Apple has been granted a patent today (via AppleInsider) in an area where it hasn’t had tremendous success: social networking. But the system described in the patent isn’t specific to Apple’s own social services, and instead describes software that could be integrated into iOS and made accessible to other apps and services as an API to help regulate and maintain a common “friend service database.”
On the one hand, Apple’s patent describes a way to reconcile data from various apps around friends and friend requests, updating existing contacts and merging entries as necessary to make sure that data from all social apps is used to keep records as up-to-date as possible. Already, we see something like this at work as the iOS Contacts app can plug into and draw information from Facebook and iOS, but this patent covers much broader use which could be made available on an app-by-app basis via an API.
The other, perhaps more important feature here is an anti-spam recognition engine that can automatically flag users who are virtually ‘stalking’ others, by pelting them with numerous friend requests. Apple’s patent describes a way to assign users both a spammer and stalker count depending on their actions. The spammer count is upped every time a user sends out a friend request or similar attempt to connect, while the stalker count increases every time one of those requests is rejected. Hit a certain pre-determined threshold in either, and that user’s requests will be ignored entirely by the other party.
Social networks already employ anti-spam measures in their own products, but Apple’s is interesting because it would be made accessible to outside developers via API, as described in the patent. An anti-spammer and stalker database that covers iOS and its third-party developers as a whole would be a powerful tool, and potentially a big help in curbing unwanted connection attempts, which is in turn better for overall engagement.
Apple isn’t likely to go all-out on a social networking product of its own: it seems to have accepted that the best way to make the iOS platform social is through third-party service integration. But tools like the one described in this patent could help others who are doing social on the platform maximize their own products.