with the entered information of the user in a database maintained by the computer system;
(c) receiving a request from an additional user of the computer system for information associated with the geographic location;
(d) querying the database to retrieve the entered information of the user associated with the location information of the geographic location responsive to receiving the request and responsive to the additional user being granted access by the user to the entered information; and
(e) sending the entered information and the location information of the user retrieved from the database to the additional user for display on a computing device of the second user.

Show 2 dependent claims

13. A computer-implemented method, comprising:
(a) receiving, by a computer system, location information of a device accessed by a user of the computer system at a geographic location, the location information representing the geographic location of the user;
(b) storing the location information of the user in a database maintained by the computer system that associates the location information with the user after receiving the location information; and
(c) sending, from the computer system, a communication generated based at least in part on the location information and information entered by the user and associated with the location information via the device for display to an additional user granted access by the user to the location information.

Show 7 dependent claims

Description

This application is a continuation of application Ser. No. 12/910,185, filed Oct. 22, 2010, now U.S. Pat. No. 8,005,911, which is a continuation of application Ser. No. 11/871,190, filed Oct. 12, 2007, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,822,823, which is a continuation of application Ser. No. 10/149,203, filed Sep. 11, 2002, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,284,033, which was the National Stage of International Application No. PCT/IB00/01995, filed Dec. 13, 2000, and which claims priority from Application No. 60/170,844, filed Dec. 14, 1999, each of which is incorporated by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to systems and methods for facilitating communication between mobile Internet users and for facilitating electronic commerce that is tailored to the communicated information. More particularly, the present invention relates to techniques for allowing users of Internet-capable mobile devices to communicate in a manner that takes into account user identity and profile, user status, user present and future/intended activity, user present and future/intended location, and time duration and for allowing merchants to promote goods and services in a more effective manner based on the user's communicated information and behavior profile.

As the Internet becomes more accepted and useful, there has been a tremendous amount of interest in endowing mobile devices, such as cellular phones, laptop computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), pagers, and the like, with wireless Internet capability. Emails and access to web search engines are often cited as the two Internet applications that users wish to have access to while being away from their desktop Internet terminal. As manufacturers turn their attention to the wireless Internet market, consortiums and standards have evolved for bringing the power of the Internet to the wireless and miniaturized world of mobile devices. By way of example, technical proposals such as the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) and mobile Internet (mobile IP) have received much attention in the press as of late.

As the wireless mobile Internet area is in its infancy and market penetration has been rather low, much of the current attention is directed toward issues involved in achieving an acceptable, data transmission rate, data security, and reliability via the wireless medium and in bringing desktop-type applications, which the users have long enjoyed on their desktop terminals, to the small screen of the typical mobile device. However, there has been less attention to other important implications of wireless Internet access, particularly implications that do not apply to stationary, desk-bound Internet users.

It is reasoned by the inventor herein that one implication of wireless Internet computing is that the mobile user's location may dynamically change with time as the mobile user moves about during his day. Since his Internet access is through a portable mobile device, the mobile user essentially carries the whole Internet with him from location to location. Accordingly, wireless mobile Internet access is capable of a whole range of applications vastly different from those applicable to stationary, desktop Internet access. With convenient mobile Internet access, the user may readily update his information to the Internet as well as utilize the Internet to search for information pertaining to other users, for example. For mobile Internet users, time and location become very important dimensions of the communication experience.

Furthermore, it is expected that mobile users will utilize wireless Internet access in a manner that is more integrated with their daily routines than their deskbound counterparts. Because of the small size, convenience, and portability of the portable Internet access devices, it is expected that mobile users will integrate Internet technology into their daily activities in ways that are simply not possible before. By way of example, a user employing an Internet-capable cellular phone may have Internet access while shopping, commuting, dining, strolling about town, and the like. It is expected that mobile Internet users will access the Internet to receive information, to communicate, to engage in electronic commerce, and the like while moving about handling their day-to-day chores. In contrast, deskbound users, because of the lack of mobility of their Internet access, are typically restricted to accessing the Internet only when at home, in the office, or at a location where Internet access through a desktop terminal may be found.

Two of the most challenging but potentially useful areas in wireless mobile Internet access involve mobile user coordination and electronic commerce. Mobile user coordination refers to time-dependent, activity-dependent and/or location-dependent coordination among individual mobile Internet users to enable them to coordinate in order to participate in a certain activity or accomplish a certain goal, either in the present time or at some future point in time. By way of example, a mobile Internet user may wish to coordinate an impromptu gathering with selected friends and may wish to use the Internet to both gather information about the friends' availability, current location, and/or current/planned activities and to invite the friends to meet at a specified location at a specified time. As another example, a mobile Internet user may indicate that he intends to be at some particular place in the future and invite/instruct others to meet at the same place. As yet another example, a mobile Internet user may be interested in a certain activity (e.g., shopping, playing tennis) at some specified location at some specified time (either in the immediate future or at some specified time in the future) and may employ the Internet to publish his intention to invite either selected others or anyone interested to participate.

