A newly surfaced Microsoft patent filing proposes an online matchmaking service that would have users confidentially tell the system about their “private affinities” — stuff that might cause them shame if listed on their public profiles. An algorithm would then analyze that secret information and quietly match people with similar “fringe interests.”

And what do the Microsoft researchers use to illustrate their idea? Extreme political beliefs? The kind of stuff you might read about in a Dan Savage column? No, the example they use is an affinity for comic books.

Here’s an excerpt from the filing …

Most users of such conventional systems understand that any affinity (or other information) included in an associated profile or space can be viewed by any third party who accesses that profile. This situation can substantially serve as a chilling effect on self expression or at least result in a profile that is a less accurate or less comprehensive representation of the associated user. For example, an ambitious professional is not likely to divulge that he likes, say, comic books, even though quite true. Appreciably, certain affinities especially those relating to fringe interests, eccentricities, or topics about which there is a common misconception or very little mainstream familiarity or understanding are generally omitted rather than included in conventional descriptions.

Typically, this is so because these affinities might be a source of shame or embarrassment or incur undue explanation. Thus, certain cautious or prudent users may forego detailing an affinity that is not politically correct or one that might easily be taken out of context by others or virtually any affinity that can be the source of the slightest bit of embarrassment or conflict with a desired image.

Later, the filing goes into more detail …

For example, suppose two users, Ashley and Ross, are both young professionals and both like a specific series of comic books. However, both parties understand that comic books are often viewed as fanciful or juvenile, and, as such, to indicate an interest in comic books in one’s profile might lead to embarrassment or inappropriate characterizations. Accordingly, it is very likely that neither Ashley nor Ross will know of their common affinity, except by chance. …

Once (the) matching component identifies the matching affinity, (the) notification component can provide Ashley (a) message indicating, e.g. “We’ve located someone who shares your affinity for comic books. The two of you might have a lot in common.”

Finally, some dating relief for closeted comic book nuts around the world!

The patent application was originally filed in June 2009, and made public last week. The comic book example aside, the proposed system does make some sense. But as with most of these things, there’s no indication that Microsoft actually will be bringing this “innovation” to market, and the filing will no doubt stir the usual debate over what deserves to be patented.

Interesting side note: According to the patent application, one of the researchers on the project was Gary Flake, the former Microsoft Live Labs chief — who once told me in an interview that he met his wife on Match.com.

[“Comic Book Guy” via Wikipedia. With apologies to the Simpsons. Thanks, anonymous tipster!]

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  • Joe the Coder

    Wow, I hope this gets kicked by the examiner for failing the obviousness test. There may well be some prior art, too.

    • Wonka85008

      As a former examiner your comment made me roll my eyes. Reading is your friend and knowledge is power, http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/documents/2100_2112.htm#sect2112
      look at paragraph 4 at the start of the section. You cannot just jump around and shout “because I said it is so, therefor it is!” Although, this is new to the rules since I was in the office.

      • Joe the Coder

        You roll your eyes because I said there *may* be prior art? What part of that was “because I said so”???? Try not to invent quotes and look up “may” in the dictionary.

        I still think this is pretty obvious – hiding someone’s preferences.

  • http://twitter.com/smithkl42 Ken Smith

    Great idea. Horrible patent.

  • Zippysmugdust

    I believe Nathan already has the Rex Ryan patent covered.

  • Johnny Beedouille

    Personally; I like to strangle small animals, let’s hope that I can find someone to exchange my experience with.

  • Anonymous

    That’s actually a good idea but the application is awful. Commic books? What’s so bad about that? No reason to even put that in a profile. Now a good application would be say people in recovery from some kind of addiction. You want a chilling effect? Create a profile somewhere that says something like. smoke – never, drink – never and on.

    • rk

      I’m going to guess you’re single

  • clausd

    surely, some dating site has something similar already

  • http://twitter.com/FlayrahNews Flayrah News

    Pfft. Furries realized this years ago. We made our own dating site, pounced.org.

  • http://twitter.com/SndChaser SndChaser

    Once again, a Microsoft “innovation” if you believe them. Sheezus, patents need to be completely wiped and started over…they are just a burden on our society. And this is a prime example of how they can be abused.

  • Anonymous

    Nice, that actually looks like it might just work


  • mikez

    Employers can exploit this. Make a fake person with all the fringe qualities that you don’t want. Anyone that that gets matched via this algorithm is rejected from the application pool.

  • http://about.me/chrisco chrisco

    Same idea I had when I registered MagicSexMaatch.com in June 2009. Yes, that might sound shocking to some of you, and tame to others, but if executed well and if able to overcome the chicken-and-egg of launching (yes, big ifs), it would create value for members (and equity owners):

    1) Make a (living/member-generated) list of sex-related interests (and non-sex-related, as desired), from the “kinky” to the “mundane.”

    2) Next to each thing would be a few options, basically saying if you’ve tried or not (or want/don’t want to try), like or not (or think you would like or not), how strongly, etc.

    3) You are then “magically” matched. The algorithm crunches the numbers, scores your compatibility with all other members who meet the various hard filters, displays results in a UI that lets you further sort, filter, favorite, eliminate, block, initiate, etc.

    Sort of like an OKCupid on Viagra. It will exist, if it doesn’t already (probably does, but not under the MagicSexMatch brand).

    If any developers wants to bring this idea to life with me, as up to a 50/50 partner, get in touch.

  • headcrab

    weird cause I met my first girlfriend through comic books

  • Frank

    This is stupid. Either you like comic books and you like yourself, or you don’t. If you think comic books make you look bad and it matters that much, give them up. If you like comic books better than the appearance of not liking them, then why hide?

  • BlueCollarCritic

    This is but a cleverly disguised info mining scheme to get very, very private and personal info on potential consumers and sell it to the highest bidder. And no a promise to not “share” this info does NOT guarantee it won’t bee. Either the data will miraculously be stolen or compromised leaving Microsoft without blame for the release of the information.

    Just imagine how much money email scammers & spammers would pay to get email addresses of confirmed former addicts. It’s one thing to mass spam a few million valid email addresses with ads of how to get prescription drugs overseas guaranteed and its an entirely different matter to do that with only email addresses of self-admitted recovering and or current drug addicts. Same goes for spamming Viagra to those suffering from EDS. All examples of the kind of “quirks” or traits that this service is targeting.

    So then what is a comic book geek to do? Get out into the real world and socialize! Yes its hard especially if you sit behind a computer most days playing games but humans are social creatures and these kinds of habits, sitting inside playing computer games and or living in a fantasy world 24/7 either thru comic books, trash novels or on line games, are not healthy! Its fine to be a gamer or enjoy some fantasy literature but if you are avoiding interaction with others in favor of this then you are mentally damaging yourself and Microsoft is more the happy to take advantage of that.

  • http://www.nosnivelling.com daveschappell

    from the article’s title, it reminds me a lot of Cupidtino (http://cupidtino.com/) — connecting Apple Fanboys with Fangirls

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