WO2002035782A2 - Method and device for transmitting streaming multimedia messages - Google Patents

Method and device for transmitting streaming multimedia messages Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2002035782A2
WO2002035782A2 PCT/US2001/025778 US0125778W WO0235782A2 WO 2002035782 A2 WO2002035782 A2 WO 2002035782A2 US 0125778 W US0125778 W US 0125778W WO 0235782 A2 WO0235782 A2 WO 0235782A2
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WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
message
user
multimedia
recipient
streaming multimedia
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/US2001/025778
Other languages
French (fr)
Other versions
WO2002035782A3 (en
Inventor
John S. Eyles
Original Assignee
Carbon Communications, Llc
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date
Priority to US22670500P priority Critical
Priority to US60/226,705 priority
Application filed by Carbon Communications, Llc filed Critical Carbon Communications, Llc
Publication of WO2002035782A2 publication Critical patent/WO2002035782A2/en
Publication of WO2002035782A3 publication Critical patent/WO2002035782A3/en

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Classifications

    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04LTRANSMISSION OF DIGITAL INFORMATION, e.g. TELEGRAPHIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04L29/00Arrangements, apparatus, circuits or systems, not covered by a single one of groups H04L1/00 - H04L27/00
    • H04L29/02Communication control; Communication processing
    • H04L29/06Communication control; Communication processing characterised by a protocol
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04LTRANSMISSION OF DIGITAL INFORMATION, e.g. TELEGRAPHIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04L29/00Arrangements, apparatus, circuits or systems, not covered by a single one of groups H04L1/00 - H04L27/00
    • H04L29/02Communication control; Communication processing
    • H04L29/06Communication control; Communication processing characterised by a protocol
    • H04L29/0602Protocols characterised by their application
    • H04L29/06027Protocols for multimedia communication
    • HELECTRICITY
    • H04ELECTRIC COMMUNICATION TECHNIQUE
    • H04LTRANSMISSION OF DIGITAL INFORMATION, e.g. TELEGRAPHIC COMMUNICATION
    • H04L51/00Arrangements for user-to-user messaging in packet-switching networks, e.g. e-mail or instant messages
    • H04L51/28Details regarding addressing issues

Abstract

A method, apparatus, and article of manufacture for transmitting a multimedia message via a computer network. In particular, an embodiment of the present invention includes creating and transmitting a message that contains streaming multimedia content, without using an electronic mail attachment, and without using a hypertext link. Another embodiment of the present invention includes providing one or more members with secure access to the streaming multimedia content, by using a secure groups and members list. The secure groups and members list contains a list of one or more members. Each member on the groups and members list was invited to be on the groups and members list, and each member accepted an invitation to be on the groups and members list. The members on the groups and members list are divided into groups. Each member in a particular group can access every other member in that particular group.

Description

TECHNIQUE OF TRANSMITTING

STREAMING MULTIMEDIA MESSAGES

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of Provisional Application No. 60/226,705, filed on August 18, 2000. The contents of that application are incorporated by reference herein,

This application is a continuation-in-part of the following co-pending and commonly-assigned patent application: Application Serial No. 09/510,665 . entitled

"Applying Dynamic User Interfaces to Multimedia Communication Via A Computer Network," filed on February 22, 2000, by John S. Eyles. The contents of that application are incorporated by reference herein.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention generally relates to the electronic transmission of messages, and in particular, to the electronic transmission of messages that contain streaming multimedia content.

2. Description of Related Art

Every day, computer users transmit billions of electronic messages across computer networks. The most commonly used messaging systems include, electronic mail systems ("e-mail"), internet relay chat, and instant messaging.

E-mail is the exchange of computer-stored messages via a computer network. E-mail messages are usually text messages. E-mail messages can also include attachments and/or hypertext links. Attachments are files that are attached to an e-mail message. Hypertext links are pointers to a stored file. For both the attachments and hypertext links, the files may include text files, audio files, graphic files, multimedia files, or any other type of files.

An e-mail message can be sent to an individual, or it can be distributed to lists of people. E-mail messages usually arrive at their destination a few seconds after they are sent. In extreme cases, e-mail messages may take days to arrive at their destination.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) allows a user who is connected to the Internet to "talk" to others that are currently connected to the Internet. Typically, this "talking" involves the exchange of text messages. IRC is a server-based application, in that it requires one site (or server) to be a repository for the messages, and it allows a group of users to participate in the "talking" from anywhere on the Internet. This site (or server) is often times referred to as a "chat site" or a "chat room." To put it differently, a chat room provides a managed connection point that allows many users to type messages (usually sentence fragments to each other). Most chat rooms are focused on a particular theme that is designed to connect users who share a common interest, In some cases, private chats can be arranged between two users.

Instant messaging provides a user-friendly mechanism for creating a private chat room between two users, Instant messaging is different from IRC because it implements a message management system and global directory that allows individual users to chat with each other without connecting to a chat room. Typically, the instant messaging global directory alerts a user whenever a member of a user's private list is connected to the Internet. When the user receives the alert, the user can initiate a chat session with that particular member,

IRC and instant messaging are both different from e-mail in two key respects. First, unlike e-mail messages, which can arrive days after being sent, IRC messages and instant messaging are time sensitive. Both IRC and instant messaging are designed to create messages that are to be received a few seconds after the messages are sent. Second, messages created using IRC and instant messaging usually lack attachments. Instead, both IRC and instant messaging provide a user with the ability to transfer files to users with whom they are "chatting, " by using hypertext links or by using a file transfer program.

Each of the messaging techniques discussed above provide the user with the ability to effectively communicate by exchanging text messages. None of these messaging systems, however, provide users with a simple technique for creating and transmitting multimedia messages. As a result, many users who lack technical/computer skills are incapable of creating and sending multimedia messages across a computer network.

Creating an e-mail message that contains a multimedia file attachment and/or a hypertext link to a multimedia file is a complicated task. To illustrate, an example of the typical steps required to create and transmit a video e-mail message are shown in

Example 1. Example 1 assumes that the video is created by using a live video source, such as a personal computer camera, or a VCR (video cassette recorder)

Example 1 : Typical steps for creating an e-mail message that has a video file attachment

1. Open video encoding program

2. Set video encoding program settings (filename, bandwidth, preview, etc)

3. Start video encoding

4. Stop video encoding

5. Close video encoding program 6. Open e-mail program

7. Open new message screen

8. Click attachment button

9. Navigate to find file just recorded

10. Add file as attachment to email 1 1. Address message

12. Send message

The major disadvantages of using an attachment are that that some e-mail boxes restrict the size of a video file and some firewall software blocks attachments. In addition, the recipient of the e-mail that contains such an attachment cannot access the video file until the entire video file has been downloaded. That is, the recipient has to wait for the download of the entire video file before playing the video.

The other technique for sending a video file via e-mail involves using hypertext links. An example of the typical steps required to create and transmit such a message are shown in Example 2, Example 2 assumes that the video is coming from a live video source like a personal computer camera or VCR (video cassette recorder), or any video source.

Example 2. Typical steps for creating an e-mail message that has a hypertext link

1. Open video encoding program

2. Set video encoding program settings (filename, bandwidth, preview, etc)

3. Start video encoding

4. Stop video encoding

5. Close video encoding program 6. Start file upload/copy program

7. Configure file upload/copy program (add server name, username and password, etc)

8. Upload file to server

9. Close File Upload program 10. Open email program

1 1. Open new message screen

12. Type in a link to the file just uploaded

13. Address message

14. Send message

The major disadvantages of using hypertext links are that the use of such links require a user to encode and upload the video file to a server, and to provide a properly formed link. In most cases, only sophisticated users are capable of correctly completing these requirements. In fact, even the most sophisticated users can encounter accuracy problems. Both IRC and instant messaging require many, if not all, of the above- identified steps to transmit a multimedia file, Hence, none of the messaging systems described above provide a user with a simple mechanism for creating and transmitting multimedia messages.

It is noted that many tools exists that allow users to communicate across networks. For example, Internet videochat systems, suϋh as www.cuseemeworld.com (CU- See Me), allow users to participate in a multi-point, two-way, live videoconferencing session, During these sessions users "talk" about common subjects. Similar to IRC, videochat users connect through a central server, and the users may be separated by that central server into logical groups, which are functionally similar to chat rooms.

The key difference between videochat and each of the above-described messaging systems is that users do not exchange messages. Instead, each group of users participate in a multi-point, two-way, live videoconferencing session. Therefore, the term videochat should not be confused with messaging systems that allows user to send and receive messages,

With respect to messaging systems, there is a need in the art for a simple technique of creating and transmitting multimedia messages across a computer network that does not require a user to have spe al technical/computer skills,

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION The present invention, which addresses this need, resides in a method, apparatus, and an article of manufacture for transmitting a multimedia message via a computer network. In particular, an embodiment of the present invention includes creating and transmitting a message that contains streaming multimedia content, without using an electronic mail attachment, and without using a hypertext link.

Another embodiment of the present invention includes providing one or more members with secure access to the streaming multimedia content, by using a secure groups and members list. The secure groups and members list contains a list of one or more members. Each member on the groups and members list was invited to be on the groups and members list, and each member accepted an invitation to be on the groups and members list, The members on the groups and members list are divided into groups, Each member in a particular group can access every other member in that particular group.