Electronic commerce based on user location and activity information is another area that merchants are highly interested in. If the user past, current, and future activity and location are known, such information in conjunction with the user's behavioral and/or purchasing profile may allow a merchant to more precisely tailor the offering of their products or services and communicate such offering to the user to maximize the chance of purchase.

In the current art, users may attempt to employ emails to inform others of his coordination effort. However, even if emails become widely accessible by mobile Internet users, there are drawbacks to using emails for mobile user coordination purposes. For one, emails owes it popularity partly to the fact that it allows the user to attend to the emails only when convenient. The rest of the time, the received emails sit patiently in the receiver's mailbox, waiting to be read. However, this manner of use is incompatible with mobile user coordination of events that are location-dependent and are perishable with the passage of time. By the time the recipient gets around to reading his email, the time for the event may have already passed. Additionally, email is a push medium, which intrudes into the recipient's daily routine. This is particularly disadvantageous to mobile phone users who may wish to be notified with an audible warning (such as a ring) as soon as an email arrives.

Furthermore, email communication is intrusive in that it presumes that the recipients wish to receive and review the information sent by the senders. In fact, most Internet users nowadays are deluged with emails, most of them may even be well-intentioned, all of which require an undue amount of time every day to review and respond. Users resent this and for many users, the response has been to filter emails, either manually or automatically, so that only the urgent emails (e.g., those from superiors, loved ones, or work-related) are attended to right away and the rest ignored until a convenient time (such as at the end of the day or on weekends). Again, this manner of use is also incompatible with the needs of mobile user coordination pertaining to events which may be location-specific and time-sensitive.

Furthermore, unless a user sends out an email or responds to one, email communication does not allow others to query for one's availability, current location, mood, intended activity, location in the future, etc. without being intrusive. By way of example, a user cannot readily inquire about the current location or availability of another user without sending an email and requesting a reply or in some manner require a response from the other user, who may be busy or simply uninterested in the reason for the inquiry.

Additionally, email content tends to be free-form and is thus difficult for merchants to easily utilize the information contained therein for the purpose of determining the user's location, present and intended activity, and the like. Since such information is of great interest to merchants, the difficulty of ascertaining such information from free-form email communication is a drawback. Additionally, the free-form nature of email also renders it less convenient as a communication tool for mobile Internet users. This is because most mobile Internet users loath to enter free-form data on the miniaturized keyboard/handwriting recognition pad that are furnished with most mobile Internet devices today.

With regard to the need to furnish time-relevant location information for mobile Internet users, it has been proposed that the user's current location can be tracked using location-finding technologies such as Global Positioning System (GPS). In fact, it has been proposed that GPS circuitries be incorporated into mobile Internet devices in the future. However, there are drawbacks to such a proposal. For one, GPS tracking seriously threatens the privacy of the user of the GPS-enabled mobile Internet device since it renders it possible to track the user at every instant. For most users, this is the equivalent of being followed throughout the day and is simply an unwelcomed intrusion. The integration of GPS technology into mobile Internet devices also involves additional power requirement, complex circuitries and costs, both for the mobile Internet devices and for the transmission networks that handle them. As the majority of mobile Internet devices, as well as their support infrastructures, are not GPS-enabled today, it is also not possible to offer services based on GPS technology until a sufficient number of users and service providers have upgraded their equipment to work with GPS.

Still furthermore, although location-finding technologies such as GPS can track a given user's current location, no information is available about that user's current activity, future activity, intended future location at a specified time, and/or availability/willingness to participate. Yet, these are some of the pieces of information that may be very useful in a mobile user coordination application.

Group calendar programs are another class of desktop application programs that may conceivably be used for coordinating mobile users. However, most group calendar products are directed toward small, closed groups, i.e., groups whose members are known and/or formed in advance to further a particular goal such as employees of a business. The available group calendar products are, for the most part, ill adapted for use via the Internet wherein the number and identity of users may not be known in advance and wherein the range of activities proposed may be infinite. By way of example, most group calendar programs are not well adapted for allowing previously unknown users to sign on and perform searches and for allowing the users to control the privacy settings for individual items of information about themselves. As another example, group calendars tend to work by posting information on calendars of others, a paradigm that is unsuitable when the size of the group that a user wishes to gain expose to may be as large as the Internet community itself. In fact, most group calendars become unmanageable when the size of the group become too large and the sheer volume of calendared events overwhelm most users (giving rise to a problem not unlike the spam email problem). This paradigm also tends not to work well on the miniaturized screens of most mobile Internet devices, which render it difficult to view a large amount of displayed data.

