US 20050108345 A1
A system for operating news groups or discussion groups requires a user who posts a message to specify two or more categories for reply messages. The system associates the categories with the message. The system requires a user who posts a reply to a message to categorize the reply into one of the categories. When the system displays a message thread the system displays messages in each category differently. In a preferred embodiment there are two categories and reply messages in a first one of the categories are displayed on a first side of a display and reply messages in a second one of the categories are displayed on a second side of the display. A user can see the general point of view of reply messages without reading the text of the reply messages. The system may be applied in a manner which permits users to see a graphical display which indicates which reply messages to a posting agree with the point of view expressed in the posting and which reply messages disagree with the expressed point of view.
1. A computer implemented method for managing a discussion, the method comprising, at a server connected to a communications network:
receiving by way of the communications network a first message from a message originator, receiving from the message originator information specifying a group of two or more response categories with which reply messages responsive to the first message should be associated and associating the group of two or more response categories with the first message;
receiving by way of the communication network, one or more reply messages in response to the first message each of the one or more reply messages associated with a user-selected one of the two or more response categories, storing the reply messages and storing information associating each reply message with the corresponding user-selected one of the two or more response categories; and,
in response to a request received from a user, forwarding to the user on the communication network data for a display comprising an element representing the first message and elements representing one or more of the reply messages, the display indicating the one of the two or more response categories with which each of the one or more reply messages is associated.
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YES, MAYBE, NO;
AGREE, DON'T KNOW, DISAGREE;
WORSE, THE SAME, BETTER.
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20. A method for retrieving and displaying messages in a discussion group, the method comprising, in a programmed computer:
receiving from a server by way of a communications network a first message, one or more reply messages in reply to the first message, data specifying two or more user-supplied response categories, the response categories associated with the first message and specified by an originator of the first message, and data indicating one of the two or more response categories with which each of the reply messages is associated;
displaying on a display associated with the computer a representation of the first message and representations of a plurality of the reply messages;
wherein displaying the representations of each of the plurality of the reply messages comprises visually marking the representation of the reply message so as to indicate which one of the user-supplied response categories the reply message is associated with.
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YES, MAYBE, NO;
AGREE, DON'T KNOW, DISAGREE;
WORSE, THE SAME, BETTER.
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32. A computer readable storage medium carrying computer readable instructions which, when executed by a computer, cause the computer to carry out a method according to
33. A data structure stored in a computer readable medium, the data structure comprising:
a) at least one originating record corresponding to a first message posted by a user, the originating record comprising fields indicating at least two reply categories for messages in reply to the first message; and,
b) a plurality of reply records each corresponding to a reply message posted by a user in reply to the first message, each of the reply records including a data item identifying the originating record and a data item indicating one of the at least two reply categories with which the reply message is associated.
34. A computer system comprising:
a) a data processor;
b) a memory accessible by the data processor; and,
c) a data structure as recited in
This is a continuation of application Ser. No. 09/391,187 filed on 7 Sep. 1999 and entitled System for Categorizing and Displaying Reply Messages in Computer Facilitated Discussions, which is hereby incorporated herein by reference.
This invention relates to computer discussion group and bulletin board systems. Such systems permit users to post messages expressing points of view for viewing by others and to reply to messages posted by others. The invention has particular application to Internet or intranet news groups and discussion groups.
Computer discussion groups are well known. In such discussion groups a user can start a discussion by posting a message. The message may ask a question, express a point of view, or otherwise provide fruit for further discussion. Other users can post reply messages in reply to the message. A single message may provoke numerous reply messages. On the Internet, news groups are hosted on servers. Users run suitable client software, which may be called “news group reader” software on their computers. The client software facilitates reading the contents of news groups, posting reply messages to previously posted messages and posting messages to start new threads.
Existing news groups, discussion groups and bulletin boards have linear structures. A “thread” consists of a set of reply messages to the original message and a sequence of replies to the reply messages. Many types of news group reader software will sort messages in a news group into threads and will arrange links to the various messages so that a user can tell by viewing the links something about the sequence in which the messages were posted and which messages are replies to which other messages.
A disadvantage of existing news group reader software is that a user must view each message in a thread in order to understand the positions taken by the authors of the different messages.
The Internet has spawned a number of experiments in direct democracy. Various Internet web sites have been set up for the purpose of polling public opinion, whether on the subject of politics, consumer goods or other topics. Such sites typically provide users with the opportunity to select the one of two or more prepared statements which most closely matches the user's opinion on the topic at hand. A counter simply counts up the number of times each statement is selected. Such polls suffer from the disadvantages that the questions are pre-defined and users are forced to select one of several statements without having an opportunity to explain their positions.