The present invention has utility for eliminating the complicated steps typically involved in creating and transmitting multimedia content. In addition, embodiments of the present invention allow for effortless recording, storing, and controlled distribution of corporate, professional, and individual multimedia communications, Embodiments of the present invention are functional as a messaging application for both (1) companies or others desiring to send 1 -to-many messages and (2) consumers/individual-users desiring to send 1- to-1 messages. Companies can use embodiments of the present invention as a Customer Relationship Management and corporate communications tool and consumers can use embodiments of the present invention as an enhanced messaging application that is more versatile than e-mail or instant messaging, In addition, embodiments of the present invention allow all users to easily limit the viewing and/or distribution of the multimedia message through enhanced security modes.

Moreover, embodiments of the present invention are server-based and delivered through dynamic user interfaces. Embodiments of the present invention can serve the online Customer Relationship Management (eCRM) and communications market, and incorporates multimedia messaging into the existing market that is generally limited to text. A user of embodiments of the present invention can send a multimedia message to another user's inbox or to a non-user's email address. By allowing users to send multimedia messages to non-members, non-members can nevertheless experience the multimedia message, This enables users of embodiments of the present invention to virally spread their messages and to build messaging communities (similar to instant messengers).

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Referring now to the drawings in which like reference numbers represent corresponding parts throughout: FIG. 1 schematically illustrates a hardware environment of an embodiment of the present invention, and more particularly, illustrates a typical distributed computer system;

FIG. 2 is a block diagram that illustrates a viewer application GUI in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 3 is a block diagram that illustrates user groups in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

FIG 4 is a screen shot that illustrates a standard DCP template in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

FIG, 5 is a screen shot that illustrates a customized DCP in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

FIG, 6 is a flowchart that illustrates the steps performed to customize standard DCP template in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

FIG, 7 is a flowchart that illustrates the steps performed to establish a multimedia communication session in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 8 is a flowchart that illustrates the steps performed to display a customized outgoing message in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention;

FIG. 9 is a flowchart that illustrates the steps performed by the advertisement software in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention; and

FIG. 10 is a flowchart that illustrates the steps performed to transmit advertisements from one user to another user in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.

FIGS. l lA-HC are flow charts that illustrate the steps performed by the multimedia messaging application during the uploading process, in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention; and FIGS. 12A-12B are flow charts that illustrate the steps performed by the multimedia messaging application when controlling the manner in which a recipient views a message, in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION In the following description, reference is made to the accompanying drawings which form a part hereof, and which is shown only by way of illustration a specific embodiment in which the invention may be practiced. It is to be understood that other embodiments may be utilized and changes may be made without departing from the scope of the present invention.

Overview

The present invention resides in a computer network based system that provides a dynamic, personalized GUI for multimedia communications over the Internet. The dynamic, personalized GUI is referred to herein as the dynamic communications page (DCP), as opposed to being statically designed and fixed by the initial software developer.

The DCP is dynamically generated when a caller/called user initiates a multimedia communication. It will be appreciated that the look and feel of the DCP is based on many factors, such as user preferences (e.g., attributes of the DCP page, such as the layout, color scheme, fonts, button styles, and overall theme), experience level, demographics (e.g., location, age, gender, income, etc), time-of-day, date and any other relevant factor,

In addition to providing a GUI for multimedia communication, the DCP works in conjunction with software that displays targeted advertisements (referred to herein as the advertisement software), and a section of the DCP is reserved for displaying the targeted advertisements. The advertisement software targets advertisements to a caller/called user by using personal information about the caller/called user, including information related to the relationship (e.g., grandparent/grandchild, parent/child, sibling/sibling, etc) between the caller user and the called user. The advertisement software targets the advertisements during a multimedia communication, without interrupting the multimedia communication. To illustrate, assume a grandparent and grandchild are participating in a multimedia communication session. The advertisement software displays advertisements on the grandparent's monitor which relate to goods/services that grandparents are usually interested in, such as an airline advertisement listing the cost of flying from the grandparent's residence to the grandchild's residence. Similarly, the advertisement software displays advertisements on the grandchild's monitor that relate to goods/services which grandchildren are usually interested in, such as an advertisement about a toy. These targeted advertisements may also be based on caller/called user experience level, time-of-day, date, and other relevant factors.

During a multimedia communications session, called/caller users can forward advertisements displayed on their monitors to other users. The software that provides the capability to forward advertisements is referred to herein as the advertisement forwarding software. The advertisement forwarding software allows a user to send a universal resource locator (URL) from one user's computer to another user's computer, When the URL is received by the other user's computer, a browser displays the advertisement on the other user's monitor. The advertisement forwarding software also forwards any web resource that is identifiable by a URL.

The DCP also contains a multimedia answering service. With this multimedia answering service, users need not perform any of the following three steps: (a) open an inbox; (b) select a specific message; and (c) view message. Instead, the user receives an outgoing message when the called user fails to answer an incoming call. Therefore, the caller user only performs the following two steps: (a) call a user by initiating a multimedia conference with the user; and (b) when the called user fails to answer the incoming call, view a customized outgoing message.

The multimedia answering service also contains a multimedia messaging application that enables users to create and send near real-time, streaming multimedia messages across a computer network (e.g., the Internet). A streaming multimedia message contains multimedia data that is compressed to a streaming multimedia format (e.g., Windows Media, Real Video, etc.), The multimedia data is usually stored on a server, and the multimedia data can be requested by a media player and streamed over a computer network.

The multimedia messaging application is different from existing messaging systems because: (1) it does not require the use of electronic mail attachments or hypertext links; and (2) it eliminates the complicated steps typically required to create and send multimedia messages. Therefore, the multimedia messaging application allows user who lack computer/technical skills to create and send streaming multimedia messages.

Hardware Environment FIG. 1 schematically illustrates the hardware environment of an embodiment of the present invention, and more particularly, illustrates a typical distributed computer system using the Internet 100 to connect client computers 102 executing client applications to a server computer 106 executing a variety of software, and to connect the server computer 106 to a database server 1 16. A typical combination of resources may include client computers 102 that are personal computers or workstations, and a server computer 106 that is a personal computer, workstation, minicomputer, or mainframe, These systems are coupled to one another by various networks, including LANs, WANs, SNA networks, and the Internet,

The client computers 102 can represent either a caller user or a called user. A caller user is a user that places a call, via the Internet 100 (or any computer network), to a third party user. A called user is a user that receives the call from the caller user.

Each client computer 102 has a viewer application 104 and a forwarding application, referred to herein as the advertisement forwarding software 128, The viewer application 104 allows a user to view and interact with the DCP 126. The viewer application 104 has an embedded browser for displaying any web resource that has a URL. The advertisement forwarding software 128 forwards target advertisements from one user's computer to another user's computer, The advertisement forwarding software 128 also forwards any resource that has an identifiable URL or other appropriate locator. The client computer 102 also has a multimedia messaging application 132 that enables users to create and send near real-time, streaming multimedia messages. The multimedia message application 132 resides on both the client computer 102 and the server 106.

The server computer 106 is a single server or server farm comprised of software components. The server computer 106 also contains messaging and groupware components, as well as streaming video services. The server software components include:

(1) The advertisement software 108 manages the delivery of targeted advertisements to users. In particular, the advertisement software 108 delivers advertising based on the relationship (e.g., grandparent/grandchild, parent/child, sibling/sibling, etc), between the caller users and the called users. The advertisement software 108 also delivers advertising based on other factors, such as the time of the multimedia communication, the date of the multimedia communication, the geographic location of the caller/called users, and any other defined factors,

(2) The directory services software 110 tracks user activity. In particular, the directory service software maintains a record of users that are currently online and able to receive calls, The record also contains the names of users that are offline and unable to receive calls, It is noted that users can only answer incoming calls when they are online.

(3) The multimedia answering service software 112 provides message service functionality, Namely, the multimedia answering service software 112 answers an incoming call when the called user is offline or otherwise unable to answer the incoming call. The multimedia answering service software 112 also contains a multimedia messaging application 132 that enables users to create and send near real-time, streaming multimedia messages, It is noted that the multimedia messaging application 132 resides on both the server 106 and the client computer 102.

(4) System component software 114 performs a variety of miscellaneous tasks, including generating and storing a DCP 126 for each user. The DCP 126 is stored at the server computer 106. The system component software 114 also interacts with the system administrator computer 130, and with the other software components. (5) The database server 1 16 is a single server or server farm comprised of software components that run in a standard relational database environment, The database server 1 16 includes the following: (a) the main database 1 18, which is a repository for user and system related information; (b) the directory service database 120, which is a repository for directory information generated by directory services 1 10; (c) the advertisement software database 122, which is a repository for the advertisement software 108, containing information such as advertising content, schedules, and target markets; (d) the multimedia answering service mailbox (or database) 124, which is an index describing the location of multimedia files required for the operation of the multimedia answering service software 112.