Additionally, because calendar products tend to be employed by users to plan their day and activities, the majority of which involve private activities and typically do not include other users, most of the entries therein are inapplicable for use in mobile user coordination applications (which, by design, are directed toward sharing information among mobile users). Also, daily calendar information (versus posted information designed to invite participation by others) is typically considered highly private by most users, and a user tend to be reluctant to disclose such information to others (which partly explains the relative lack of use of such products nowadays and where they are used, only for work-related purposes and work-related entries among small, known group of people). Because most people tend to associate a greater degree of privacy with their calendar entries, using calendar information for the purpose for promoting goods and services by merchants may provoke an unduly negative reaction among users.

A case can be made for maintaining multiple calendars, one of which could be designated for public/semi-public access so that other users can review the calendared information for the purpose of deciding whether they wish to participate. However, such a solution tends to be impractical as users typically do not want to have to keep track of which calendar to use for which purpose since the goal of using a calendar, after all, is to centralize information in one location for the purpose of planning one's day.

Furthermore, most group calendar products are not well adapted to the needs of mobile Internet users, who inherent characteristics is constantly changing location. This is hardly surprising since group calendar products were developed primarily for the desktop Internet users. Furthermore, most group calendar products also involve unstructured data entry, which tends to be less attractive for mobile Internet users who, as mentioned earlier, have to contend with the limited screen space and keyboard/handwriting recognition pad of their mobile Internet devices. Still further, the group calendar products currently available, being developed for desktop computers, tend to require a large amount of memory, permanent storage, and processing power to run. Most of these programs exist as executable codes permanently stored on the desktop computers. Permanent and random access memory, as well as computing power and battery life, are of course limited resources on mobile Internet devices, thus rendering the current generation of group calendar products unsuitable for use on the mobile Internet devices.

Instant messaging, which is a technology developed when Internet access was primarily accomplished via desktop terminals, also suffer many of the same deficiencies. Through instant messaging, it is now possible to inform other users of the user's current activity and availability. However, instant messaging as it is currently implemented does not account for the mobile nature of users (as would be the case when users access the Internet wirelessly via mobile Internet devices) or the time-dependent nature of the activities involved. For example, there is no established facility within instant messaging to allow users to invite others to a planned activity happening at some predefined time in the future at some predefined location (or allow others to search for the same). Instant messaging applications also require downloading executable codes, a requirement that is typically unwelcomed by users of the mobile Internet devices who are constantly challenged with doing more with less power consumption, and less computing and memory resources.

Because of these shortcomings, these technologies, which were developed when desktop Internet access were the predominant mode of access, do not adequately serve the needs of the mobile Internet users. As front-ends for electronic commerce applications, they also have many deficiencies. In view of the foregoing, there are desired improved techniques for allowing mobile Internet users to communicate for the purpose of coordinating activities and to allow merchants to employ user identity and behavior/shopping profile, user status, user present and future/intended activity, user present and future/intended location, and/or time duration in the promotion of goods and services.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The invention relates, in one embodiment to a computer-implemented method implemented via the Internet for coordinating an activity between a user of a mobile Internet device and other users communicating through the Internet. The method includes receiving activity information pertaining to the event from the user via the mobile Internet device. The activity pertains to an activity occurring during a time period that overlaps the time the activity information is received. The method further includes transmitting the activity information to a backend database coupled to the Internet, the backend database being remote from the mobile Internet device. The method further includes rendering the activity information accessible to at least one recipient via the Internet. The recipient represents a subset of the users coupled to the Internet and having access privilege to information pertaining to the event involving the user.

The invention also relates, in another embodiment, to a computer-implemented system for coordinating an activity between a user of a first mobile Internet device and other users communicating through the Internet. The computer-implemented system includes a server arrangement coupled to the Internet. The server arrangement includes first codes and second codes. The first codes is configured to implement a first application program using a web-based paradigm on the first mobile Internet device. The first application program is implemented with the first codes transmitted from the server arrangement to the first mobile Internet device. The first application program is configured to receive activity information pertaining to the activity from the user. The activity pertains to an activity occurring during the time period overlapping the time the activity information is received. The computer-implemented system also includes a backend database coupled to the server arrangement. The backend database is configured to be in communication with the first application program via the Internet. The backend database is configured to receive the activity information from the first application program. The backend database is remote from the first mobile Internet device. The second codes is configured to implement a second application program using the web-based database on a second mobile Internet device. The second application program is implemented with the second codes transmitted from the server arrangement to the second mobile Internet device. The second application program is configured to render the activity information to a recipient via the second mobile Internet device. The recipient represents a subset of the users coupled to the Internet and having access privilege to information pertaining to the event involving the user.

