Torrentfreak reported on Friday that Disney had been awarded a patent for a piracy-free search engine. While that is entirely true, the more interesting story was buried at the end of their post where it might have been missed. (I didn’t catch the significance until a reader pointed it out yesterday, and on reflection I think it deserves its own coverage.)
The patent defines a custom search engine which assigns an “authenticity weight” to the sites listed in its index. Pirate sites and other undesirable websites of course have a lower authenticity weight than legitimate sites, and sites like Wikipedia and official sites owned by publishers and studios have a higher weight.
While that sounds all well and good, Disney’s idea falls apart once you take a close look at what they think counts as an authentic or authoritative site.
Here’s how the patent described it:
In certain embodiments, an authenticity weight may indicate the relative authority of a web element for a given category, context, keyword, phrase, search term, filter, etc. For example, a search index may index a Disney.go.com.TM. web page for the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.TM. film and an online encyclopedia web page that also discusses the same film. The Disney.go.com web page may be associated with an authenticity weight that is greater than the authenticity weight associated with the encyclopedia web page because Disney.go.com is the official domain for The Walt Disney Company. As such, with respect to the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.TM. film, the Disney.go.com web page may be considered more authoritative (and thus more authentic) than the encyclopedia web page.
Do you see the problem?
Disney has invented a search engine which is set up to tell you what their marketing dept wants you to see, not to show you links to relevant info.
For example, when you’re searching for a movie you might want to find the trailer on Youtube, the summary on Wikipedia, and the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. Those would all be useful and relevant, but rather than put those links at the top of the search results, Disney will instead show you the official website for the movie.
Similarly, if you search for a book Disney will show you the publisher’s website ahead of the reviews on Goodreads and book blogs.
IMO, what Disney is doing with this search engine is the equivalent of one of the classic logical fallacies: argument from authority. Disney is going to first show you what the authority wants to tell you, but not necessarily the results which you would be most interested in finding.
In short, Disney has come up with a search engine no one, or at least no consumer, is going to want to use. Of course, that’s not the only way it could be used; Disney could also be planning to license the tech to another company (I don’t know who would want it but the idea is not impossible).