Dynamic User Interfaces

The present invention includes four advantages features: (1) the viewer application 104 for viewing and interacting with the DCP 126; (2) the DCP 126 for providing a personalized GUI; (3) the advertisement software 108 for providing targeted advertisements, and the advertisement forwarding software 128 for forwarding these targeted advertisements; and (4) the multimedia answering service software 112 for providing an answering service,

Before using the viewer application 104, a user registers for access to the server computer 106. When the user registers for access, the system component software 114 generates a unique user identification number (user ID). The user ID uniquely identifies each user — similar to the manner in which a social security card uniquely identifies each United States Citizen. The system component software 1 14 may generate the user ID number by sequentially increasing the values of the user ID numbers. For example, the system component software 1 14 may assign a user ID of 1 to the first user and assign a user ID of 10 to the tenth user. Alternatively, the system component software 1 14 may use a random number generator to generate user IDs. The system component software 1 14 stores the user ID in the main database 1 18,

The main database 1 18 only accepts unique user IDs. That is, the main database 1 18 will not allow the system component software 1 14 to store multiple user IDs with the same value. In the main database 1 18, the user ID uniquely identifies a record. This record is the personal record of the user, The record contains the user's password, username, and any other relevant information about the user. When the user invokes the viewer application 104, the system component software 1 14 uses the user ID to determine whether a user is authorized to access the server computer 106.

The viewer application 104 is stored at the client computer 102. The viewer application has a GUI. The GUI for the viewer application is separate from and different than the DCP 126.

Whenever a user requests a DCP 126, the viewer application 104 requests a password and a username from the user. The username is used as a security token. A user can provide the system administrator with the password and username when the user registers for access to the server computer 106. Alternatively, the user can also provide the username and password when the user invokes the viewer application 104 for the first time. Once the username and password are received, the system component software 114 stores both the password and username in the user's personal record,

As used herein, the system administrator is an individual who receives data from called/caller users, stores the received data in the main database 1 18, and performs other system related functions, The system administrator adds data to the user's personal record by using the system administrator computer 130, The system administrator receives data from a user when the user registers for access to the server computer 130. The user may register by sending the system administrator information, including information relating to the user's relationship to other authorized users, information relating to a user's preferences, and information relating to a user's experience level. The system administrator stores the received user information in the personal record.

The system component software 1 14 uses the information contained in the personal record to generate a GUI for the viewer application 104, For example, when the personal record contains information indicating that the user is a seven-year-old girl, the background color of the viewer application GUI may be pink and the font color may be purple. Similarly, when the personal record contains information indicating that the user is a eleven-year-old boy, the background color of the viewer application GUI may be black and the font color may be blue. Of course, users are free to change the attributes (e.g., layout of page, background GOIOΓ, font, and overall them) of the viewer application GUI based on their individual preferences.

Based on a user's relationship to other authorized users, the system administrator assigns the user to one or more groups. The system administrator stores the group name in the user's personal record. FIG. 2 shows a block diagram of exemplary users and groups.

In FIG. 2, each user 200 and 202 can be in one or more groups, 204, 206 and 208. To illustrate, assume that group one 204 consists of people that work with user one 200, and that group three 208 consists of people that are related to user one 200, Assume further that group one 204 consists of people that also work with user two 202, and that group two 206 consists of people that are related to user two 202. For simplicity, assume that user one's name is Bob and user two's name is Jane. The system administrator assigns Bob (user one 200) to group one 204 and group three 208, The system administrator assigns Jane (user two 304) to group one 204 and group two 206. The system administrator stores Bob's group assignments in Bob's personal records and stores Jane's group assignments in Jane's personal record.

The groups 204, 206, and 208 are private and secure groups. That is, the groups are not publicly open to all users. Instead, when a user registers for access to the server computer 106, the user can provide a group password for each group. A user can also provide a group password subsequent to registration. The user obtains the group password from an authorized user. More specifically, an authorized user that has the group password may invite others into the group by distributing the group password, Hence, unlike many chat rooms, which are publicly open to all users, access to each group is by invitation only.

The system administrator stores the group password in the user's personal record. The system administrator will only assign the user to groups in which the user has provided a group password. When a user uses the viewer application 104 for the second time, and during all subsequent sessions thereafter, the viewer application 104 will request that the user enter both the username and password. The viewer application 104 sends this information to the system component software 1 14, and the system component software 1 14 authenticates the user.

Each viewer application window has an embedded browser. The browser displays specialized web pages that are generated using DHTML, XTML, HTML, Java code, and any other languages that are used to create documents on the World Wide Web (WWW), The viewer application GUI consists of these displayed web pages.

FIG. 3 shows an exemplary viewer application GUI 300. The toolbar 302 contains command buttons 304, 306, and 308. Each of these command buttons 304, 306, and 308 instruct the viewer application 104 to invoke a particular software component. For example, the advertisement forwarding software button 304 instructs the viewer application 104 to invoke the advertisement forwarding software 128; the multimedia answering service button 306 instructs the viewer application 104 to invoke the multimedia answering service software 112; and the browser button 308 instructs the viewer application 104 to invoke its embedded browser. Of course, the toolbar may also contain other command buttons without exceeding the scope of the present invention.

To illustrate the manner in which a user interfaces with the viewer application GUI 300, assume that a user clicks on the browser button 308. The viewer application 104 then invokes the browser application. Next, the browser application displays browser windows 312 within the viewer application GUI 300. Each browser window 310 has its own browser window toolbar 312.

Although, the system component software 1 14 generates the viewer application GUI 300, the preferences section 314 allows users to further customize the viewer application GUI 300 by selecting the attributes (e.g., background color, text color, size, number of frames, etc) of the viewer application GUI 300. The user can also select the language that is displayed within the viewer application GUI 300. The viewer application 104 stores the user's preference selection in the user's personal record. The next time the user accesses the viewer application 104, the viewer application 104 will display a customized viewer application GUI 300 that contains the user-selected preferences.

A caller user can request a DCP 126 from the viewer application 104. Before retrieving the DCP 126, the viewer application 104 requests and receives the username and the password from the caller user, The viewer application 104 then sends the username and password to the system component software 114. The system component software 114 authenticates the username and password. More specifically, the system component software 114, compares the username and password (collectively referred to as user identification information) to the user identification information stored in the main database 118, When a match is nonexistent, the server component software 1 14 denies access to the server computer 106, and hence, denies access to the DCP 126. On the other hand, when a match exists, the system component software 114 grants access to the server computer.

When the system component software 114 grants access, the system component software 1 14 sends a message to the viewer application 104. The system component software 1 14 then extracts the user information from the user's personal record, and sends the user information to the advertisement software 108, directory services software 110, and multimedia answering service software 112, The advertisement software 108 uses the information to target relevant advertisements to the caller user. The directory services software 1 10 uses the information to track whether other authorized users are online. The multimedia answering service software 112 uses the information to display a personalized outgoing message to the caller user.

With respect to the directory services, the directory services software 1 10 uses the username (also referred to as the token) to track whether the user is online or offline. When a user is online, the directory services software 1 10, stores information in the directory services database 120 about the user's hardware conferencing tools. That is, the directory services database 120 contains information about whether a user has full multimedia capability, including audio, video, text, etc; or limited multimedia capability (e.g., audio only, video only, or text only). Users provide information about their multimedia capability to the system administrator. The system administrator stores this information in the user's personal record. The directory services software 1 10 retrieves this information from the user's personal record and stores it in the directory service database 120, The directory services database 120 also contains the user's computer address.

During the first multimedia communication session, the system sends a standard (or default) DCP template. The viewer application 104 displays the standard DCP template. FIG. 4 shows a standard DCP template 400 that can be used in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. In this example, the standard DCP template 400 contains a work group 402 and a family group 404, The standard DCP template 400 also contains a called user multimedia display window 406 and a caller user multimedia display window 408. The standard DCP template 400 contains the following command buttons: an initiate multimedia communication button 410; a terminate multimedia communication button 412; a video option button 414; and a preferences option button 416, The standard DCP template 400 further contains an advertisement section 418 for displaying targeted advertisements,

Other features of the standard DCP template 400 include a Home button 420 for linking a user to home web page; a Leave Message button 422 for leaving a video message; a Send Ad button 424 that invokes the advertisement forwarding softwarel28; Check Multimedia Answering Service icon 426 that allows user to view multimedia messages; and a Meet icon 428 that allows a users to enter into a multimedia chat.

The system component software 114 uses the information contained in the called user's personal record to dynamically customize the standard DCP template 400. The system component software 114 dynamically customizes the standard DCP template by using standard Internet technologies, including HTML, DHTML, XML, Java code, etc The system component software 1 14 is able to modify any aspect of the standard DCP 126 template 400 up to and including dynamically re-writing any code (e.g., Java code) that is inherent within the page,

When modifying the standard DCP template 400, the system component software 1 14 retrieves the user preference information from the user's personal record. The preference information includes details about the attributes of a DCP, such as the layout, color scheme, fonts, styles, button styles, and overall theme.

The system component software 1 14 also modifies the standard DCP template 400 based on a user's sophistication or experience level. The system component software 114 determines the level of a caller/called user's sophistication by checking the personal record, When the preference information is absent from the personal record, the system component software 1 14 looks at the user's prior usage pattern, identifying which features (e.g., command buttons) the caller/called user has invoked and the number of times in which the caller/called user has invoked each feature. Based on the usage pattern, the system component software 114 determines the skill/experience level of a user.