The invention relates, in one embodiment to a computer-implemented method implemented via the Internet for coordinating a future event between a user of a mobile Internet device and other users communicating through the Internet. The method includes receiving future activity information pertaining to the future event from the user via the mobile Internet device. The future activity pertains to an activity occurring at a future time relative to a time the future activity information is received. The method further includes transmitting the future activity information to a backend database coupled to the Internet, the backend database being remote from the mobile Internet device. The method further includes rendering the future activity information accessible to at least one recipient via the Internet. The recipient represents a subset of the users coupled to the Internet and having access privilege to information pertaining to the future event involving the user.

The invention also relates, in another embodiment, to a computer-implemented system for coordinating a future event between a user of a first mobile Internet device and other users communicating through the Internet. The computer-implemented system includes a server arrangement coupled to the Internet. The server arrangement includes first codes and second codes. The first codes is configured to implement a first application program using a web-based paradigm on the first mobile Internet device. The first application program is implemented with the first codes transmitted from the server arrangement to the first mobile Internet device. The first application program is configured to receive future activity information pertaining to the future event from the user. The future activity pertains to an activity occurring at a future time relative to a time the future activity information is received. The computer-implemented system also includes a backend database coupled to the server arrangement. The backend database is configured to be in communication with the first application program via the Internet. The backend database is configured to receive the future activity information from the first application program. The backend database is remote from the first mobile Internet device. The second codes is configured to implement a second application program using the web-based database on a second mobile Internet device. The second application program is implemented with the second codes transmitted from the server arrangement to the second mobile Internet device. The second application program is configured to render the future activity information to a recipient via the second mobile Internet device. The recipient represents a subset of the users coupled to the Internet and having access privilege to information pertaining to the future event involving the user.

Another aspect of the present invention is a computer-implemented method implemented via the Internet for facilitating commercial offering to a user of a mobile Internet device, said commercial offering pertaining to a product or a service provided by a merchant. The method comprises receiving a first set of data pertaining to an activity from said user via said mobile Internet device, said activity pertaining to an activity occurring during a time period which overlaps a time that said activity information is received, said first set of data including an activity type and location information. The said first set of data is transmitted to a backend database coupled to said Internet, said backend database being geographically remote from said mobile Internet device. The first set of data is compared with a second set of data in said backend database, said second set of data including activity and location information received from said merchant prior to said receiving said first set of data from said user. If information in said first set of data satisfies conditions specified in said second set of data, the commercial offering available is rendered to said user via said Internet device through said Internet.

Preferably, the second set of data also includes time information, wherein said commercial offering is rendered to said user only if said time period also overlaps with a time specified by said time information.

Preferably, the activity type is shopping.

Still preferably, the activity type is eating.

Still preferably, the second set of data includes age information, wherein said commercial offering is rendered to said user only if an age of said user satisfies conditions specified by said age information.

Still preferably, the commercial offering represents an electronic coupon to be redeemed at a store operated by said merchant.

Yet another aspect of the present invention is a computer-implemented method implemented via the Internet for facilitating commercial offering to a user of a mobile Internet device, said commercial offering pertaining to a product or a service provided by a merchant. The method comprises receiving a first set of data pertaining to an activity from said user via said mobile Internet device, said activity pertaining to an activity occurring during a time period which overlaps a time that said activity information is received, said first set of data including an activity type and location information. The first set of data is transmitted to a backend database coupled to said Internet, said backend database being geographically remote from said mobile Internet device. Parameters in a second set of data is compared with a third set of data in said backend database, said second set of data including said first set of data and data pertaining to an activity entered by another user different from said user, said third set of data including activity and location information received from said merchant prior to said receiving said first set of data from said user. If information in said second set of data satisfies conditions specified in said third set of data, the commercial offering available to said user is rendered via said Internet device through said Internet.

Preferably, the third set of data also includes time information, wherein said commercial offering is rendered to said user only if said time period also overlaps with a time specified by said time information.

Preferably, the third set of data includes age information, wherein said commercial offering is rendered to said user only if an age of said user satisfies conditions specified by said age information.

Still another aspect of the present invention is a computer-implemented method implemented via the Internet for facilitating commercial offering to a user of a mobile Internet device, said commercial offering pertaining to a product or a service provided by a merchant. The method comprises receiving a first set of data pertaining to an activity from said user via said mobile Internet device, said activity pertaining to an activity occurring during a time period which overlaps a time that said activity information is received, said first set of data including an activity type and location information. The first set of data is transmitted to a backend database coupled to said Internet, said backend database being geographically remote from said mobile Internet device. Parameters in a second set of data are compared with a third set of data in said backend database, said second set of data including said first set of data and historical purchase history by said user, said third set of data including activity and location information received from said merchant prior to said receiving said first set of data from said user. If information in said second set of data satisfies conditions specified in said third set of data, rendering said commercial offering available to said user via said Internet device through said Internet.

