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METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR SINGLE-POINT-DELEGATION OF A TASK TO MULTIPLE WEB-BASED SERVICES
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention is in the field of Information propagation and gathering applied to network-based services, and pertains particularly to methods and apparatus including software for dividing a main user task into a plurality of subtasks to be performed by user-selected WEBbased services.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 The World Wide Web (WWW) as a subset of the well-known Internet network is arguably the largest source for public-access information in the world. For example, anyone with a personal computer, the appropriate software, and a modem can access sites on the Web and obtain information on virtually any subject. As public access and use of the Internet has increased, so too have a variety of WEB-based services catering to many subscribers. Examples of tasks performed by WEB services include airline reservations, hotel reservations, car rental reservations, appointments, memo calendar services and so on. In particular, financial services based on the Internet are becoming widely used due to their ubiquity and ease of access.
 Many companies, through innovative applications, have made it progressively easier to use their individual Web services. However, performing a main task that requires the sequential or parallel completion of many sub-tasks is seriously hampered by the fractured nature of the diverse Web services. A user would still be required to visit several WEB services and manually configure such sub-tasks in order to ultimately accomplish the main goal. For example, a generic task needs to be manually decomposed into serviceable subtasks, and each of the subtasks needs to be manually delegated to each of the performing Web services. The results of the subtasks would then have to be manually combined to obtain the resultant task.
 What is clearly needed is a method and apparatus that allows a user to accomplish a main task including completion of sub-tasks performed by diverse WEB services without requiring that the user manually visit each WEB service associated with a sub-task and, in some cases, without a user being required to specifically identify a sub task.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
 In a preferred embodiment of the present invention an Internet portal system for accomplishing a multi-component task involving interaction with one or more Internet Web sites is provided, comprising an Internet-connected server having access to client-related data; an internetcapable client station usable by a client; and software executing on the server for managing individual component tasks in execution of the multi-component task. The software, in response to initiation of a multi-component task specified by the client, defines the component tasks, identifies Internet Web sources for completion of the tasks, manages interaction with the identified Web sites gathering
results of the interactions, integrates the gathered results, and communicates final results to the client at the client station.
 In the system in some embodiments individual ones of the component tasks involve payment for services rendered in the interaction with the one or more Internet Web sites, and wherein one of the component tasks is transfer of funds from a client account in payment for the service rendered. Also in preferred embodiments the software provides an input interface for the client to define a task. The input interface may enable the client to participate in defining component tasks and in selecting the Web sites for completion of component tasks.
 In some embodiments of the invention the multicomponent task involves arranging services for a trip, including one or more of airline reservations, lodging reservations, or reservation of a rental vehicle. In a similar system, also in an embodiment of the invention, the component tasks comprise messages to be sent to individual ones of multiple Web servers. In these embodiments the messages sent may require answers, and the component tasks further comprise gathering the answers and communicating the answers to the client.
 In another aspect of the invention a method for accomplishing a multi-component task involving interaction with one or more Internet Web sites is provided, comprising steps of (a) initiation of a multi-component task by a client via an internet-connected client station to an Internet-connected subscription server having access to client-related data; (b) definition of component tasks by software executing on the Internet-connected subscription server; (c) identification of Web servers for completion of the component tasks; (d) managing of execution of the component tasks by the software, including interaction with the Web servers identified; and (e) gathering and integrating results of the component tasks and communicating final results tot he client at the client station.
 In the method individual ones of the component tasks may involve payment for services rendered in the interaction with the one or more Internet Web sites, and one of the component tasks is then transfer of finds from a client account in payment for the service rendered. The software in preferred embodiments provides an input interface for the client to define a task, and the input interface may enable the client to participate in defining component tasks and in selecting the Web sites for completion of component tasks. An example of such a system is one in n the multicomponent task involves arranging services for a trip, including one or more of airline reservations, lodging reservations, or reservation of a rental vehicle.
 In another embodiment a method according to the invention has tasks comprising sending messages to individual ones of multiple Web servers. In this method the messages sent in some embodiments may require answers, and the component tasks then further comprise gathering the answers and communicating the answers to the client.
 In another aspect of the invention an Internet messaging system for broadcasting messages to multiple Internet-connected servers is provided, comprising an Internet-connected server having access to client-related data; an internet-capable client station usable by a client; and software executing on the server for managing the Internet messaging system. The software, in response to initiation by the client from the client station, including specifying a message, identifies Web destinations for broadcast, and broadcasts the message to the identified Web destinations.
 In some messaging systems in embodiments of the invention the message requests an answer, and the software gathers the answers and communicates the answers to the client.