Generally, a user's skill/experience level may fall into one of three categories: novice, average or advanced. Of course, additional categories may be added without exceeding the scope of the present invention. The names of the categories are descriptive, Namely, the novice category refers to a user who has a small amount of experience with the DCP 126. The average category refers to a user that has some experience with the DCP 126. The advanced category refers to a user that has a large amount of experience with the DCP 126.

Once the system component software 114 identifies the called/caller user's experience level, the experience level is stored in the personal record. The system component software 114 modifies the standard DCP template 400 by adding command buttons that reflect the user's experience level, To illustrate, for a novice user, the system component software 114 may add a connect button, a disconnect button, and a volume button, For an advanced user, the system component software 114 may add a capture video button. Modifying the standard DCP template 400 according to the user's experience level provides a user friendly environment because the learning curve for the DCP 126 is reduced.

The system component software 1 14 then checks the personal record for other information about the user, such as information concerning age, gender, residence, relationship to other users, etc. The system component software 1 14 then sends all of the information (e.g., preferences, experience level, and other personal information) to the advertisement software 108, The advertisement software 108 then compares this information, along with pre-set criteria (e.g., time of day, date, etc.) to the advertisements contained in the advertisement software database 122. The advertisement software 108 then creates a targeted advertisement schedule for the user. That is, the advertisement software 108 creates a list of advertisements that can be displayed to the user during a multimedia communication session.

When the personal record lacks information about the user, the advertisement software 108 compares generic information such as the time of day and the date, to the advertisements contained in the advertisement software database 122, The advertisement software 108 then creates a generic advertisement schedule. This advertisement schedule is generic because it is not based on the personal preferences of a particular user, That is, the generic advertisement schedule is not based on information contained in a user's personal record, Instead, the generic advertisement schedule is based on conditions that are distinct from the user.

Once the advertisement schedule is created, the system component software 114 generates the DCP 126 and displays the DCP 126 to the user, FIG. 5 shows a DCP 126 that could be used in accordance with the present invention, The difference between the DCP 126 and the standard DCP template 400 is that both the video button 414 and the preferences button 416 are missing. The system component software 1 14 displays the DCP 126 to the user via the viewer application 104, The user initiates a multimedia communication session by clicking one of the command buttons 410 or 412,

FIG. 6 is a flowchart that illustrates the steps performed to modify the standard DCP template 400. Block 600 represents the viewer application 104 being invoked by a user. The viewer application 104 then receives user information (i.e., a username and password) from a user , as represented by block 602. The viewer application 104 then sends that username and password (collectively referred to as the user information) to the system component software 1 14, Block 604 is a decision block that represents the system component software 1 14 determining whether the user identification information is stored in the main database 1 18 When the user identification information is absent from the main database, the system component software 1 14 denies access and the present invention returns to block 602 Otherwise, when the user identification is stored in the main database the system component software 1 14 grants access and the present invention proceeds to block 606

Block 606 represents the system component software 114 retrieving the standard DCP template 400 from the server computer memory The system component software 114 then retrieves other personal information about the user from the user's personal record, as represented by block 608 Block 610 represents the system component software modifying the standard DCP template 400 based on user preferences (e g , page layout, location of video screens, demographics, background color, font, selection of command buttons, etc )

Block 612 is a decision block that represents the system component software 1 14 determining whether the user's experience level (e g , novice, average, advanced, etc ) is stored in the user's personal record When the user's experience level is stored, the system component software 114 proceeds to block 614 Otherwise, the system component software 1 14 proceeds to block 616

Block 614 represents the system component software 114 modifying the standard DCP template 400 based on the user's experience level More specifically, the system component software 114, displays command buttons based on a user's experience level When the user's experience level is missing from the personal record, the system component software does not modify the standard DCP template 400 Instead, the system component software 1 14 displays all the command buttons that are contained in the standard DCP template 400

Block 616 represents the system component software 1 14 retrieving group information from the user's personal record For each group that the user is assigned to, the system component software 1 14 identifies all other users that are assigned to that group, as represented by block 619 Block 620 represents the system component software determining whether each grouped user is online. More specifically, system component software 114 compares each grouped user to the names of the online users in the directory services database 120.

Block 622 represents the system component software 114 modifying the standard DCP template 400 by adding the group information.

Block 624 represents the system component software 114 by retrieving additional information from the personal record. The system component software also retrieves information about the date and time from the server computer, as represented by block 626.

Block 628 represents the advertisement software 108 comparing the additional user information contained in the personal record to the advertisements contained in the advertisement software database 122.

Block 630 is a decision block that represents the advertisement software 1 8 determining whether a match was found. When a match is found, the system component software 114 modifies the standard DCP template 400 by adding the first targeted advertisement, as represented by block 632. Otherwise, when no match is found, the system component software 1 14 modifies the standard DCP template by adding a generic advertisement, as represented by block 634.

Block 636 represents the system component software 114 adding miscellaneous information, such as the Meet icon 420, and navigational aids for the web browser. Finally, the system component software 114 transmits the DCP 126 to the viewer application 104 for display to the user by block 638,

Once the DCP 126 is displayed, the user can initiate a multimedia communication session by choosing one of two options, First, the user can initiate a multimedia session by clicking on a name contained in one of the groups displayed within the DCP 126. Second, a user can initiate a multimedia session by typing in the called user's computer address (commonly referred to as the e-mail address). When a user clicks on a name contained in one of the groups displayed within the DCP 126, the system component software checks the directory services database 120 to determine whether the called user is online. When the called user is offline or otherwise unavailable, the multimedia answering service software 1 12 immediately displays an outgoing message. Alternatively, when the called user is available, the system component software 1 14 initiates the call.

The second option for initiating a multimedia communication session, involves the user inputting the called user's computer address into the DCP 126. The DCP 126 sends the inputted address to the system component software 114. The system component software 114 compares the inputted address to the addresses contained in the main database 118. When no match exists, the system component software 114 establishes a multimedia communication session. When the called user fails to answer the incoming call, the DCP 126 displays the following message to the caller user "can't connect message." Otherwise, when the called user answers, a connection between the caller user and called user is established,

When a match exists between the called user's computer address and the main database, 118, the called user has previously used the viewer application 104. As a result, the system component software 114 can check the directory services software 110 to determine whether the called user is online, When the called user is offline or otherwise unavailable, the multimedia answering service software immediately displays an outgoing message. Alternatively, when the called user is available, the system component software 1 14 initiates the call.

For both connection options (i.e., clicking on a name contained in one of the groups and inputting a computer address), the called user's viewer application 104 prompts the called user to accept the incoming call. At this time, the caller user's username is displayed in the viewer application GUI 300, and the called user has the option to accept the call, or let it go to the multimedia answering service software 1 12, When the call is accepted, the system component software 1 14 establishes a multimedia communications session. Once the session is established, the DCP 126 displays images and audio, so that the called user and caller user can see and hear each other. The system component software 1 14 then retrieves both the called user's and caller user's personal information from the main database 1 18. Note, the system component software 1 14 can only retrieve an authorized called user's personal information (i.e., a user whose personal information was previously stored in the main database 1 18). When the called user is authorized to access the server, the system component software 114 identifies them by their username,

The advertisement software 108 compares the caller and called users' information to the advertisement software database 122 and creates a synchronized advertisement schedule, This synchronized advertisement schedule is created by, comparing the personal information of the caller user and the called user. The advertisement software 108 uses this comparison to further refine target-advertising campaigns to both the called and caller users, For example, assume the called user lives in Spain, and the caller user lives in Los Angeles. Assume further that the caller user has previously purchased airline tickets online. The caller user may receive an advertisement for United Airlines, wherein the advertisement contains the latest fare specials on flights to Spain.

The advertisement software 108 also has the ability to display advertisements based on demographic information, Returning to the example above, assume that the called user also receives an advertisement for a hotel in Spain, and that the advertisement is displayed in Spanish,

During this multimedia session, a called/caller user can invoke the advertisement forwarding software 128 to forward the displayed advertisement to the other user. If two users are participating in a multimedia communication session (and both are registered users), the advertisement forwarding software 128 performs the following steps: One user (the sender) clicks the "Send All" push button 416. The advertisement forwarding software 128 sends the URL of the resource as well as the username of the other user (the recipient), to the system component software 114. The system component software cross- references the recipient username with the directory service database 120, thus, resolving the recipient's computer network address. The system component software 1 14 then "pushes" the advertisement to the recipient's viewer application 104, resulting in the advertisement being displayed in a new window

When the sender and recipient are not participating in a multimedia session, or when the recipient is not a registered user, the viewer application 104 invokes a default email function, resident on the client computer 102 The viewer application 104 automatically attaches the resource (l e , an advertisement) to an email message, and prompts the sender for the recipient's email address

The system component software 114 and the viewer application 104 gather statistical information about the multimedia session The system component software 114 gathers information about the identify of the caller/called user, and the list of advertisements that caller/called user responded to The viewer application 104 tracks the length of the session This information is stored in the user's personal record The information is not stored when the username is absent from the main database 1 18 The username is absent when the user has not previously used the viewer application 104 The session is terminated when one user clicks on the hang up button 410

When the called user fails to answer an incoming call, the viewer application 104 requests the called user's outgoing message from the multimedia answering service software 1 12 The request includes the called user's username, which uniquely identifies that user to the multimedia answering service software 112 The system component software 114, then cross-references the username with the usernames contained in the main database 1 18 When the username exists, the called user's multimedia answering service database 124 is accessed Next, the system component software cross-references the caller user's username with directory service database 120 to determine the caller user's computer address The system component software 1 14 then sends the outgoing message to the caller user's viewer application 104, which displays the outgoing message A called user can have one or more outgoing messages

These outgoing messages can be used when a client is offline They can also be used when a client is online and participating in a multimedia session In the latter case, the called user is prompted concerning the incoming call The called user has the option of switching to the caller user, or sending the caller user to multimedia answering service. This functionality is similar to call waiting feature of traditional telephones.