Preferably, the purchase history by said user is updated in said backend database if said electronic coupon is redeemed.

Preferably, the first set of data also includes time information, wherein said commercial offering is rendered to said user only if said time period also overlaps with a time specified by said time information.

Still preferably, the third set of data includes age information, wherein said commercial offering is rendered to said user only if an age of said user satisfies conditions specified by said age information.

Further aspects of the present invention include computer program products, including computer readable media comprising instructions. These instructions enable one or more computers to perform the methods disclosed above.

These and other features of the present invention will be described in more detail below in the detailed description of the invention and in conjunction with the following figures.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The present invention is illustrated by way of example, and not by way of limitation, in the figures of the accompanying drawings and in which like reference numerals refer to similar elements and in which:

FIG. 1 is a graphical depiction of one exemplary implementation.

In FIG. 2, three sample views are provided.

In FIG. 3, an explanation of the two modes of operation is provided.

In FIG. 4, an exemplary system architecture is proposed.

In FIG. 5, exemplary registration and log-in procedures are illustrated.

FIG. 6 shows greater details pertaining to one exemplary registration procedure.

In FIG. 7, exemplary application flows are illustrated to show how the service would normally be used.

In FIG. 8, exemplary views of the public mode and the private mode are illustrated.

In FIG. 9, exemplary views of the mates screen and the sign-on screen are shown.

In FIG. 10, exemplary views of e-coupon activity are shown.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS

The present invention will now be described in detail with reference to a few preferred embodiments thereof as illustrated in the accompanying drawings. In the following description, numerous specific details are set forth in order to provide a thorough understanding of the present invention. It will be apparent, however, to one skilled in the art, that the present invention may be practiced without some or all of these specific details. In other instances, well known process steps and/or structures have not been described in detail in order to not unnecessarily obscure the present invention.

In accordance with one aspect of the present invention, there is provided a communication system implemented over the Internet for allowing users of Internet-capable mobile-devices (herein mobile Internet users) to make available and to control the sharing of information about himself (or other users), availability status for various modes of communication (e.g., by phone, by email, and/or pager), activity (present or planned), location (present or planned), and the time duration valid for such present or planned activity. Since the postings may include information not only about the user profile, status, and current activity but also about future planned activity, location (current and planned), and the time component, the communication system proposed is highly suitable for mobile Internet usage, particularly in the area of mobile user coordination wherein the relevance of the communication is highly dependent on the status/activity/location/time information pertaining to various users. Furthermore, the proposed communication system permits a user to announce his present or future location activity status to multiple people at once, who can view it from the system website at the time of their choosing. The proposed communication system also increases the likelihood of chance encounters (through the use of the public mode, for example) and enables users to communicate simple invitations in an unobtrusive manner, which, if they had been issued via emails, would have been perceived as spamming. Furthermore, unlike group calendars which work well for planned time but does not work well for unplanned activities, the proposed communication system works particularly well for a user or group of users who want to find others to take advantage of unplanned time or a block of time that has suddenly become available.

Among the first considerations of the proposed communication system is ease of data entry for mobile Internet users, reduced resource requirements for executing the application, as well as gaining a critical mass of user participation. Ease of data entry is critical for mobile Internet users since mobile Internet devices are typically severely limited in its data entry capability (e.g., most do not have a full size keyboard to save space), its display capability (e.g., most have a small screen to facilitate portability and to reduce power usage). To this end, the inventive application employs innovative interfaces to reduce the amount of data entry and further to reduce the number of screen jumps or scrolling that the user has to perform while entering data. As will be shown in the exemplary implementation below, extensive use of drop-down lists is employed whenever possible to allow data entry by the point-and-click (or point-and-tap) method. As one example, it is envisioned that location entry may be made by tapping on a map displayed on the screen. It should be noted that the current location status is self-declared. Furthermore, the selectable items in the drop-down lists are intelligently ordered so that the items most likely to be selected will be presented first in order to minimize scrolling. By way of example, locations that the user most frequently visit may be listed in the drop-down list for entered locations. As another example, context analysis may be employed to present more intelligent choices (e.g., presenting time selections of 11:30 AM, noon, and 12:30 PM first when the action relates to lunch instead of presenting time selections for the evening).

Reduced resource requirement is addressed by the innovative methods described herein, which eliminates the use of exotic and power-hungry technologies such as GPS for location determination. As will be discussed later herein, the invention preferably requests the location description from the user in order to maximize the chance that such description will be understood by the intended recipient and to allow the user some measure of control over the privacy of the input information. As noted, the location information is self-declared.