A problem with Internet discussion groups is that users can post messages under pseudonyms. Therefore it is not always possible to know whether a point of view expressed in a posted message is reliable. Even worse, an Internet user can post messages which purport to be from someone else, for example a trusted public figure.
There is a need for a system which permits users of computer networks, whether those computer networks are global in nature or more localized, to better exchange ideas. There is a particular need for systems which permit users to know whether they can be confident that a posted message was really posted by the person listed as its author or whether the posted message is unverified, or even unverifiable, and could have been posted by anyone at all.
This invention provides systems for operating computer facilitated discussion groups which enable a user who posts a message to specify a group of two or more categories for sorting replies to the message. When a second user replies to a message then the second user chooses one category from the group of categories to be associated with the reply. When a user displays a message and a thread of replies to the message then the system can display the reply messages in a manner which visually distinguishes reply messages in one category from reply messages in other categories. This permits a user to understand the point of view from which a reply message is posted without needing to read the reply message itself. The system can also compute the number of reply messages associated with each category.
Preferred aspects of the invention associate verification information with each posted message. The verification information preferably specifies whether the message is unverifiable, verifiable or verified. A user can choose whether to view all messages, only verified and verifiable messages, or only verified messages. This permits the user to selectively view only messages for which the identity of the author is known, or can be discovered. Such messages are likely to be more reliable than messages posted by completely anonymous authors.
Further aspects and advantages of the invention are described below.
In drawings which illustrate non-limiting embodiments of the invention,
As shown in
According to this invention, users of computers 14 can post messages to server 12. In the preferred embodiment, when a user wishes to post a message, the user causes web browser 22 to display a “new message” page from server 12. A sample new message page 30 is shown in
Form 30 contains a field 34 into which a user can enter a subject for the message, a field 36 into which the user can enter text of the message, and a field 38 into which a user can specify response categories for the categorization of responses to the message. Form 30 also provides a “clear” button 40 for clearing any data entered into the fields of form 30.
Field 38 requires a person posting a new message to server 12 to specify a set of response categories into which responses to the message will be sorted. This distinguishes the system of this invention from previous systems which permit users to post messages to a server. In the example of
When server 12 receives data from form 30 then server 12 stores the data in database 16. After one or more messages have been posted to server 12 then the message, or messages may be viewed. A user can view previously posted messages by navigating to a web page hosted by server 12 which displays a list of messages available for viewing. Server 12 prepares the web page by querying database 16 for a list of available messages and adding the list of available messages to a template 20. Server 12 then sends the web page to the user's computer 14 on network 10.
A user can signal an intention to reply to a message by, for example, selecting the subject line of the message to which the user wishes to respond with input device 26. In response to the receipt of a signal indicating that a user wishes to reply to a message, server 12 supplies a form which requires the user to specify which one of the categories associated with the message the reply should be associated with.
After a message has received one or more replies then a user 14 may view a display which shows a representation of each reply and indicates visually which of the categories each reply is associated with. Server 12 may generate such a display in the form of a web page which is delivered to a computer 14 on network 10. This may be done by querying database 16 for all replies to a message and then inserting the result returned by database 16 into a template 20.
Section 56 is divided into two columns 56A and 56B. Column 56A contains representations of reply messages associated with the category having the descriptive title “YES”. Column 56B contains representations of reply messages associated with the category having the descriptive title “NO”. The descriptive titles for the categories associated with reply messages of each column are displayed at locations 58A and 58B respectively.
A user viewing page 50 can immediately ascertain which reply messages are associated with which point of view. The user may view any one of the reply messages in its entirety by selecting the underlined hyperlink which comprises part of each representation 57. The user may choose to read only reply messages which are categorized in a way which agrees with the user's point of view. If the user so chooses, the user may opt to read only reply messages which are categorized in a way which challenges the user's point of view. Server 12 can easily collect statistical information regarding the number of users on one side or another side of an issue. The number of reply messages 59A, and 59B in each category may be displayed at the head of each of columns 56A and 56B.
There are alternative ways to achieve a display having the general appearance of page 50 any of which may be used in the invention. For example, section 56 may comprise two frames located side-by-side, each displaying representations of reply messages associated with a particular category. Other formats of display may also be used to practice the invention. For example, instead of being located in different portions of a display, representations of reply messages associated with different categories could be colored or given different appearances to indicate which category they are associated with.
In the alternative to server 12 formatting a web page containing representations of replies to a message, server 12 could send to user computer 14 a set of records describing each of the reply messages in a thread and specifying the category associated with each reply message. In place of, or in addition to web browser software, user computers 14 could run software which receives such records and prepares and formats a display which shows representations of each reply displayed in such a way that reply messages in each category in the group of categories associated with the message being replied to are visually distinguished from one another.
