In a patent application approved Tuesday, Google used the review/comments systems used by Amazon and Slashdot to support their method and gain approval for their "invention". The problem is the critical thinking applied to the limits of the other companies has not been applied to Google's own methods.
The patent - Delegating authority to evaluate content - was filed March 10, 2010 by Daniel Hillis and Bran Ferren. "The invention provides an evaluation system for reliably evaluating large amounts of content".
In the application, Google states that systems like Amazon recommendations and/or reviews do not restrict users that participate and this decreases reliability. Let's hope they apply this to their new +1 system, or the Google reviews now in their Places pages or newly acquired Zagats reviews.
Hillis and Ferren suggest developing "trusted editors or evaluators" who delegate a smaller amount of authority to "contributing authorities" who in turn do the same. Sounds a lot like how Wikipedia and the Open Directory Project work.
The interesting aspect of the patent is the use of +1 as part of the ranking system - no not the Google Like button but the value; "wherein content ratings are specified numerically as numeric ratings selected from among a group of numeric ratings consisting of: numbers between -1 and +1, inclusively; or numbers between 0 and +1, inclusively".
It goes deeper in to how the authority is measured "combining the content ratings according to the portion of the complete authority that is held by each of the two or more authorities that rated the first content item." Seems a lot like the Google search algorithm's Page Rank, especially in the limitations the patent sets - "delegating authority cannot delegate more authority than the delegating authority has, reduced by an attenuation factor".
It also has elements of the recent changes in their algorithm, "qualities consisting of: reliability; trustworthiness; accuracy; impartiality; and quality".
There has been much made of "trust rank" and the introduction of human search quality raters lately, but perhaps this patent may be the basis for its integration in the SERPs.
The flaw is Google can criticize the reviewers of other methods where decreases in quality may occur as the scale grows, their own basis involves humans too who may have agendas or prejudices. There is also mention of a "primary authority" with ultimate control - but even if it is an algorithm human input can impact it.
The patent can be found here on the US Patent and Trademark Office website.
Sadly Dave Naylor and I should have patented something very similar, when we outlined it to a rep from Encyclopedia Britannica about how to counter Wikipedia back in 2006. Our idea had an area of absolute uneditable content, a secondary area from "authorative editors" and a third for anyone to contribute that could be moved to the second area by authorized editors.