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AND AGGREGATION PLATFORM
CROSS REFERENCES TO RELATED
This Nonprovisional U.S. Patent Application is based upon an earlier-filed, currently pending Provisional U.S. Patent Application entitled MULTI-FUNCTIONAL COMMUNICATION AND AGGREGATION PLATFORM, Ser. No. 60/048,173, filed on May 30,1997, in the names of Alex MINTZ, the inventor of the present application.
This currently-pending Provisional U.S. Patent Application and any Nonprovisional Patent Applications deriving therefrom in the U.S. or in other countries and the disclosure (s) contained therein are all hereby incorporated by reference herein.
1. Technical Field of the Invention
The invention relates to the field of computer software for electronic communications and more particularly, to a sys- 20 tern and method for automating the generation and transmission of multimedia messages and the collection, aggregation and analysis of responses thereto.
2. Description of Related Art ^ There is a consensus in the art that the human mind is
incapable of compiling, aggregating and analyzing information from a very large number of users. Without the assistance of computers, the human mind is limited in its ability to process and analyze information sent by thousands of 3Q users and aggregate responses into a unified report and/or database.
One of the problems where the automated compilation and analysis of responses is particularly important is in the field of opinion gathering. Traditionally, this task was done 35 using personal meetings, written surveys and telephonic interviews. However, the advent of the Internet and the low cost of electronic communications, such as by e-mail, have made it desirable to develop surveying techniques using these new tools. 40
However, these new media have not proven to be very adaptable to the needs of opinion gatherers. One of the principal problems faced by the use of electronic mail for conducting surveys have been the fact that electronic mail systems have largely been text-based. However, sophisti- 45 cated surveyors have found that the quality of the answers they obtain depends a lot on the sophistication of the presentations used to elicit those answers. As noted above, e-mail systems have traditionally been hard to meld with multimedia materials. It has been found that response rates 50 to surveys are significantly improved by the use of sophisticated presentations.
Another problem with the use of electronic mail as a vehicle for conducting surveys etc. has been the difficulties traditionally associated with retrieving and analyzing a 55 plethora of responses. In traditional electronic mail systems, each response typically needs to be individually retrieved and analyzed prior to the generation of results.
Decisive Technology Corporation offers software that analyzes on-line survey responses from multiple sources. 60 Yet, the Decisive technology software does not allow for the incorporation of multimedia images, bitmaps, video clips, web pages, browsers, data and/or documents in a survey, feedback engine, correspondence or questionnaire. Furthermore, the Decisive technology software does not 65 allow for two-way "push" and/or "pull" of multimedia content.
Other products, such as Catapult's Inquisite, Saja Software's Survey Select, Decision Architects' MarketSight, Apian Software's Survey Pro, IntelliQuest's ReplyDisk, Marketing Masters' Survey Said, GenTech's PinPoint, Merlinco's Merlinplus, and Princeton Cybernetics' Survey Chef, RaoSoft's EZSurvey, and the Market First software, also do not allow for the incorporation of multimedia and other Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) compatible objects into a questionnaire, nor do they interface with generic decision engines that generate recommendations for an optimal decision based on the aggregated feedback to multimedia objects.
It is therefore desirable to have e-mail systems that permit the incorporation of multimedia materials and other Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) compatible objects directly into the body of an e-mail message. It has been found desirable for such multimedia materials to be directly accessible to a recipient without loading or configuring specialized plug-ins, add-ons or helper applications. It has also been found desirable for content associated with a web site to be directly included in an e-mail message.
It has also been found desirable to be able to interface an automated e-mail based opinion surveying system with one or more generic decision engines that generate recommendations for an optimal decision based on the aggregated feedback to a presented set of multimedia objects. It would be beneficial if such multimedia-enhanced e-mail could be directly routed to a desired set of recipients without requiring such recipients to have an active connection to the Internet or other communications networks.
