US Patent No. 6,161,149

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Issue Date: 12/12/2000

Abstract: A system and method for communicating information among members of a distributed discussion group having peripheral communication devices involves communication between the peripheral communication devices and a central agent. The central agent receives and stores messages intended for at least one other group member. It creates a notice informing the at least one other group member that such a message exists and containing a channel (e.g., a hyperlink) directly to the memory location of the message. The at least one other group member may then elect to retrieve the message and may also elect to reply to the message. Such replies are transmitted from the peripheral device of the at least one other group member to the central agent, where it is stored and associated with the original message. Messages are retained in memory, thereby causing discussions to be maintained.

What is claimed is:

1. A system for communicating information among members of a distributed
discussion group comprising:

for each group member, a peripheral device capable of transmitting and
receiving information; and

a central agent comprising:

two-way links to the peripheral devices capable of receiving and
transmitting information,

a notice generator,

a notice sender, and

a central storage medium able to store information inputs from members,

the central storage medium storing a first information input from an
inputting member directed to at least one receiving member; the notice
generator, responsive to said first information input, being able to
generate a notice selectively for the at least one receiving member and to
push the notice to the notice sender, the notice comprising a channel to a
memory location of said first information input in the central storage
medium; and the notice sender, responsive to the notice pushed from the
notice generator, being able to send the notice selectively to the
peripheral devices of the receiving member; whereby the receiving member
can access said first information input directly using the channel in the
pushed notice; the central storage medium being further able to store a
second information input from a member in response to said first
information input and associate it with said first information input while
subsequently retaining said first information input; the notice generator,
responsive to said second information input, being able to generate a
second notice selectively directed to at least one other member of said
discussion group, which at least one other member may or may not include
said inputting member, the second notice comprising a channel to a memory
location of said second information input in the central storage medium,
and said second notice being pushed to said notice sender; said notice
sender, responsive to said second notice being pushed, being capable of
sending said second notice to the peripheral devices of the at least one
member to whom the second notice is selectively directed; and the central
storage medium being further able to store a third information input from
a member in response to said second information input and associate it
with said first and second information inputs while subsequently retaining
said first and second information inputs.

2. The system of claim 1, in which the notice generator pushes the notice
immediately.

3. The system of claim 1, in which the notice sender pushes the notice at
the end of a predetermined period.

4. The system of claim 3, in which all notices generated during the
preceding period are pushed together.

5. The system of claim 1, in which the notice comprises a summary of the
information input.

6. The system of claim 1, in which the notice comprises a hyperlink to the
information input on the central storage medium.

7. The system of claim 1, in which the notice sender is an e-mail server,
narrowcasting server, or a combination.

8. The system of claim 1, in which the links form a computer network, a
cable network, a telecommunications network, a wireless network, or a
combination.

9. The system of claim 8, in which the central agent resides as a program
operating on at least one of a network server, an internet, an intranet.

10. The system of claim 1, in which the inputs are retained in the central
storage medium as a database archive for a predetermined period.

11. The system of claim 1, in which access to the central agent requires
using a password.

12. The system of claim 1, in which information inputs and notices are
encrypted.

13. The system of claim 1, further comprising a network server farm
including a server selected from the group consisting of groupware, a
video server, an audio server, a chat server, and a news server.

14. A method of communicating information among members of a distributed
discussion group having peripheral devices capable of transmitting and
receiving information, comprising:

providing a central device capable of receiving information from the
peripheral devices and transmitting information to the peripheral devices,

linking the central device to the peripheral devices,

responsive to a first information input transmitted from the peripheral
device of a first member of the group directed to at least one other
member of the group,

centrally receiving and storing the first information input,

associating the first information input with the at least one other member,

preparing a notice of the first information input for the at least one
other member, the notice comprising a channel to a memory location of the
first information input, and

sending the notice to the peripheral device of the at least one other
member only if the at least one other member is one to whom the associated
information input is directed,

responsive to a second information input by the at least one other member,
in response to said notice,

centrally receiving, storing, and associating the second information input
with the first information input, while retaining the first information
input,

preparing a second notice of the second information input directed to at
least one other member, which may or may not include said first member,
the second notice comprising a channel to a memory location of the second
information input, and

sending the notice to the peripheral device of the at least one other
member only if the at least one other member is one to whom the associated
information input is directed, and

responsive to a third information input by the at least one other member to
whom said second notice was directed and in response to said second
notice,

centrally receiving, storing, and associating the third information input
with the first and second information inputs, while retaining the first
and second information inputs,

preparing a third notice of the third information input directed to at
least one other member the third notice comprising a channel to a memory
location of the third information input, and

sending the third notice to the peripheral device of the at least one other
member only if the at least one other member is one to whom the associated
information input is directed.

15. A method according to claim 14, in which the first information input is
directed to a plurality of other members.

16. A method according to claim 14, in which the second information input
is directed to the first member.

17. A method according to claim 14, further comprising allowing a
non-member to join as a member of the group, comprising the steps of:

having a member designate said non-member for inclusion in the group; and

generating and sending a notice to said non-member, including at least one
channel to permit access by said non-member to at least one information
input, inviting said non-member to access the distributed discussion
group.