The multimedia answering service software 1 12 also gives the caller user the opportunity to leave a message (i.e., an incoming message) for the called user. The multimedia answering service software 1 12 also has a message playback features and management features. These features allow users to check, delete and otherwise manage their multimedia answering service messages.

The multimedia answering service software 112 does not display the same outgoing message to each caller user, Instead, the multimedia answering service software 112 provides the option of displaying a unique outgoing message to each caller user, such that the unique outgoing message is only relevant to a specific caller. The content of multimedia answering service outgoing message may be based on, among other things, the time of the multimedia communication session, the date of the session, the relationship between the called user and the caller user, the geographic location of the caller/called users, and any other defined factors. An exemplary multimedia answering service outgoing message may contain the following language: "Happy Birthday Grandmother, I am always happy to hear from you, I will call you later this evening,"

When the outgoing message ends, the multimedia answering service software 112 (via the viewer application 104) prompts the caller user to leave message. The caller user can then record a message. The multimedia answering service software 112 then stores the message in the multimedia answering service database (or mailboxes) 124,

Reference is now made to FIG, 1, in which block 700 represents the system component software 1 14 displaying the DCP 126 via the user's viewer application 104. The system component software 1 14 then receives a request to initiate a multimedia communication session, as represented by block 702, Block 704 is decision block that represents the system component software 1 14 determining whether the request contains a called users computer address, When the request does not contain the called users computer address, the system component software 1 14 proceeds to block 705, Otherwise, when the request contains the called users computer address, the system component software 1 14 proceeds to block 729.

Block 706 is decision block that represents the system component software

1 14 determining whether the called user is online, When the called user is offline, the system component software 1 14 invokes the multimedia answering service software 108 and returns to other processing, as represented, respectively, by blocks 708 and 710.

Otherwise, when the called user is online, the present invention proceeds to block 712.

Block 712 represents the system component software 114 initiating a multimedia communication session. The system component software 114 then determines whether the called user answers the incoming call, as represented by decision block 714. When the called user fails to answer the incoming call, the system component software invokes the multimedia answering service software 108 and returns to other processing, as represented, respectively, by blocks 708 and 710,

When the called user answers the incoming call, the system component software 114 retrieves the personal records of both the called user and the caller user, as represented by block 716, Block 718 represents the system component software 114 sending the personal records to the advertisement software 108.

The advertisement software 108 then compares the personal records of the users to the advertisement software database 122 as represented by block 720. The system component software 1 14 then displays the targeted advertisements to the caller user and the called user.

Block 724 is a decision block that represents the system component software 1 14 determining whether the user wishes to forward an advertisement. When the user wishes to forward an advertisement, the system component software invokes the advertisement forwarding software 104, as represented by block 728.

Block 728 represents the system component software terminating the multimedia communication session when one user hangs up. When the initial request to initiate a multimedia communication session includes a user's computer address, the system component software proceeds to block 729 Block 730 is a decision block that represents the system component software 1 14 determining whether the called user answers

When the call user fails to answer, the system component software 1 14 returns a message indicating that the called user does not answer, and the system component software 1 14 terminates the multimedia communication session, as represented, respectively, by blocks 732 and 734

When the called user answers, the system component software 114 initiates a multimedia communication session, as represented by block 736 The system component software 1 14 then retrieves the caller user's personal records, as represented by block 738 Block 740 represents the system component software 114 sending the called user's personal records to the advertisement software 108 The advertisement software 108 then compares the called users personal record to the advertisement software database 122, as represented by block 742

Block 744 represents the system component software 114 displaying the targeted advertisement to the caller user The system component software 114 also displays solicitation advertisements about registering to access the server and generic advertisements to the called user, as represented by block 746

Block 748 represents the system component software 1 14 terminating the multimedia communication session when one user hangs up

FIG 8 is a flowchart that illustrates the steps performed by the multimedia answering service software 1 12 in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention Block 800 represents the multimedia answering service software 1 12 receiving a request for an outgoing message Block 802 represents the multimedia answering service software 112 identifying the called user's outgoing messages in the multimedia answering service database 124 Block 804 represents the multimedia answering service software 1 12 retrieving a called user's outgoing message from the multimedia answering service database 124 The multimedia answering service software 1 12 then displays the outgoing message via the user's viewer application 104, as represented by block 806 Block 808 is a decision block that represents the multimedia answering service software 1 12 determining whether the caller user wishes to leave an incoming message. When the caller user wishes to leave an incoming message, the multimedia answering service software 1 12 records that message and stores the message in the multimedia answering service database 124, as represented by block 810. The system component software then terminates the multimedia communication session, as represented by block 812.

FIG. 9 is a flowchart that illustrates the steps performed by the advertisement software 108 in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. Block 900 represents the advertisement software 108 retrieving information relating to a relationship between a caller user and a called user from the main database 118. Based on the retrieved information, the advertisement software 108 displays one targeted advertisement to the caller user and displays another targeted advertisement to the called user, as represented by block 902,

FIG. 10 is a flowchart that illustrates the steps performed by the advertisement forwarding software 128 in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention. Block 1000 represents the advertisement forwarding software 128 receiving a request to forward an advertisement from one user to another user. The advertisement forwarding software 128 then transmits the URL of the advertisement to the other user's viewer application 104, as represented by block 1002. The advertisement forwarding software then displays the advertisement to the other user via the viewer application 104 as represented by block 1004.

Multimedia Message Application

The multimedia answering service software 1 12 contains a multimedia messaging application 132 (shown in Fig. 1) that enables users to create and send a streaming multimedia message. The multimedia messaging application 132 is different from existing messaging systems because: (1) it does not require the use of electronic mail attachments or hypertext links; and (2) it eliminates the complicated steps typically required to create and send streaming multimedia messages, Consequently, a lay person, who would not ordinarily be able to exchange streaming multimedia messages, can now use the multimedia messaging application 132 to easily create and send streaming multimedia across the Internet.

The multimedia message application 132 resides on both the server 106 (shown in Fig. 1) and the client computer 102 (shown in Fig, 1), Those skilled in the art will recognize that the exemplary server 106 and client computer 102, which are illustrated in Fig, 1, are not intended to limit the present invention. Indeed, those skilled in the art will recognize that other alternative servers 106 (e.g., servers that may run on one or more hardware devices connected by a network; where these devices are not physically located in the same area as the server, and where the server inherently supports load sharing and distributed computing) and alternative client computers 102 (e.g., computing devices that may reside on many different hardware platforms, such as personal computers, handheld computers, set top boxes, cell phones, etc) may be used without departing from the scope of the present invention,

At the client computer 102, the multimedia message application 132 enables a user to create their own streaming multimedia message using the record function of the client. The multimedia message application 132 simplifies the multimedia recording process. In particular, with the multimedia message application 132, the user is not required to search for the recorded multimedia file before transmitting the file to a recipient (see Example 1, step 9). Alternatively, a user can retrieve a pre-recorded and compressed multimedia file from a storage device that is connected to the client computer 102,

At the client computer 102, the multimedia messaging application 132 allows the user to create several classes of streaming multimedia messages. Such classes include, but are not limited to, Normal, View Only, View-N-Times and View Once. Each of these classes will be discussed in detail later, The multimedia messaging application 132 also allows a user to add text (including rich text/HTML) and attachments to a streaming multimedia message.

To address a streaming multimedia message, a user can choose recipient(s) from a secure groups and members list, or a user can enter SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) e-mail address(es), The groups and members list is a secure system that allows users to manage and access multimedia messages. A groups and members list differs from a personal address book, which is typically associated with e-mail. The personal address book can only be "seen" and accessed by its owner/creator. Whereas, the groups and members list is a secure, directory-like subsystem that allows the members of a particular group to "see" and access each other, in a secure fashion,

The groups and members list allows users to retain control over who is able to send streaming multimedia messages to their inbox. The inbox contains a list of all of the streaming multimedia messages and streaming multimedia that a user can access. Any user can send a message to any other user that appears in their groups and members list. In addition, users are able to address messages to an entire group, as well as to individuals, The groups and members list is a closed and secure list, and users retains control over whether they are part of a group.

Each user can be a member of one or more groups. Further, users can create a new group by entering a group name and a password. The user who creates a group can also delete the group, and delete all the entries in the group. Users can join an existing group, when users have been given the group name and password of that existing group, Users can always remove themselves from any group, regardless of whether the user created the group.