It has also been found desirable to have automated techniques for collecting, collating, analyzing and reporting responses to opinion surveys conducted using enhanced multimedia e-mail messages.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Therefore, it is primary object of the present invention to create an mass feedback and opinion-gathering system that permits the incorporation of multimedia materials and other Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) compatible objects directly into the body of an e-mail message. It is a further object of the present invention for such multimedia materials to become directly accessible to a recipient without the loading or configuration of specialized plug-ins, add-ons or helper applications. It is yet another object of the present invention for content associated with a web site to be directly included in an e-mail message rather than as an attachment.
It is also an object of the present invention to be able to interface an automated e-mail based opinion surveying system with one or more generic decision engines that generate recommendations for an optimal decision based on the aggregated feedback to a presented set of multimedia objects. It is an auxiliary object of the present invention for such multimedia-enhanced e-mail to be directly routed to a desired set of recipients without requiring such recipients to have an active connection to the Internet or other communications networks.
Yet another object of the present invention is to develop an automated technique for collecting, collating, analyzing and reporting responses to opinion surveys conducted using enhanced e-mail messages.
The system and method of the present invention uses electronic mail (e-mail) as a transport mechanism to enable a complete automated cycle process comprising the authoring and editing of a multimedia message with a feedback
element, communicating this message to a plenitude of users, collecting and aggregating the responses from a subset of these users, analyzing the aggregated data, storing the results in a database and generating one or more reports.
The present invention relates to a multi-functional hori- 5 zontal software platform, comprising at its core of five engines, uniquely organized and operating in an opensequence architecture. The platform is capable of interoperating with past, present or future technologies, as well as vertical applications. The platform comprising an author- 1Q ing and editing engine, a communication engine, a web browser command engine, an aggregation engine and an analysis and distribution engine. These engines can also be used in conjunction with other industry products thus allowing a user to develop a virtually unlimited number of applications.
The system and method of the present invention allows for the incorporation and generation of any combination of multimedia presentation capabilities in an e-mail message, questionnaire, survey or correspondence, for the 2Q aggregation/compilation of incoming information from millions of users into a single message/document, spreadsheet, or database instantaneously, simultaneously generating automatic reports in "real time", exporting the data to presentation software, word processing software 2J applications, database packages, spreadsheet programs, and sharing and publishing the aggregated data with just the click of a button. The system and method of the present invention uniquely enables both one-to-many (broadcast) and many-to-one communications, transactions, electronic 3Q commerce and real-time aggregation and analysis in a multi-tasking, multi-media environment.
In one aspect, the present invention is a computerimplemented method of surveying the opinions of a plurality of computer users. A survey questionnaire comprising one or 35 more multimedia elements is first created. The survey questionnaire is then distributed to a group of recipients as an enhanced multimedia e-mail message. The recipients are simultaneously requested to provide individualized responses. 40
The individualized responses received from recipients of the enhanced multimedia e-mail message are next aggregated. The aggregated individualized responses are finally analyzed by an analysis engine and a report is generated from the analysis. The distribution of the questionnaire to a 45 plurality of recipients can be performed in a variety of ways, e.g., over the Internet, over a computer network, using floppy disks or using a peer-to-peer communications protocol.
In another aspect, the system and method of the present 50 invention is a computer-implemented system for surveying the opinions of a plurality of computer users. At its core, the system includes an authoring and editing engine for creating a survey questionnaire comprising multimedia objects. The authoring and editing engine operates in conjunction with a 55 web command engine that permits multiple active web pages (and not just hyperlinks) to be incorporated directly into an e-mail message.
The system also includes a communications engine distributes the survey questionnaire to a group of recipients as 60 an enhanced multimedia e-mail message and requests individualized responses from each of the recipients. An aggregation engine next aggregates the individualized responses received from recipients of said enhanced multimedia, e-mail message and feeds the results into an analysis engine 65 that analyses the individualized responses and generates reports.
In yet another aspect, the authoring and editing engine of the present invention facilitates the creation of multiple layers of multimedia objects. Furthermore, the authoring and editing engine incorporates multimedia elements directly in the body of the enhanced e-mail message rather than as attachments or hyperlinks. The enhanced e-mail messages produces by the system and method of the present invention are OLE-compliant.
