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store records in a database, wherein each record corresponds to a distinct computer user requesting access to the web site
receive a request from a new client computer user to access web site
send a request for information to new client computer user, wherein requested information includes an Internet address and a time value associated with client computer
receive requested information, which includes an Internet address and a time value, from client computer system
create/update record in database
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SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL USERS ACCESSING A WEB SITE
This application is a continuation of U.S. application Ser. No. 09/588,879, filed Jun. 6, 2000, noW U.S. Pat. No. 7,962, 603 Which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
1. Field of the Invention
The present invention generally relates to the field of the Internet. More particularly, the present invention relates to an improved system and method for identifying unique users accessing a Web site.
2. Description of the Related Art
Internet commerce has become an increasingly popular form of commerce in the United States and throughout the World. In general, Intemet-based commerce, often referred to as e-commerce, provides advantages to both suppliers and consumers. E-commerce provides vendors and service providers the ability to greatly increase their sales channel and distribution netWork With minimal cost. An Internet commerce site provides a convenient, effective and secure mechanism for potential buyers to broWse, select and purchase goods or services in an easy and simple fashion.
An important consideration for oWners and/ or operators of Web sites, Which have been designed to handle Internet commerce, is the amount of Web traffic floWing through the site. There are various metrics used to measure Web trafiic . Various Web trafiic analysis and tracking softWare is available to provide the oWners and/or operators of Web sites With detailed statistics. One commonly used metric, for example, is the number of Web page accesses or Web hits on a page of a Web site. Many Internet sites display a counter to shoW the number of visitors since last counter reset. The number of Web hits per page, measured over a given time period, may have a significant impact on the advertising revenues generated by the Web site.
Web site logs and other softWare designed to measure and analyze Web traffic, can provide a Wealth of additional information regarding the user. For example, it may include detail such as the operating system of user’s computer, Web broWser softWare used to access Web site, hourly/daily/Weekly frequency distribution of Web hits, Internet Provider (IP) address of user, country of registration for the user’ s Internet Service Provider (ISP), etc.
Although it has been possible to get detailed statistics referenced above, such as the number of raW hits per Web site, the data collected is often incorrect, inadequate and often misleading. Up to noW, it has been difiicult to accurately identify and count the number of clients accessing a Web site. For example, raW hit data shoWs the number of times each file has been requested at a Web site. It can give an idea of the number of clients visiting a Web site. HoWever, it may not be able to disclose further detail. Assuming 1,000 hits Were recorded on a Web site, the raW hit data may not be able to report Whether the hits Were generated by 10 visitors racking up 100 hits a piece, or by 200 visitors creating five hits each, or by one visitor creating 1000 hits.
Yet another prior art method used to identify individual users is tracking Internet Provider (IP) addressed to identify users. HoWever, larger Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) such as America On-line (AOL) use a proxy server. A proxy server sits betWeen a client application, such as a Web broWser, and a real Web server located on the Internet. The proxy server intercepts all requests to the real server to see if the proxy can fulfill the requests itself. If not, the proxy server forWards the request to the real Web server. It may be possible for hundreds or perhaps thousands of clients, such as AOL clients, to be accessing a Web site simultaneously but may still shoW the same IP address. As a result, it has been difficult to accurately identify and count individual users Who may have been assigned to the same proxy server.
For these reasons, it Would be desirable to provide an improved method and system for counting individual users accessing a Web site. It Would be desirable for the improved method and system to use non-intrusive technology, Which Would address the privacy concerns of users, yet at the same time be able to identify individual users accessing a Web site. It Would be desirable for the improved method and system to identify and count all unique users logged on to a proxy server and accessing the Web site.
The present invention provides various embodiments of an improved method and system for identifying individual users accessing a Web site. The system and the method alloW a Web site server to identify distinct users by using a unique identifier associated With each client computer system requesting access to the Web site. The unique identifier comprises an Internet address, such as the Internet Protocol (IP) address, and a time value associated With each client computer system or broWser application requesting access to the Web site.
On starting up a Web broWser on a client computer system, an application program may synchronize the internal realtime clock included With the client computer system With a global time standard. The synchronized time value included in the unique identifier may be based on an event associated With the client computer system, such as the start of a Web broWser. Similar time synchronization may occur on Web servers.
In one embodiment, one or more records may be stored in a database. Each record comprises a unique identifier corresponding to each computeruser accessing the Web site. A neW client computer system may request access to the Web site. In
response, the Web site server may request the neW client computer system to provide information comprising the Internet address and the time value. The neW client computer system may send the requested information to the Web site server. A Web site server hosting the requested Web site may determine the uniqueness of the client computer system by comparing unique identifier records of users accessing the Web site With those stored in the database. A user may be identified as distinct if no matching record exists in the database.
In another embodiment, the user of the client computer system may request access to a Web site. The initial request may include the unique identifier comprising the Internet address and the time value. A Web site server hosting the requested Web site may determine the uniqueness of the client computer system by comparing unique identifier records, stored in a database, of users accessing the Web site. A user may be identified as distinct if no matching record exists in the database.