A user can add a new member to the group by sending an invitation (a special class of streaming multimedia message) to the new member's SMTP e-mail address. The new member can then use the invitation to join the user's selected group. Therefore, the multimedia messaging application allows current users to expand their groups and members list in a secure manner,

With respect to the groups and members list, a user can only be on the groups and members list if he/she received and accepted an invitation to be on the groups and members list, The invitation can be in many forms. For example, providing a non-user with a group name and password is a type a invitation. The non-user accepts this type of invitation when he/she types in the group name and the password. To clarify, no user can be on a groups and members list unless two events occur: (1) a user must be invited to be on the groups and members list; and (2) the user must accept the invitation. The invitation/acceptance requirement ensures that the groups and members list is secure.

The multimedia messaging application 132 uploads newly created and/or stored streaming multimedia messages to the server 106 (shown in Fig. 1) using HTTP

(Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) over TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet

Protocol). This uploading allows the multimedia messaging application 132 to operate over the Internet with minimum interference from firewalls and/or similar devices.

The user's existing, secure groups and members list is stored in the directory service database 120 (shown in Fig. 1). The groups and members list is used by the directory service software 1 10 (shown in Fig. 1) to place calls to other users, and to determine when those users are connected to the Internet,

When a call is placed to a user who is not online, or to a user who is not answering, the call is intercepted by the multimedia messaging application 132, and a Greeting is played for the caller. The caller has the option of replying to the Greeting by leaving a message for the user.

Greetings offer an advantage over traditional messaging systems because

Greetings allow a user to post a streaming multimedia message to their account. Any other user in their groups and members list can view the posted Greeting. These Greetings are user specific. To illustrate, if User(B) plays User (A)'s greeting, then User (B) may get a different Greeting than if User(C) plays User(A)'s greeting,

Greetings may also be group specific. In other words, a user may post a Greeting that plays if the viewing user belongs to a specific group. A user-specific greeting has precedence over a group-specific greeting, and a default Greeting may be specified to play for viewing users that do not have user-specific or group-specific greetings associated with them. A Greeting can carry a variety of messages, but examples may vary from company information, to a personal "I am away on vacation" message. In addition, a user may opt to use a Celebrity Greeting instead of creating a Greeting, A Celebrity Greeting is a pre-recorded Greeting that can be used in lieu of a personally recorded Greeting, The main difference between a Celebrity Greeting and a personally recorded Greetings is that a famous person or a celebrity creates the multimedia content and the user can purchase the Celebrity Greeting,

As discussed above, the multimedia messaging application 132 allows the user to create several classes of streaming multimedia messages. Each message class contains user controlled messages, in which the user retains control over the manner in which their streaming multimedia messages are viewed and disseminated. It is noted that when using traditional messaging systems, users loose control of their messages after transmission.

The message classes include, but are not limited to, Normal, View Only, View-N-Times and View Once,

Before discussing the message classes, the definitions of some of the terms used to describe the message classes are defined below. These definitions apply to exemplary embodiments of the present invention. The definitions do not limit the invention to the scope of the defined terminology. Moreover, these definitions are only provided to facilitate the description of the embodiments of the present invention, The definitions do not preclude the claims from encompassing embodiments that may be described by using different terminology. The definitions are listed below:

Inbox: The inbox lists all the streaming multimedia messages and all the streaming multimedia that a user has access to.

Key: A Key is a database entry that allows any user access to a streaming multimedia message, Greeting or streaming multimedia. For example, when users requests access to their inbox, the multimedia messaging application 132 searches for all of the Keys that a particular user has. Then, the multimedia messaging application 132 displays the corresponding streaming multimedia message for each Key in the user's inbox. At this point, the user may access the streaming multimedia and any other content associated with each Key, There are at least four classes of Keys. Each class of Key is associated with one of the four classes of streaming multimedia messages, either View Once, View Only, View- N-Times or Normal. A Key may also be marked overflow if the size of the streaming multimedia message is greater than an inbox size limit,

Sender: The author of a streaming multimedia message.

Recipient: A recipient is a user to whom a streaming multimedia message is addressed, The multimedia message application 132 uploads the streaming multimedia message from the client computer 102 (shown in Fig. 1) to the server 106 (shown in Fig, 1) . Once the contents of the entire message arrive at the server 106, the multimedia messaging application 132 adds the message to the recipient's inbox by providing the recipient with a Key to the streaming multimedia message.

The Normal, View Only, View-N-Times and View Once message classes are described below:

(1) The Normal streaming multimedia message allows the recipient to view the multimedia message any number of times, or to forward or otherwise copy the multimedia message to any other user.

(2) The View Only streaming multimedia message class prevents the recipient of the streaming multimedia message from forwarding or otherwise copying the message to another party.

(3) The View-N-Times streaming multimedia message class prevents the recipient of the streaming multimedia message from forwarding or otherwise copying the message to another party, In addition, the recipient can only view the streaming multimedia message N times, where N is any number greater than 1. On the Nth view, the multimedia message application 132 automatically revokes the streaming multimedia message key from the recipient, and the multimedia message application 132 removes the streaming multimedia message from the recipient's inbox.

(4) The View OnGe streaming multimedia message class prevents the recipient from forwarding or otherwise copying the message to another party. In addition, the recipient can only view the streaming multimedia message once. After the recipient views the streaming multimedia message, the multimedia message application 132 automatically revokes the Key from the recipient, and the multimedia message application 132 removes the streaming multimedia message entry from the user's inbox.

Creating and Sending a Streaming Multimedia Message

The multimedia message application 132 uploads streaming multimedia messages from the client computer 102 (shown in Fig. 1) to the server 106 (shown in Fig. 1), The streaming multimedia messages are created at the client computer 102 by the sender of the message,

The sender creates the multimedia message by recording streaming multimedia, The streaming multimedia is recorded directly to the local storage of the client computer 102. Alternately, the sender may choose pre-recorded streaming multimedia from the local storage of the client computer 102, The sender may also add text comments to the multimedia message and/or attachments. It is noted that the attachment does not contain the multimedia message, but rather it is an additional file.

The sender may then set the message options. Message options include, but are not limited to, View Once, View-N-Times, View Only and Normal. The default message option is the Normal option.

The sender then addresses the streaming multimedia message and sets addressing options. The sender may address a streaming multimedia message to individuals, groups and to SMTP e-mail recipients (or any combination of these). The sender can address a streaming multimedia message to an individual by choosing that individual's name from the sender's groups and members list. The sender can address a streaming multimedia message to an entire group by choosing the group name from the sender's groups and members list,

When the recipient is not part of the sender's groups and members list, the sender may add the recipient's SMTP email address to the address list. The address list is just a list of recipients that the message is going to. When adding an SMTP email address, the sender also has the option of marking that recipient to receive an invitation. When sending an invitation, the sender can choose what group to invite that recipient to, as well as, define the relationship between the sender and that recipient (1 e , co-worker, friend, family, etc )

Finally, the sender has the option to copy him or herself on the streaming multimedia message When a senders copies himself/herself, the sender receives a copy of the streaming multimedia message Key in their inbox That is, the sender is added to the list of addresses for the particular streaming multimedia message At this point, the streaming multimedia message can be uploaded to the server 106

FIGS 1 1 A- 11C are flowcharts that illustrate the steps performed by the multimedia message application 132 during the creating and uploading process, in accordance with an embodiment of the present invention

In Fig 11 A, block 1100 represents the multimedia message application 132, at the client computer 102, receiving a request to record and send a multimedia message from the sender The request includes message options The following are exemplary message options attachments options, storage options, message control options, addressing options, and invitation options

The attachment option allows users to include attachments as part of their messages These attachments contain additional files that a sender may want to send to a recipient The attachments do not contain the multimedia message content

The storage options provide senders with the option of saving a copy of the multimedia message on their disk Senders may also save a copy of the multimedia message to recipient's inbox

The message control option allows senders to control the manner in which their multimedia messages are viewed and the manner in which the messages are disseminated Senders have the option of marking their messages as Normal, View-Only, View-Once, or View-N-Times

The addressing option allows the user to address the message to an individual, a group, or an e-mail address The addressing option also allows the user to designate a message as an invitation The invitation information includes, but is not limited to, a recipient's e-mail address, information about the relationship between the sender and the recipient, and a selected group.

Block 1 102 represents the multimedia message application 132 uploading a multimedia message from the client computer 102 to the server 106. Block 1103 is a decision block that represents the multimedia message application 132 determining whether a copy of the uploaded message should be stored in the local storage device or whether the copy of the uploaded message should be stored in the recipient's inbox. If the copy of the message should be stored in the local storage device, then the multimedia message application 132 proceeds to block 1 104, Othewise, the multimedia message application 132 proceeds to block 1 106.

Block 1104 represents the multimedia message application 132 storing the copy of the uploaded message in the local storage device. Block 1106 represents the multimedia message application 132 storing the copy of the uploaded message in the recipient's inbox. It is noted that the streaming multimedia and the attachments are only saved once, even if there are multiple recipients.

In Fig. 11B, block 1108 is a decision block that represents the multimedia message application 132 resolving the addresses by determining the address type. When the address is an SMTP e-mail entry, the multimedia message application proceeds to block 1110, Block 1 1 10 does not represent a function that is performed by the multimedia message application 132. Instead, block 1110, as well as, blocks 1122 and 1 136, is used to simplify the discussion of the manner in which the multimedia message application 132 resolves addresses.