Further, unlike prior art group calendar programs, the inventive technique preferably requires little, if any, resident executable codes, thus minimizing the need to store such codes permanently in the mobile Internet device and/or the need to download and install such codes. All these techniques reduces the processing, memory and/or I/O requirements, which contribute to lower power consumption and render the inventive communication system more adaptable for use with mobile Internet devices.

In one embodiment, the user profiles, status, and posted information for mobile user coordination purposes are stored in a backend database system, which is coupled to the Internet and remote from the mobile Internet devices, to reduce the need to store large volumes of data locally on the mobile Internet devices. The database of user profiles, status, and posted information may then be accessed by the mobile Internet users through their mobile Internet devices using a web-based paradigm (e.g., by filling out webpages which are served up to the user upon accessing the service's website) in order to reduce the need to download executable codes or to store executable codes on the mobile Internet devices.

Preferably, updates of user profile and status, as well as posting of information occur through webpage entries to be uploaded to the backend system, which resides in the Internet. Likewise, search parameters may also be inputted via webpage data entry. To minimize power, memory, and processing requirements on the part of the mobile Internet devices, memory and processing-intensive tasks such as database storage, database updates, database searches, and the like preferably occur remotely at the backend system instead locally on the mobile Internet devices. Communication of search results and other forms of communicated information between the backend system and the individual users also preferably occur through webpages. Data entry of user information, profile, and status, as well as searches through the profiles, status updates, and posted information associated with other users are accomplished through the use of web-based forms, which both minimize/eliminate the need for local executable codes and facilitate compatibility across different mobile Internet devices.

A critical mass of user participation is required to make any application that rely on users sharing data useful. To address this point, innovative methods are described herein to make the service more convenient for users, as well as to arouse potential user's desire to be part of the system for the purpose of communicating with others.

In accordance with one aspect of the invention, privacy is protected since the sharing of the posted information is fully controlled by the user himself. In one embodiment, the location information (present and/or future) is entered by the user himself through the mobile Internet device, thereby giving him full control of whether to let the system (and thus anyone else) know his location information. This is one important advantage of the present invention. As will be discussed later, even after the user enters his location information, privacy protection is provided by allowing the user to control the dissemination of the posted information.

Another advantage of this mode of information location entry is that the information entered may take any form that may be understood by the intended recipient. The location information can be fully descriptive (e.g., Restaurant Mikasa on Main Street) to ensure understanding or in a secret code that is only understood among selected friends (e.g., place where we usually meet for lunch) to provide an additional measure of privacy. The ability to control the content of the location information, which is not available with location-finding technologies such as GPS, allows the content to be tailored for improved understanding and/or privacy and is an important benefit of the present invention.

Another important benefit of this mode of location information entry is the ability to include and utilize location information for communication purposes in the communication system of the present invention without requiring the use of complicated location-finding technologies such as GPS, which would increase the power consumption, cost, and complexity of the mobile Internet devices. In this manner, the communication system proposed can be implemented today without requiring updates by users and wireless service providers to GPS technology. With the current method of information entry, users can communicate their location information irrespective whether the person posting the information or the person accessing the posted information has the ability to receive and/or understand GPS information.

Although this method of location information entry may not furnish instantaneous location updates all the time, such is not an important issue in most mobile user coordination applications. Because time is another component of the information entered, other users may readily ascertain, from the data pertaining to when the location information is updated, the nature of the activity involved, the expiration time and/or common sense, whether the posting is still valid. By way of example, location data about a movie (e.g., watching a movie at the theater on 5th Street) is probably not valid if entered more than six hours ago. As another example, location data about lunch (e.g., meeting friends for lunch at restaurant Mikasa on Main Street) is most likely invalid if the current time is evening. Of course, if the activities entered are accompanied by explicit time duration information (e.g., watching a movie theater on 5th Street until 8 PM), another user accessing such information may readily determine whether the posting is still valid in view of the current time. In one embodiment, expired activity entries are either not displayed or clearly marked as such (e.g., previous known status) as soon as the current time exceeds the end time of the activity entry.

Although user entry for location information is one advantageous mode of operation, it is contemplated that as future automatic location-finding technologies are phased into mobile Internet devices, the user may also utilize the location finding information to assist in the entry of his current location information. By way of example, GPS coordinates, the location of the wireless transmitter which the user employs for wireless communication, the use of the wireless phone network to determine user location, and the like, may be used as a substitute for or a supplement to the current location information entered by the user.