The results of the analysis can be interfaced with generic decision engines that generate recommendations for an optimal decision based on the aggregated feedback to each multimedia object that was the subject of the questionnaire.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
A more complete understanding of the method and system of the present invention may be obtained by reference of the detailed description of the preferred embodiments that follow, taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein:
FIG. 1 is a block diagram providing an overview of the e-Logic multi-functional communication and Aggregation Platform of the present invention;
FIG. 2 illustrates the inter-user communication flow in an exemplary current e-mail system;
FIG. 3 illustrates the inter-user communication flow in an exemplary current distributed e-mail system;
FIG. 4 illustrates the inter-user communication flow in an exemplary current routing system;
FIG. 5 illustrates the inter-user communication flow in an exemplary state-of-the-art chat system; and
FIG. 6 illustrates the inter-user communication pattern in the e-Logic Aggregation engine of the present invention.
DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED
The system and method of the present invention is a tool to assist in the conduct of sophisticated opinion surveys, optionally including multimedia elements, using e-mail as the transport mechanism. FIG. 1 is an overview block diagram of operation of the e-Logic multi-functional communication and aggregation platform of the present invention. As shown in FIG. 1, the process starts at 110 with a user creating an enhanced e-mail message, optionally embodying multimedia materials and other OLE-compatible objects, as shown at 120. The creation of the enhanced e-mail message is performed using the e-Logic Authoring and Editing Engine that is described further below. As can be seen from FIG. 1, the e-Logic Authoring and Editing Engine uses the Web Command Launcher 125 to provide centralized control of multiple web-browser windows embedded within an enhanced e-mail message.
The enhanced e-mail message created at 120 is then distributed to a selected set of recipients as shown at 130. The transport and distribution tasks are handled by the e-Logic Communication Engine described in greater detail below.
The recipients of the enhanced e-mail message individually review and respond to the enhanced e-mail message. In the preferred embodiment of the present invention, there is no interaction between the recipients and the Web Command Launcher 125. In an alternative embodiment of the present invention, the review of the enhanced e-mail messages by the recipients involves some interaction with the Internet and/or Web Command Launcher 125 mentioned above. The survey responses are designed to be returned to a specific
mailbox designated for this purpose. Standard e-mail transport mechanisms are used for the transmission of the messages and the return of the responses to the user.
The responses from various recipients are next collected automatically, filtered and stored in one or more databases, 5 as shown at 140. The collection, filtering and storage of responses to an enhanced e-mail message is performed using the e-Logic Aggregation Engine that is described in greater detail below.
Finally, as shown at 150, the collated and stored responses 10 are analyzed, and reports are generated, printed and/or displayed (as appropriate), and distributed as directed by the user. The analysis of the responses, and the generation and distribution of reports is performed using the e-Logic Analysis Engine as described below. 15
Thus the e-Logic system and method of the present invention comprises at least five principal engines: the e-Logic Authoring and Editing Engine, the e-Logic Web Command Engine, the e-Logic Communication Engine, the e-Logic Aggregation Engine and the e-Logic Analysis 20 Engine. Each of these five principal subsystems of the system and method of the present invention are separately discussed in further detail below.
The e-Logic Authoring and Editing Engine ^
The e-Logic platform allows a user to embed in an e-mail message, memo, correspondence or survey any combination of multimedia presentation capabilities, such as web pages, single or multiple images/bitmaps, data, video, sound, ultrasound, x-rays, slides, label objects, presentation 3Q materials, as well as incorporate a variety of formats for dialog boxes such as multiple choice, agree-disagree, yes/no and drop down boxes, and questionnaires.
A variety of multimedia file formats may be embedded in an e-Logic e-mail message e.g., bitmaps (.bmp), wavetables 35 (.wav) and advanced video (.avi). Other file formats supported by the e-Logic platform include Microsoft Word documents (*.doc), Microsoft Excel spreadsheets (*.xls), Microsoft Excel worksheets (* .xlw) and Powerpoint presentations (*.ppt). The generic Object Linking and Embedding 40 (OLE) object in the e-Logic system permits users to include file formats that are not directly supported. A user may also include one or more browser object(s) to view Internet web pages.
