METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR
INTERACTIVELY RESPONDING TO
INSTANT MESSAGING REQUESTS
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This invention is directed to a method and system for autonomously processing requests from remotely located users. More particularly, this invention is directed to a method and system for acting on requests and queries received from remotely located users using an instant messaging protocol.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Internet users are well versed in accessing the Internet using widely available web browsing software to search for desired information. The web browser software permits users to access various automated search engines and, by entering appropriate queries, identify web pages which may contain the information of interest. While a wide variety of information is available in this manner, most web pages are directed to specific types of information. As a result, users who are seeking information in various diverse topics will often need to locate and access multiple, and perhaps unrelated, web pages.
While users can find a great deal of in-depth information regarding particular topics, it can often be very difficult to obtain answers to short and specific questions due to the overwhelming number of web pages which will be identified in conventional indexing and search engine-based systems.
Various efforts have been made to aggregate diverse information onto one or a few web pages. However, these aggregated sites are often maintained by individual users as "personal web pages" and are thus of questionable reliability. Although some commercial web sites have been implemented for the purpose of aggregating information, these sites generally compete among each other for users and thus include many graphical features and expanded functionality to increase the site's attractiveness. However, this additional functionality also makes these sites more cumbersome and slow to access and use because of the additional data and processing overhead.
Another widely used Internet application is instant messaging ("IM"). IM services of one form or another are in use by an estimated 70 million people or more. Unlike Internet browsing software, which is used to access various web pages, IM is primarily used by a subscriber to "chat" with one or more other IM users. To access an IM service, a user registers with a service provider and, after connecting to the Internet (or other appropriate data network), enter their screen name and password to log in to the IM network. Popular IM applications include AOL's Instant Messenger and Microsoft's Network Messenger services. Once a user has logged in to the appropriate IM network, his presence on the system is made known to all authorized partners (commonly termed "buddies"). The user can then engage in typed conversations with other IM users connected to the system.
Because IM is a text-based service, instant messaging communication is generally not burdened by the need to transfer large graphic, sound, or program files. As a result, instant messaging is a relatively quick and easy to use system. However, while instant messaging is widely available, its value as a means to access and retrieve data from a remotely located automated system has not been fully appreciated. Accordingly, it is an object of the invention to provide a instant messaging based system which interac
tively responds to and services requests from a remotely located users. Such requests can include queries for general or specific information, requests to access and control various "WEB-enabled" devices, requests to store or informa
5 tion for later use, reminder and paging services, as well as additional request-based functionality, such as suitable for use in various e-commerce environments.
Users of IM services often simultaneously use Internet browsers to access web pages. It is not uncommon for an IM
1° user to forward a link to a web page of interest via the IM service to another user. However, if the indicated web page contains sensitive information, a user subsequently following the link to access the web page may be required to enter a username and password. Even though the user has already
15 signed in to the IM service, and thus is already authenticated, the accessed web site generally has no knowledge of this authentication.
It is thus a further object of the invention to provide a method and system for granting authenticated access to a
20 web page which leverages the authentication mechanism present in a concurrently operating IM service. Such a secured access system is suitable for use in an IM-based request servicing system to enable authenticated access to user profile web pages where a user can easily enter or
25 retrieve large volumes of information, fill out forms, or engage in other activities which can be cumbersome at best when implemented in an instant messaging environment.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
These and other objects are achieved through the use of a method and system for interactively responding to requests sent as instant messages from a user. The system includes a message server which is connected to a data network
35 through an instant messaging port. The server is logged in to the IM network and assigned a designated screen-name, such as "ACTIVEBUDDY". When the message server receives an IM message from a user, the message is processed to determine the type of request made by the user and
40 the appropriate actions necessary to service the request. In one embodiment, the request is an informational query. In response to such a request, the message server directs the query to an appropriate query response server, which server will interpret the request and return a suitable answer. The
45 query response server(s) can be local to the message processing server or remotely accessed, e.g., via the Internet. The received answer is embedded in a message which is returned to the user, preferably over the IM system. Alternatively, the message server can interpret the request
50 directly using various natural language processing techniques known to those skilled in the art. In one configuration, a table of query patterns is provided and the table is searched to identify the pattern which most closely matches the received request. A designated local or remotely
55 located resource is then accessed to determine an answer for the query, which answer is returned to the user.
It will be appreciated that, in order to generate an accurate answer to many types of queries, additional or secondary information may be required to fill in unstated assumptions
60 in the query. To aid in providing this information, a user profile can be maintained by the system in which commonly needed information is stored. The types of information suitable for placement in the profile include static data such as the user's birth date, place of residence, fairly static
65 information, such as stock portfolio data, and dynamic information, such as information gleaned from the prior most recent communications with the user. When the system