An important aspect of the present invention pertains to the ability to furnish future location information. For mobile user coordination applications, specifically in situations where users try to coordinate an event to happen in the future at some location, this information is of course highly useful. Again, the future location information may be entered by the user in the same way that he enters his current location information, i.e., via the user interface of the mobile Internet device. This is an important advantage since there is no simple way to accomplish the entry of future location with location-finding technologies, such as GPS, since location-finding technologies are useful only for finding a current location. Although electronic databases of locations exist and theoretically could allow a user to look up the information pertaining to a location other than his current location, this is not easily or conveniently done today due to the limitations in transmission speed, display screen size, memory and/or storage of most mobile Internet devices.

The inclusion of the time component, in addition to furnishing information about the probable validity of the activity/location posted, also facilitates the posting of information pertaining to a future planned event at some future point in time and/or location. This is an important advantage since it allows users to communicate not only about current activity/location but also about intentions or proposals regarding a future activity and/or location. This has tremendous applications in the mobile user coordination applications as it allows the planning of, invitation to, and/or searching for events that has yet to happen. By way of example, a user may now post information pertaining to a proposed meeting at a certain location at a certain time period and make the posting accessible to selected users or to the public to allow them to plan accordingly.

In order for other users or groups of users to access such posted information, access privilege needs to be granted by the original posting user. Access privilege can be granted to individual users, to all users belonging to predefined groups, or even to the entire public (e.g., for information that the original posting user does not deem to be highly private). Further, different items of information pertaining to a particular user may have different access privilege associated therewith. By way of example, a particular user may grant the public access to his name and email address but may withhold from the public the privilege to check on his current location and/or email address (which may be made available only to selected friends, for example).

In one embodiment, the Internet-capable mobile devices represent Internet-capable cellular phones although, as mentioned earlier, other devices including laptop computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs), pagers, and the like, may also employ the techniques disclosed herein. Preferably but not necessarily, the communication system is implemented such that the front-end for posting information or reviewing the posted information is accessible through a web browser (i.e., an application for accessing websites and webpages). In the case of Internet cellular phones, the front-end may be a manufacturer-specific web browser or one that adheres to an industry standard, e.g., the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) standard. Even more preferably, access to the inventive communication system for the purpose of posting information and/or accessing the posted information by others (and/or other communication via the inventive communication system) may be accomplished via standard browser technologies (e.g., HTML, XML, Java, ActiveX, and/or the like) so that no download or installation is necessary.

Generally speaking, a user registered with the inventive communication system may use the Internet to access the system for updating information about himself. As mentioned earlier, this information includes not only profile information (e.g., name, phone number, email address, hobby, zodiac signs, blood group, favorite movie star, etc.) and availability information (e.g., available for telephone calls, available for chats, available for activity, etc.) but also current activity, current location (if applicable) and the duration of such current activity (if applicable). By way of example, a user may update his information to indicate that he is dining at a specific restaurant until 9 PM. This information may be made available to selected people to whom the posting user has granted permission earlier. The information may be simply updated to the system backend (which includes a webserver subsystem as well as any necessary gateway serverssuch as those offered by cellular service providersand a database subsystem for storing and accessing user information) to render them accessible to users having the proper access privilege. Alternatively or additionally, the posting of information may cause the posted information (or a notification pertaining thereto) to be automatically sent to selected users in the form of a link to a webpage or email.

In the mobile user coordination context, an invite facility is provided to permit a user to send invitations to selected other users (or to the public) to invite participation in a current or planned event. By way of example, a user may invite selected other users to a movie or tennis game by posting the activity, time and/or location pertaining to the event and send such information to the backend system for access. The event itself need not happen presently or even planned. The invitation may take the form of a query, for example, to allow the user sending out the invitation to ascertain the identity, the level of availability and/or willingness of the invitees in the proposed activity. Invitation may be used a way to indicate to a familiar group of users of one's current or proposed activity/location/time to allow others to respond appropriately, or may be used as a way to publish one's current or proposed activity/location/time to users known or unknown to facilitate meeting new people.

In some context, an invitation may take the form of a request and may carry the force of a command, depending on the relationship between the sender and the invitee (e.g., an invitation between a boss and a subordinate in the context of work may imply that there is no option as to participation on the part of the invitee/subordinate). This may be true if the communication is employed to facilitate work coordination among employees, for example.

Once the invitation is sent to the backend system, it may be made available for review by those who have been granted the proper access privilege. Alternatively or additionally, a message may be sent out to the invitees to alert them of the presence of the invitation so that a more rapid response can be facilitated. The option to be alerted may be specified by the sender, may be handled automatically by the system, or may be specified as an option by the recipient based on some filtering criteria.