Block 1 1 12 is a decision block that represents the multimedia message application 132 determining whether the e-mail address is contained within the directory services database 120 (shown in Fig. 1). When the e-mail is contained in the directory service database 120, the multimedia message application 132 proceeds to block 1 1 14,

Otherwise, the multimedia message application proceeds to block 1 1 18,

Block 1 1 14 represents the multimedia message application 132 retrieving the user ID and adding the user ID to the address list. Block 1 118 is a decision block that represents the multimedia message application 132 determining whether the recipient's ID is already in the resolved address list. When the ID is not already in the resolved address list, the multimedia application 132 proceeds to block 1 120. Otherwise, the multimedia application proceeds to block 1 132.

Block 1 120 represents the multimedia message application 132 adding the recipient ID or the recipient e-mail to the address list (if the recipient is not a registered user).

Block 1132 is a decision block that represents the multimedia message application 132 determining whether there are more addresses to process, When more addresses exists, the multimedia message application returns to block 1 108, Otherwise, the address resolution process ends.

When the address is associated with a group that is listed on the sender's groups and members list, the multimedia message application proceeds to block 1122,

Block 1122 is used herein to simplify the discussion of the manner in which the multimedia application 132 resolves addresses. Block 1122 does not represent a function that is performed by the multimedia message application 132,

Block 1124 represents the multimedia message application 132 retrieving recipient IDs for all group members of a particular group in the groups and members list.

Block 1126 is a decision block that represents the multimedia message application 132 determining whether the IDs are already in the resolved address list, When the IDs are lacking from the resolved address list, then the multimedia message application

132 adds the IDs to the resolved address list, as shown by block 1 128, Otherwise, the multimedia message application 132 proceeds to block 1 130,

Block 1 130 is a decision block that represents the multimedia message application 132 determining whether there are more member IDs in that particular group.

When there are more members, the multimedia message application proceeds to block

1134. Block 1 134 represents the multimedia message application 132 going to the next retrieved member ID. The multimedia message application then returns to block 1 126, When there are no more members, the multimedia message application 132 proceeds to block 1 132 Block 1 132 represents the multimedia message application 132 determining whether there are more addresses in the address list If so, the multimedia message application 132 returns to block 1108 Otherwise, the process ends

When the address is associated with an individual that is listed on the sender's groups and members list, the multimedia message application proceeds to block 1136, and then proceeds to block 1118 Block 11 18 is discussed above

Fig 11C illustrates the steps performed when the multimedia message application 132 processes the streaming multimedia message according to the options that the sender set Block 1 138 is a decision block that represents the multimedia message application 132 determining whether the address is resolved into a User ID, or whether the address entry is an SMTP email address

When the address entry is a User ID, the multimedia message application 132 determines the class of the streaming multimedia message, as shown in decision block 1140 When the message is a Normal or View Only message, then the multimedia message application 132 creates a Normal or View Only Key in the recipient's inbox, as shown by blocks 1144 and 1146, respectively The multimedia message application 132 then increments the recipient's inbox size, as shown by block 1152

The inbox size is a measure of the number of bytes of server storage that each streaming multimedia message requires If the inbox size is greater than the inbox size limit, the multimedia message application 132 marks the Key as overflow, and the multimedia message application disables the Key

When the streaming multimedia message class is View Once (or View -N- Times), the multimedia message application 132 creates a View Once (or View-N-times Key) Key in the recipient's inbox, as shown by block 1 150 The multimedia message application then increments the sender's inbox size as shown in block 1 154 When the inbox size is greater than the sender's inbox size limit, the multimedia message application 132 marks the Key as overflow, and the multimedia message application 132 disables the Key When the streaming multimedia message is marked as an invitation, the multimedia message application 132 creates an invitation Key in the recipient's inbox, as shown in block 1 148. The multimedia message application 132 then increments the recipient's inbox size, as shown in block 1 152, If the inbox size is greater than the inbox size limit, the multimedia message application 132 marks the Key as overflow, and multimedia message application 132 disables the Key.

When the address entry is an SMTP e-mail address, the multimedia message application 132 determines whether the sender marked the e-mail address as an invitation, as shown by decision block 1 158. When the message is an invitation, the multimedia message application creates a temporary user record and inbox, as shown by block 1 160. This process involves, in the group that the sender specified in the invitation, adding a temporary, unaccepted entry into the sender's groups and members list, as shown by block 1162. Unaccepted entries in a groups and members list are different from normal entries in two respects. First, the sender cannot address a streaming multimedia message using an unaccepted groups and members list entry. Second, unlike normal group entries, users of a group cannot "see" another user's unaccepted entries.

Block 1164 represents the multimedia message application 132 creating an invitational Key in the recipient's temporary inbox. The invitation has no viewing restriction, and the invitation includes a group ID for the invitation and the relationship.

The streaming multimedia message is then marked to send via the SMTP subsystem, as shown in block 1 166, The SMTP subsystem is part of the server 106. Every N minutes, where N is a pre-defined number, the server scans the database and mails any streaming multimedia messages marked to send. Because this process happens asynchronously, the performance of the streaming multimedia message send process is greatly enhanced (mailing an SMTP message can be time consuming, and does not need to run in real time).

When an invitee receives an invitation in their SMTP e-mail and when the invitee registers to become a user, the multimedia message application 132 looks for a temporary inbox and converts that temporary inbox to a normal inbox for that invitee. The invitee then has access to the invitation in their inbox, which they can accept or decline If they accept, the unaccepted entry in the sender's groups and members list becomes "accepted", and becomes a fully functioning entry

Figs 12A-12D illustrate the steps performed by the multimedia message application 132 when allowing a recipient to view a streaming multimedia message Block 1200 represents the multimedia message application 132 receiving a request for inbox information from a recipient In response, the multimedia message application 132 then returns the inbox information to the recipient, as shown in block 1202 The inbox information includes the recipient's inbox size limit, User ID and Key data The recipient uses the user ED to access the recipient's inbox The multimedia message application server returns the Key data for each Key in the user's inbox The Key data includes the sender's name and ID, notes, message size, multimedia file location, Key type (e g , normal, View Only, etc), date sent, etc

The multimedia message application 132 displays the inbox to the recipient, beginning with the most recent Key and progressing back in time The multimedia message application 132 displays each type of Key (Normal, Invitation, etc) with a different visual queue When the Key is marked as overflow, the multimedia message application 132 displays it with a visual queue (note that overflow Keys are disabled, and recipients cannot use disabled Keys to view a streaming multimedia message)

A recipient can view a streaming message by selecting the message's Key in the inbox If the Key is marked overflow, the recipient is prompted to upgrade their service (purchase a larger inbox) or delete existing multimedia streaming messages Streaming multimedia messages marked overflow are disabled and will not play (in addition, the multimedia message application 132 will not return the multimedia file and attachment locations when a Key marked overflow is requested by a recipient to display in their inbox)

Fig 12B represents the steps performed by the multimedia message application 132 when maintaining control over sent messages Block 1204 represents the multimedia message application reading the message Key Block 1206 is a decision block that represents the multimedia message application 132 using the Key to determine the message class and to determine whether the Key has been marked overflow,

When the Key type is Normal, the multimedia message application 132 at the client computer 102 loads the streaming multimedia and attachment locations, as shown by block 1208, The multimedia message application 132 then streams the message to the recipient, as shown in block 1210, The multimedia message application 132 also downloads any attachments to the recipient, as shown in block 1212,

When the Key type is View Only, the multimedia message application 132 at the client computer 102 loads the streaming multimedia and attachment locations, as shown by block 1214,

Block 1216 represents the multimedia application 132 (both at the client 102 and the server 106) disabling the forwarding function, so that the recipient can neither forward or otherwise copy the message to another user. The multimedia message application 132 then streams the message to the recipient, as shown in block 1218, The multimedia message application 132 also downloads any attachments to the recipient, as shown in block 1212,

When the Key type is View Once, the multimedia message application 132 at the client computer 102 loads the streaming multimedia and attachment locations, as shown by block 1220,

Block 1222 represents the multimedia application 132 (both at the client 102 and the server 106) disabling the forwarding function, so that the recipient can neither forward or otherwise copy the message to another user.

Block 1224 represents the multimedia message application 132 immediately revoking the Key from the recipients inbox. The multimedia message application 132 then streams the message to the recipient, as shown in block 1226, The multimedia message application 132 also downloads any attachments to the recipient, as shown in block 1212,

The multimedia message application will not play that streaming media for that recipient again, Until the view screen is closed, the recipient may reply to (but not forward) a View Once message.

When the Key type is invitation, the multimedia message application 132 at the client computer 102 loads the streaming multimedia and attachment locations, as shown by block 1228.

The multimedia message application 132 then streams the multimedia to the recipient, as shown by block 1230.

Block 1232 is a decision block that represents the multimedia message application 132 determining whether the recipient accepts the invitation. In particular, the multimedia message application 132 displays a prompt to the users, asking them if they want to accept the invitation and join the sender's specified group. The multimedia message application then receives the answer.

When the recipient accepts the invitation, the multimedia message application 132 adds the recipient to the sender's specified group, as shown by block 1234.

