US 5828837 Computer network system and method for efficient information transfer

ABSTRACT – A computer network connects information providers and end-users of network services, facilitates direct information to users, and gathers user responses. The computer network is designed to use otherwise idle bandwidth of the network transmission medium to transfer targeted commercial and non-commercial information to users while minimizing the delay of normal network traffic. User reports containing demographics and user responses is generated ensuring user privacy. Information providers can access the user report without violating user anonymity.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to computer networks that connect information providers and end-users of network services. More particularly, the present invention relates to a computer network for providing directed information to users and gathering user reports.

A user often connects to a network service to view or download information from a wide array of resources. Network services include various networks, e.g., Internet, or other online services, e.g., AMERICA ONLINE, COMPUSERVE, DIALOG, GENIE, and PRODIGY. When a user selects desired information from such a service, the service transmits the selected information to the user over a network transmission medium in packets. The transmission capacity of a network is measured in bandwidth and information packets are transmitted over available bandwidth using TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Currently, network service users have exclusive control over selecting information for viewing or downloading.

This type of system has many disadvantages, however. First, the network service user greatly underutilizes the available bandwidth. For example, no use is made of free space between information packets transmitted over an active transmission medium. Additionally, the entire bandwidth of an idle link is wasted when the user does not request information transfer.

In addition to the significant underutilization of the bandwidth, one-sided control of information transfer by the user is undesirable from the perspective of both users and information providers such as commercial or non-commercial entities that furnishes information to users through network services. The Internet offers a vast amount of information and continues to expand with tremendous speed, making it extremely difficult for any one user to maintain a comprehensive knowledge of all available information and resources and keep current with the changes and additions to the Internet resources. Most often, a user accesses only a small portion of the available information and a user’s breadth of access depends significantly on the user’s current knowledge of the available resources. Therefore, the user receives only a part of the benefit the Internet can provide.

One-sided user control further restricts on information providers from offering better services. Currently, information providers cannot furnish information directly to a specific group of users. Only users who know of and make an effort to access the specific information receive that information. Moreover, information providers only transmit information to specific users by e-mail (electronic mail). Mass e-mail, however, is not specifically targeted to a particular audience, and many users find mass e-mail irrelevant or uninteresting and quickly discard it as “junk mail.”

Additionally, information providers often cannot gather information about the users’ access to its products, such as what content they view, when they view it, how often they view it, and how long they view it. Information providers also may not know its number of users or their demographics. For example, although it is possible to record how many times an Internet site has been accessed, that record does not demonstrate whether the user actually views the information. Good statistical information data can help information providers assess user interests, and thereby improve and better tailor the information to user interest.

Therefore, it is desirable to maximize the use of network bandwidth by delivering information targeted specifically to a user’s interests and hobbies during times when the network is not otherwise engaged. For example, it is desirable to transmit information to users during idle times. It is also desirable to transmit targeted information to the user by utilizing otherwise idle bandwidth and thus minimizing additional delay to normal network traffic.

In addition, it is desirable to gather information about the users without invading user privacy.

It is further desirable to generate a report of user responses for information providers with accurate assessment of user demand to create a more attractive and dynamic network service environment.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, the present invention is directed to a computer network that substantially obviates one or more of the problems due to limitations and disadvantages of the related art.

In accordance with the purpose of the present invention, as embodied and broadly described, the invention provides a computer network for connecting information providers and users through a network service provider comprising a user node, a master database, a network service provider, a master node, and a master program module. The user node includes means for sending a user id, means for receiving and displaying target information, means for receiving user request for certain user-selected information, and means for compiling and transmitting a user report identifying the displayed target information and user-selected information. The master node is coupled to the user node over a transmission medium capable of supporting communications between the master node and the user node. The master node includes means for receiving the user id and the respective network address from the network service provider, means for monitoring the traffic on the transmission medium between the user node and the master node, and means for transferring information to the user node without causing additional communication delay between the master node and the user node. The master program module is coupled to the master node and the master database, and includes means for receiving the user id and respective network address from the master node, means for accessing user profile information corresponding to the user id, means for transmitting to the user node, through the master node, a reference to target information corresponding to the accessed user profile, and means for storing the user report from the user node.

According to another aspect of the present invention, a method for connecting information providers and users comprises several steps. A user node sends a user id corresponding to a current user of the user node to a network service provider. The network service provider sends the user id and the respective network address to the master program module. The master program module accesses user profile information corresponding to the user id, and transmits a reference to target information to the user node. The user node receives the reference to the target information, and requests a transfer of target information from a master node. The master node transfers the requested target information to the user node while minimizing additional communication delay between the master node and the user node. The user node displays the transferred information and receives requests for certain user-selected information from the current user. The user node also compiles and transmits a user report identifying the displayed target information and user-selected information. Finally, the master program module stores the user report from the user node.

 

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