18. A method according to claim 17, comprising inviting a person to join as
a member of the group.

19. A computer readable medium comprising a program for carrying out the
method of claim 14.

20. A system for communicating information among members of a distributed
discussion group having peripheral devices capable of transmitting and
receiving information, comprising

means for centrally receiving a first information input transmitted from
the peripheral device of a member of the group directed to at least one
other member of the group,

means for generating a notice of the first information input, the notice
comprising a channel linking the at least one other member to the first
information input,

means for sending the notice to the peripheral device of the at least one
other member selectively if the member is one to whom the associated
information input was directed, and

means for centrally storing the first information input such that when the
at least one other member receives the notice, the at least one other
member can retrieve the first information input at the respective
peripheral device via the channel, and can transmit to the central
receiving means at least one response to the first information input, the
central receiving means comprising means for associating the first
information input with the at least one response,

said means for generating a notice generating, responsive to said at least
one response, at least one second notice directed to at least one member
other than the member sending the particular response, said notice
containing at least one channel linking the at least one other member to
said at least one response, and said means for sending sending the at
least one second notice to the peripheral device of the at least one
member to whom it is directed,

said means for centrally storing providing the at least one other member
the capability of retrieving the at least one response at the respective
peripheral device via the at least one channel, and further associating
with said first information input and said at least one response any
further responses from said at least one other member to said at least one
response.

21. A system according to claim 1, wherein said central storage medium,
said notice generator, and said notice sender operate in the same manner
as for said second information input in response to said third information
input and any subsequent information inputs.

22. A system according to claim 14, wherein the steps of centrally
receiving, storing, and associating, of preparing a notice, and of sending
the notice are repeated in response to any subsequent information inputs.

23. A system for communicating information among members of a distributed
discussion group comprising:

for each group member, a peripheral device capable of transmitting and
receiving information; and

a central agent comprising:

two-way links to the peripheral devices capable of receiving and
transmitting information,

a notice generator,

a notice sender, and

a central storage medium able to store information inputs from members,

the central storage medium storing a first information input from an
inputting member directed to at least one receiving member; the notice
generator, responsive to said first information input, being able to
generate a notice selectively for the at least one receiving member and to
push the notice to the notice sender, the notice comprising a channel
leading to a memory location of said first information input in the
central storage medium, said channel containing all information necessary
to automatically access said first information input, including
authentication information containing a password; and the notice sender,
responsive to the notice pushed from the notice generator, being able to
send the notice selectively to the peripheral devices of the receiving
member; whereby the receiving member can access said first information
input directly and automatically using the channel in the pushed notice;
the central storage medium being further able to store a second
information input from a member in response to said first information
input and associate it with said first information input while
subsequently retaining said first information input.

24. A system according to claim 23, said channel comprising a URL.

25. A system according to claim 23, said central agent further comprising:

means for permitting said receiving member access to said central agent via
said channel, based on said authentication information; and

means for accessing said central storage medium to provide said first
information input to said receiving member, said means for accessing being
logically interposed between said means for permitting and said central
storage medium;

said means for permitting and means for accessing providing automatic and
direct access to said first information input using said channel.

26. A method of communicating information among members of a distributed
discussion group having peripheral devices capable of transmitting and
receiving information, comprising:

providing a central device capable of receiving information from the
peripheral devices and transmitting information to the peripheral devices,

linking the central device to the peripheral devices,

responsive to a first information input transmitted from the peripheral
device of a first member of the group directed to at least one other
member of the group:

centrally receiving and storing the first information input,

associating the first information input with the at least one other member,

preparing a notice of the first information input for the at least one
other member, the notice comprising a channel to a memory location of the
first information input, said channel permitting automatic, direct access
to said first information input by the at least one other member and
including such information as is needed to facilitate such automatic,
direct access, including authentication information containing a password,
and

sending the notice to the peripheral device of the at least one other
member only if the at least one other member is one to whom the associated
information input is directed, and

responsive to a second information input by the at least one other member,
in response to said notice, centrally receiving, storing, and associating
the second information input with the first information input, while
retaining the first information input.

27. A method according to claim 26, said channel comprising a URL.

28. A method according to claim 26, further comprising the steps of:

using said channel to access a central agent logically interposed between
said peripheral devices and a central storage medium in which said
information inputs are stored, the step of using being performed by at
least one of said members; and

accessing said central storage medium by said central agent to provide
automatic, direct access to said information inputs.

29. A system according to claim 1, said central agent further comprising:

means permitting access to the central agent by using one of said channels;
and

means for accessing said central storage medium to retrieve at least one of
said information inputs and to forward it to a member accessing the
central agent using one of said channels, said means for accessing being
logically interposed between said means permitting access and said central
storage medium;

said means permitting access and means for accessing providing automatic,
direct access to at least one of said information inputs by using one of
said channels.

30. A method according to claim 14, further comprising the steps of:

using one of said channels to access a central agent logically interposed
between said peripheral devices and a central storage medium in which said
information inputs are stored, the step of using being performed by at
least one of said members; and

accessing said central storage medium by said central agent to provide
automatic, direct access to said information inputs.

31. A system for communicating information among members of a distributed
discussion group having peripheral devices capable of transmitting and
receiving information, comprising:

means for centrally receiving a first information input transmitted from
the peripheral device of a member of the group directed to at least one
other member of the group;

means for generating a notice of the first information input, the notice
comprising a channel automatically and directly linking the at least one
other member to the first information input, said channel including all
information necessary to provide such automatic and direct linking,
including authentication information containing a password;

means for sending the notice to the peripheral device of the at least one
other member selectively if the member is one to whom the associated
information input was directed; and

means for centrally storing the first information input such that when the
at least one other member receives the notice, the at least one other
member can automatically and directly retrieve the first information input
at the respective peripheral device via the channel, and can transmit to
the central receiving means at least one response to the first information
input, the central receiving means comprising means for associating the
first information input with the at least one response.

32. A system according to claim 31, further comprising:

a central means including said means for generating a notice, and further
comprising:

means for permitting said at least one other member access to said central
agent via said channel; and

means for accessing said means for centrally storing to provide said first
information input to said at least one other member, said means for
accessing being logically interposed between said means for permitting and
said means for centrally storing;

said means for permitting and means for accessing providing automatic and
direct access to said first information input using said channel.