Database 16 may be replaced with any sort of memory of storage device into which server 12 can store and retrieve data. Database 16 is not limited to traditional “database” software. Database 16 is preferably a relational database.
It can be appreciated that as the invention is used, database 16 will come to contain a data structure in which records for individual messages are linked to one another in a manner which indicates both which messages are included in a thread and the stance being taken in replies to an original posting.
When server 12 receives a signal which indicates that a user wishes to display a thread, for example, as shown in
Server 12 retrieves the messages in table 59 one at a time depending upon the value in the category field server 12 places a representation of each message either in left hand column 56A of page 50 or in right hand column 56B of page 50.
The methods, systems and data structures of the invention may be enhanced by providing verification functions which allow users to assess the credibility of posted messages. Internet users can post messages anonymously or under pseudonyms. In a preferred embodiment of the invention, each message in database 16 includes information specifying whether or not the message is “verifiable”. Most preferably, database 16 categorizes each message as being one of “unverifiable”, “verifiable” and “verified”. Unverifiable messages are messages posted anonymously. It is not readily possible to determine who is the author of an unverifiable message or, if the person posting the message has provided a name, whether that name is the person's real name. Verifiable messages are messages for which the user posting the message has provided sufficient information about themselves that the true name of the user posting the message could be ascertained and the user posting the message could be contacted to verify the accuracy of the posted message. A verified message is a message for which the true name of the user posting the message has been ascertained and the accuracy of the contents of the message has been verified.
Verification may be conducted automatically by server 12 by sending an e-mail message to a known e-mail address for a particular user and receiving a reply to the e-mail message. For example, consider the case where a message purporting to be from the president of the United States has been posted to server 12. Server 12 could automatically generate an e-mail to the known e-mail address for the president, email@example.com seeking confirmation that the president was, in fact, the originator of the posted message. The Server 12 could mark the message as being “verified” upon receiving such a validation. Verification could also be done manually. Once a message has been verified, users of server 12 can see that the message has been verified and can trust that the message was posted by someone known to the operators of server 12 and, if the name of an author is given, that the named author is responsible for the content of the posted message.
In a preferred embodiment of the invention, users who wish to view the messages posted on server 12 can specify whether they wish to see all posted messages, only messages which are either verifiable or verified, or only verified messages. If the user signals to server 12 that the user wishes to view all posted messages, or both verifiable and verified messages then preferably each message displayed on a page 50 or other display, are somehow marked to indicate whether the message is unverifiable, verifiable or verified. For example, different colors may be used to display a representation of each of these types of message or a small icon could be presented as part of the representation of each message, the icon indicating the verification status of the message.
A field indicating whether or not each message in a database of posted messages can be, or is, verified could be provided and used in conjunction with any database of posted messages. The application of this inventive feature is not limited to methods and systems which provide multiple categories for reply messages as described above.
It can be appreciated that by including in database 16 verification information specifying whether each message is unverified, verified or verifiable, a user reading messages from database 16 can determine how much trust to place in each message.
Preferably users who post messages to server 12 may select whether or not to allow their names to be made public as the authors of messages by sending a signal to server 12. If the signal indicates that the name of the author of a message should be made public then the author's name is forwarded on the communication network together with the message to other users who wish to view the message. In a preferred embodiment of the invention, users who view messages posted on server 12 can choose whether they wish to view only messages for which the name of the person posting the message is displayed or whether they are willing to also view messages for which the name of the user who posted the message will not be provided to them.
While the invention has been described above as being embodied in a computer network in which the methods of the invention are carried out, the invention could also be embodied in a computer readable storage medium such as a floppy disc, a CD ROM, a DVD, or some other physical carrier of computer readable instructions upon which is stored computer instructions which, when executed on a computer will cause the computer to operate so as to carry out any method of the invention.
As will be apparent to those skilled in the art in the light of the foregoing disclosure, many alterations and modifications are possible in the practice of this invention without departing from the spirit or scope thereof. While the invention has been described with reference to a system wherein communications between users and a server are mediated by web browsers which communicate with a web server, this is not necessary. Computers 14 could communicate with server 12 using a different protocol than is used for the exchange of web pages. The way in which server 12 stores and retrieves messages and the structure of database 16 can be varied significantly without departing from the invention. There are a multitude of data structures capable of recording associations between a message and a group of reply categories and between a reply and a category. The displays depicted in the figures are by way of illustration only. There are many alternative ways to display replies to messages in a way which allows a user to see how the replies have been categorized. Accordingly, the scope of the invention is to be construed in accordance with the substance defined by the following claims.