The system works reliably in delivering and displaying 45 web pages even when a user is not connected to the Internet. The e-Logic platform includes support for additional graphics file formats (such as .tif, .gif, .jpg and .pcx formats), additional sound file formats (including .ra, .ram and .midi formats), additional video file formats (including .mov, .qt, 50 .mpg and .mv formats), as well as animated .gif and animated .jpg file formats.
The e-Logic platform of the present invention allows for customized applications to be generated that are various combinations of the above (e.g. video and sound; sound and 55 images; spreadsheet, active web pages, video and graphics, etc.) can be embedded with no attachments. A user can design, create or author such a multimedia e-mail message, questionnaire, and/or survey and send them to groups of people (numbering even in the millions) simultaneously. 60
The e-Logic platform also permits the creation of multiple layers of objects. For example, sound objects (e.g., files in .wav format) can be placed on top of one or more Audio Video Interchange (AVI) objects. The AVI and Wavetable files can both be placed in turn on top of a bitmap or a series 65 of web pages or vice versa, and all of these can be embedded in an e-mail message.
The e-Logic system and method of the present invention facilitates uniquely allows for the imbedding of bitmaps in e-mail messages that directly open web sites from within an e-mail message as well as the embedding of multiple Internet browsers directly in e-mail messages. It also allows for the viewing of an e-mail message and its multimedia inclusions in a unified window.
None of the presently available multimedia e-mail products have the breath of functionality and architecture of the e-Logic platform, nor do they have the ability to combine questionnaires and aggregation engines along with multimedia objects in an e-mail message. For example, the Media Synergy @loha software works with e-mail packages that can send and receive attachments. The Bonzi Voice e-mail software permits the inclusion of voice messages as an e-mail attachment. Softlink Inc.'s E-mail POWERLink which works like a virtual camcorder inside a computer and chronologically records whatever one says, creates, and draws on the product's "whiteboard". ImageMind Software, Visual Mail, SeeMail and Video Express offer products that allow users to create and deliver multimedia e-mails but not in combination with questionnaires.
U.S. Patent, Ser. No. 5,740,549 issued to James P. Reilly & Gregory P. Hassett describes an information and advertising distribution system. However, it should be noted that the Reilly patent does not disclose any system or method of allowing users to create and embed questionnaires in an e-mail message nor does it allow for the aggregation and analysis of replies from a multitude of recipients.
The e-Logic platform allows for the encryption of a multimedia message prior to its transmission. It also uses a variety of compression techniques to compress multimedia objects embedded in the e-mail message prior to transmitting them, thus providing a unique combination of compression and encryption in an e-mail system.
Another noteworthy aspect of the e-Logic system is that it permits users to preview the multimedia feedback or survey embedded in an e-mail using a proprietary preview mode. The e-Logic system and method of the present invention also allows for the creation of online, multimedia surveys of teams and groups.
The e-Logic Communication Engine
Most e-mail environments including the e-Logic system have several standard components: users, mail messages, sender and recipient addresses, e-mail gateways, protocols, messaging transport systems, value added networks (VANs), and directory systems.
The e-Logic software program translates all elements of a message, including any multimedia content and the message proper, into a proprietary text-based format. The enhanced message is then sent by the sender's Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) server to the recipient's Post Office Protocol (POP) server or Internet Message Addressing Protocol (IMAP). The receiving POP or IMAP server routes the enhanced message into the recipient's mailbox.
When an enhanced message is received, the user recipient can view it as it was designed and without having to extract attachments and configure associated plug-ins, add-ons or helper applications. Since the e-Logic system is capable of transforming the multimedia e-mail message into the equivalent of a web page, the e-Logic system is independent of client receiving-end viewing, editing and interactive capabilities.
In an alternative embodiment, the mail packet, survey or questionnaire generated by the e-Logic system are transmitted via a peer-to-peer communication technique (e.g., via a