In accordance with one aspect of the present invention, there is provided a search facility wherein a user may search among all users and/or posted information (or at least users and/or information to which the searcher has access privilege) for postings or users based on some search criteria. Since substantially all user profiles and posted information are kept in the database subsystem, such data is available to those having the proper access privilege. By way of example, a certain user may perform a search among selected ones of her friends for those currently engaged in shopping activities or planning to go shopping. As another example, a certain user may perform a search to check on the status, location, or activity pertaining to a specific other user. As another example, a given user may wish to search for anyone in the public who is interested in a particular activity, who may be in a particular location, or who may have a certain profile characteristic of interest. Since many of the items of information pertaining to user activities are time-sensitive, searches preferably take into account the time component whenever appropriate (e.g., for activity currently taking place or proposed in the future). Along with user profile and activity, the invention permits users to find one another based on location and time, as well as having a degree of control over the privacy of their user profile and posted information.

By implementing the proposed communication system on the web and allowing users to perform searches through the database of user profile/status/posted information, the present invention facilitates meeting people in a way that is simply unattainable before. The fact that the posted information pertains to current activities or proposed activities of mobile Internet users, and includes both the location and time dimensions, means that a user looking for partners for activities now has unprecedented exposure and access to an audience that is potentially as large as the Internet user base itself. By permitting a user to selectively grant/withhold access by other users to the information posted, privacy is enhanced. It is contemplated that privacy control setting may be provided to allow a given user to control whether another user or group of user has access to none, to a part, or to all of the information pertaining to the given user. By way of example, a given user may decide that some users may be granted access only to certain types of postings or even only part of the information in the postings and may set the privacy control setting associated with these information items accordingly. Of course privacy control setting may be associated with any aspect of the user's profile, status, location, time, etc. and may be set individually for specific users who may wish to access the given user's information (e.g., granting John access to the user's name and email but not business address). The point is that privacy control setting, if desired, can be associated with any item of information pertaining to a particular user to allow that user to finely control access by other users, groups of users, or the public. For usability reasons, however, groups of information may be grouped together and have a common privacy control setting in order to simplify access control.

Exemplary Process Flows

Exemplary process flows for signing up a user, for login, for private mode and public operations are shown below for users of Internet-enabled cellular phones. It should be noted that the specific process flows disclosed below are only exemplary and specific implementations may vary. Accordingly, it will be apparent to one skilled in the art that the present invention may be practiced without some of the specific steps in the process flows and that not every conventional, minute process step has been described in detail in order to not unnecessarily obscure the present invention.

1. Sign-Up

1.1. User has been invited (by the computer-implemented mobile user coordination system or by another user)

1.1.1. Clicks on invitation URL (containing the e-mail address to which the invitation was sent)

1.1.2. User is welcomed by the welcome screen of the Internet-enabled cellular phone

1.1.3. User is shown his mates' status information, else shown public mode information if no mates' status information is available (as in the case when, for example, the user is invited by the computer-implemented system instead of being invited by another user)

1.1.4. User is asked to sign-up Yes/No

1.1.5. If Yes, user is asked to enter phone # (if the e-mail address doesn't contain the phone number already) and choose a password

1.1.6. User is asked to save the next screen as a cached page for future logins if desired

1.1.7. User is asked to grant privilege to mate (who invited user)

1.1.8. User is asked to invite 3 mates by entering their e-mail addresses (makes score=3). This optional step is done to facilitate fast viral growth of the base of users

1.1.9. User is asked to enter profile information such as, for example, age, sex and other profile information. To submit a photo, he is requested to use the web site, if desired.

1.1.10. Enjoy! Sign-up is completed.

1.2. User has come in cold (e.g., by entering or clicking on URL on Internet-enabled cellular phone)

1.2.1. User enters/clicks on URL

1.2.2. User is welcomed by the welcome screen of the Internet-enabled cellular phone

1.2.3. User is shown public mode information

1.2.4. User is asked to sign-up Yes/No

1.2.5. User is asked to enter e-mail address, phone#, password

1.2.6. System sends out e-mail address verification e-mail (no response necessary), if desired

1.2.7. User is asked to save the next screen as cached page for future logins if desired

1.2.8. User is asked to invite 3 mates by entering their e-mail addresses (makes score=3). This optional step is done to facilitate fast viral growth of the base of users

Citations

US 7,133,907 B2 - Method, system, and program for configuring system resources
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US 7,017,159 B1 - Smart bookmarks for small footprint device applications
Users of small footprint devices such as smart cellular phones, personal data assistants, etc. may create and store bookmarks referencing various types of objects and/or...

US 7,664,669 B1 - Methods and systems for distributing information within a dynamically defined community
One embodiment of the present invention distributes data via a network to remotely located individuals. Evaluation feedback by one or more of the individuals is...

US 7,386,464 B2 - Network-based crossing paths notification service
A network-based contact management system provides various features for assisting users in locating, and sharing information with, other users. The system provides a web-based user...

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