When the Key is marked overflow, the multimedia message application 132 displays an overflow message, as shown in block 1236, This message includes any comments/notes associated with that streaming multimedia message, as well as other information found in the Key, such as the sender's name. The multimedia message application 132 suppresses any streaming multimedia or attachment locations; hence the client computer 102 cannot load a streaming multimedia or allow attachments to be downloaded.

Greetings are similar to streaming multimedia messages, but differ from a streaming multimedia message in the following ways. A greeting is never sent, and it is never a part of any recipient's inbox. Greetings are posted to a user account and played in response to some type of event.

At the client computer 102, the user can request that the multimedia messaging application 132 play a Greeting by sending the User ID, the Group ID and the

Member ID (of the selected member). The Greeting played is dependent on the following order: (1) user specific greetings; (2) group specific greetings; (3) default greetings; and (4) system greetings,

First, the multimedia message application 132 determines whether there is a greeting set by the group member to be played specifically for that user. This type of greeting is a user specific greeting. An analogy would be a voicemail system that knew the identity of the incoming caller and was able to play a specific greeting based on the identity of the person calling in, and the identity of the person whose voicemail box they reached,

When no user specific greeting exists, the server determines whether there is a group specific greeting. A group specific greeting plays for any member of a selected group. It is noted that each member of a group may set a different greeting to play for all the other members of that group.

When user and group specific greetings have not been set, the multimedia message application 132 determines whether the group member has set a default greeting to play for everybody.

When a default greeting does not exist, the multimedia message application returns a system greeting that is available for all registered users, i.e., users that have access to server 106.

Once a greeting plays, the ID of the member or group who owns the greeting is copied from a greeting Key. The recipient of the greeting is prompted to leave a streaming multimedia message for that user or group.

Creating a Greeting is functionally similar to creating a streaming multimedia message, except that all Greetings are View Only. A greeting may have comments/notes and attachments associated with it.

From the foregoing description, it should be apparent that the present invention provides a method, apparatus, and article of manufacture for creating and transmitting a multimedia message, without using e-mail attachments and without using hypertext links. Although the invention has been described in detail with reference only to the presently preferred hardware environment, those of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate that various modifications can be made without departing from the invention. Accordingly, the invention is defined only by the following claims.

Claims

WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:
1, A method of transmitting a multimedia message via a computer network, comprising: creating a message that contains streaming multimedia content, without using an electronic mail attachment, and without using a hypertext link; transmitting the message that contains streaming multimedia content to a server, without using the electronic mail attachment, and without using the hypertext link; and providing one or more recipients with access to the streaming multimedia content.
2, The method of claim 1, further comprising addressing the message that contains multimedia content.
3, The method of claim 2, wherein addressing comprises:
receiving at least one electronic mail address from a sender; and
entering that electronic mail address into the message that contains multimedia content.
4, The method of claim 2, wherein addressing comprises: retrieving a recipient's address from a secure groups and members list; and entering the recipient's address into the message that contains multimedia content.
5, The method of claim 4, further comprising expanding the secure groups and members list by sending an invitation streaming multimedia message to a prospective new user.
6, The method of claim 4, further comprising expanding the secure groups and members list by sending an invitation streaming multimedia message to a prospective new member,
7, The method of claim 1, wherein creating the message that contains multimedia content comprises: creating a message that is controlled by a sender, such that the sender retains control over the manner in which the message is viewed by the recipients and the manner in which the message is disseminated to the recipients.
8. The method of claim 7, wherein the sender retains control over whether the recipient can forward or copy the message to a different recipient.
9. The method of claim 7, wherein the method further comprises:
sending the recipient a streaming multimedia key, wherein the streaming multimedia key allows the recipient to view the message for a pre-defined number of times; after the recipient has viewed the message for the pre-defined number of times, automatically revoking the streaming multimedia key; and removing the message from the server.
10. The method of claim 1, wherein the message is a greeting message.
1 1. An apparatus for transmitting a multimedia message via a computer network, comprising: a computer; one or more computer programs, performed by the computer that (a) create a message that contains streaming multimedia content, without using an electronic mail attachment, and without using a hypertext link, (b) transmit the message that contains streaming multimedia content to a server, without using the electronic mail attachment, and without using the hypertext link, and (c) provides one or more recipients with access to the streaming multimedia content.
12. The apparatus of claim 1 1, further comprising one or more computer programs, performed by the computer that addresses the message that contains multimedia content.
13. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein addressing comprises:
receiving at least one electronic mail address from a sender; and and entering that electronic mail address into the message that contains multimedia content.
14. The apparatus of claim 12, wherein addressing comprises; retrieving a recipient's address from a secure groups and members list; and entering the recipient's address into the message that contains multimedia content.
15. The apparatus of claim 14, further comprising one or more computer programs, performed by the computer that expands the secure groups and members list by sending an invitation streaming multimedia message to a prospective new user.
16. The apparatus of claim 14, further comprising one or more computer programs, performed by the computer that expands the secure groups and members list by sending an invitation streaming multimedia message to a prospective new member.
17. The apparatus of claim 11, wherein creating the message that contains multimedia content comprises: creating a message that is controlled by a sender, such that the sender retains control over the manner in which the message is viewed by the recipients and the manner in which the message is disseminated to the recipients.
18. The apparatus of claim 17, wherein the sender retains control over whether the recipient can forward or copy the message to a different recipient.
19. The apparatus of claim 17, wherein the apparatus further comprises:
sending the recipient a streaming multimedia key, wherein the streaming multimedia key allows the recipient to view the message for a pre-defined number of times; after the recipient has viewed the message for the pre-defined number of times, automatically revoking the streaming multimedia key; and removing the message from the server,
20. The apparatus of claim 1 1, wherein the message is a greeting message.
21. An article of manufacture comprising a computer program carrier readable by a computer and embodying one or more instructions executable by the computer to perform a method of transmitting a multimedia message via a computer network, comprising: creating a message that contains streaming multimedia content, without using an electronic mail attachment, and without using a hypertext link; transmitting the message that contains streaming multimedia content to a server, without using the electronic mail attachment, and without using the hypertext link; and providing one or more recipients with access to the streaming multimedia content.
22. The article of manufacture of claim 21, further comprising addressing the message that contains multimedia content.
23. The article of manufacture of claim 22, wherein addressing comprises:
receiving at least one electronic mail address from a sender; and
entering that electronic mail address into the message that contains multimedia content,
24. The article of manufacture of claim 22, wherein addressing comprises: retrieving a recipient's address from a secure groups and members list; and entering the recipient's address into the message that contains multimedia content.
25. The article of manufacture of claim 24, further comprising expanding the secure groups and members list by sending an invitation streaming multimedia message to a prospective new user.
26. The article of manufacture of claim 24, further comprising expanding the secure groups and members list by sending an invitation streaming multimedia message to a prospective new member.
27. The article of manufacture of claim 21 , wherein creating the message that contains multimedia content comprises: creating a message that is controlled by a sender, such that the sender retains control over the manner in which the message is viewed by the recipients and the manner in which the message is disseminated to the recipients.
28. The article of manufacture of claim 27, wherein the sender retains control over whether the recipient can forward or copy the message to a different recipient,
29. The article of manufacture of claim 27, wherein the article of manufacture further comprises:
sending the recipient a streaming multimedia key, wherein the streaming multimedia key allows the recipient to view the message for a pre-defined number of times; after the recipient has viewed the message for the pre-defined number of times, automatically revoking the streaming multimedia key; and removing the message from the server,
30. The article of manufacture of claim 21, wherein the message is a greetings message.
31. A method of transmitting a multimedia message via a computer network, comprising: creating a message that contains streaming multimedia content, without using an electronic mail attachment, and without using a hypertext link; transmitting the message that contains streaming multimedia content to a server, without using the electronic mail attachment, and without using the hypertext link; and providing one or more recipients with secure access to the streaming multimedia content, by using a secure groups and members list.
32, The method of claim 28, wherein the secure groups and members list contains a list of one or more members, and wherein each member on the groups and members list received an invitation to be on the groups and members list, and each member accepted the invitation to be on the groups and members list.
33. The method of claim 29, wherein the members on the groups and members list are divided into one or more groups, and wherein each member in a particular group can access every other member in that particular group.
PCT/US2001/025778 2000-08-18 2001-08-17 Method and device for transmitting streaming multimedia messages WO2002035782A2 (en)

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FR2876848A1 (en) * 2004-10-20 2006-04-21 Swelpix Sarl Visual composition e.g. virtual card, transmitting method for e.g. Internet, involves transmitting identifier of selected image by host computer to remote server, and sending electronic message with specific link to recipient by server
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WO2008024720A2 (en) * 2006-08-21 2008-02-28 Muggmail, Llc Systems and methods for multimedia messaging

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EP1511216A1 (en) * 2003-08-29 2005-03-02 France Telecom Apparatus for transmitting messages over a network to subscriber terminals
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DE102005056107A1 (en) * 2005-11-23 2007-05-31 Dirk Nesner Data sending method, involves receiving transmitted electronic mail through receiver, clicking hyper link address, and loading sent data by receiver, where web server sends hyper link address additionally to sender as confirmation
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WO2008024720A3 (en) * 2006-08-21 2008-05-08 Muggmail Llc Systems and methods for multimedia messaging

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