Advantageously, multiple client computer systems using a common Internet address may be differentiated by using this method. Furthermore, user’ s privacy may also be protected as the unique identifiers are erased once the client computer system’s user closes the Web broWser or poWers doWn the computer.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIG. 1 is a netWork diagram of a Wide area netWork, Which is suitable for implementing various embodiments;
FIG. 2 is an illustration of a typical computer system, Which is suitable for implementing various embodiments;
FIG. 3 illustrates an exemplary e-commerce netWork system for identifying distinctive computer users accessing a Web site according to one embodiment;
FIG. 4 illustrates a floW chart for identifying distinctive computer users accessing a Web site according to one embodiment; and
FIG. 5 illustrates a database record for identifying distinctive computer users accessing a Web site according to one embodiment.
While the invention is susceptible to various modifications and alternative forms, specific embodiments thereof are shoWn by Way of example in the draWings and Will herein be described in detail. It should be understood, hoWever, that the draWings and detailed description thereto are not intended to limit the invention to the particular form disclosed, but on the contrary, the intention is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives falling Within the spirit and scope of the present invention as defined by the appended claims. Note, the headings are for organizational purposes only and are not meant to be used to limit or interpret the description or claims.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF SEVERAL EMBODIMENTS
FIG. 1: Wide Area NetWork
FIG. 1 illustrates a Wide area netWork (WAN) according to one embodiment. WAN 102 is a netWork that spans a relatively large geographical area. The Internet is an example of WAN 102. WAN 102 typically includes a plurality of computer systems Which are interconnected through one or more netWorks. Although one particular configuration is shoWn in FIG. 1, WAN 102 may include a variety of heterogeneous computer systems and netWorks Which are interconnected in a variety of Ways and Which run a variety of softWare applications.
One or more local area netWorks (LANs) 104 may be coupled to WAN 102. A LAN 104 is a netWork that spans a relatively small area. Typically, a LAN 104 is confined to a single building or group of buildings. Each node (i.e., individual computer system or device) on a LAN 104 preferably has its oWn CPU With Which it executes programs, and each node is also able to access data and devices anyWhere on the LAN 104. The LAN 104 thus alloWs many users to share devices (e.g., printers) as Well as data stored on file servers. The LAN 104 may be characterized by any of a variety of types of topology (i.e., the geometric arrangement of devices on the netWork), of protocols (i.e., the rules and encoding specifications for sending data, and Whether the netWork uses a peer-to-peer or client/ server architecture), and of media (e.g., tWisted-pair Wire, coaxial cables, fiber optic cables, radio Waves).
Each LAN 104 includes a plurality of interconnected computer systems and optionally one or more other devices: for example, one or more Workstations 110a, one or more personal computers 112a, one or more laptop or notebook computer systems 114, one or more server computer systems 116, and one or more netWork printers 118. As illustrated in FIG. 1, an example LAN 104 may include one of each of computer systems 110a, 11211, 114, and 116, and one printer 118. The LAN 104 may be coupled to other computer systems and/or other devices and/ or other LANs 104 through WAN 102. Private communication netWorks, often referred to as an Intranet 304a, may comprise of one or more LAN’s 104 and one or more WAN’s 102.
One or more mainframe computer systems 120 may be coupled to WAN 102. As shoWn, the mainframe 120 may be coupled to a storage device or file server 124 and mainframe terminals 122a, 122b, and 1220. The mainframe terminals 122a, 122b, and 1220 may access data stored in the storage device or file server 124 coupled to or included in the mainframe computer system 120.
WAN 102 may also include computer systems, Which are connected to WAN 102 individually and not through a LAN 104: as illustrated, for purposes of example, a Workstation 11019 and a personal computer 1121). For example, WAN 102 may include computer systems, Which are geographically remote and connected to each other through the Internet or the Intranet.
FIG. 2: Typical Computer System
FIG. 2 illustrates a typical computer system 150, Which is suitable for implementing various embodiments of a system and method for identifying distinctive computer users accessing a Web site. Each computer system 150 typically includes components such as a CPU 152 With an associated memory medium such as floppy disks 160, CD-ROM (not shoWn), etc. The memory medium may store program instructions for computer programs, Wherein the program instructions are executable by the CPU 152. The computer system 150 may further include a display device such as a monitor 154, an alphanumeric input device such as a keyboard 156, communication device such as a modem 159 and a directional input device such as a mouse 158.
In one embodiment, the computer system 150 may be a client computer 306, operable by a computer user, to execute the computer programs to identify distinctive computer users accessing a Web site as described herein. In another embodiment, the computer system 150 may be an e-commerce server 302 operable to execute the computer programs to identify distinctive computer users accessing a Web site as described herein. Other embodiments of the computer system 150 may include, but are not limited to, a proxy server 312, a local