 In yet another aspect a method for message broadcast on the Internet is provided, comprising steps of (a) specifying a message by a client at an Internet-connected client station; (b) communicating the message to an Internetconnected message server enabled by software; (c) initiating the broadcast by the client from the client station; (d) identifying Web destinations for receipt of the broadcast message; and (e) broadcasting the message by the message server to the identified destinations. In some embodiments the message requests an answer, and there are then further steps for gathering answers to the message and communicating the answers to the client.
 In embodiments of the invention described in enabling detail below, for the first time clients of an Internet portal service are enabled to initiate multi-component tasks at a single entry point, and systems operating according to the invention manage completion of the tasks and furnish results to the client.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWING
 FIG. 1 is an overview of a communication network practicing WEB-service processes according to an embodiment of the present invention.
 FIG. 2 is a block diagram illustrating task decomposition and delegation of subtasks to various WEB services by virtue of software executing on platforms of FIG. 1 according to an embodiment of the present invention.
 FIG. 3 is a block diagram illustrating subtask gathering and scattering functions and contact management capabilities of software executed in the architecture of FIG. 1 according to an embodiment of the present invention.
 FIG. 4 is a block diagram illustrating contact management message dissemination, propagation, and response gathering capabilities of the software according to an embodiment of the present invention.
 FIG. 5 is a process flow chart illustrating logical steps practicing message dissemination, propagation and response gathering functions of the software according to an embodiment of the present invention.
DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED
 FIG. 1 is an overview of a communication network 9 practicing WEB-service manifolding according to an embodiment of the present invention. Network 9 comprises a data-packet network 11, an Internet service provider (ISP) 13, and an exemplary user premise 15. Network 11 is, in this embodiment, the well-known Internet network and will hereinafter be termed Internet 11. In other embodiments Internet 11 may instead be a private or corporate wide area
network (WAN). The inventor chooses to illustrate Internet 11 as an example in a preferred embodiment because of its large public accessibility.
 Within Internet 11 there are illustrated a plurality of WEB servers 17 (1-n) that are connected to an Internet backbone 19. Backbone 19 represents the many connection points and services interconnecting Web sites making up Internet 11. It will be appreciated that the portion of Internet 11 represented herein may take on the scope of a local, regional, or even global network.
 WEB servers 17 (1-n) represent any data serving machines (Web sites) that are individually hosted by a like number of separate WEB services. For example, one of WEB servers 17 (1-n) may be a hotel reservation server while another may be a car rental server, and so on. For the purpose of the present invention, it is not important to what each server 17 (1-n) is dedicated. It is only important to note that each server 17 (1-n), in this example is responsible for a delegated portion of a general task initiated by a user. It is through the cooperation of all servers 17 (1-n) that a main task may be accomplished.
 ISP 13 is configured as a normal ISP according to conventions well-known in the art of Internet access. A main connection server 21 is provided within ISP 13 and adapted to handle Internet connections by virtue of a modem bank represented herein by a modem icon 31. Connection server 21 manages Internet connection by subscribers by virtue of connection to Internet backbone 19. A special server 23 is provided herein and adapted to manage practice of the present invention. Server 23 can, in some embodiments, be described as a portal server responsible for managing WEBservices on behalf of subscribing users. In this regard, it is a WEB server having it's own continuous Internet connection to backbone 19. Server 23 is connected in some embodiments to connection server 21 by a communication link 29, wherein the ISP provides services according to the present invention. In other embodiments server is a portal server in the Web, and not a part of ISP 13.
 Server 23 has a data repository 25 connected thereto by a data-link as is known in the art. Repository 25 stores data about users and on behalf of users that subscribe to the management service of the present invention. In addition to specific user data such as identification, account information, and the like, additional profiling data consisting of any data associated with a user profile regarding WEB services that a user may subscribe to may be stored in repository 25 and accessed by server 23 on a user's behalf. Repository 25 may be an optical data-storage system, or any other archival system capable of mass warehousing of data. Repository 25 may be held off line, or on-line and may utilize database software as required for the purpose of organizing, sorting, and managing data.
 User premise 15 comprises a personal computer (PC) 35 having Internet access capability by any of a variety of means known in the art. In this example user access to Internet 11 from PC 35 is by virtue of a telephone connection line 33, typically through a Public Switched Telephony Network (PSTN). Other means that may be used to connect PC 35 to Internet 11 include cable connection, integrated services digital network (ISDN) connection, satellite connection, etc. Moreover, Internet-capable devices other than PC 35 may be used to practice the present invention such as
a notebook computer, a WEB TV, hand-held devices, and any other known device having a display means and suitable memory for supporting Internet navigation, or navigating through a proxy.
 Server 23 has a software application 27 installed therein and configured to facilitate WEB-service manifolding on behalf of a user subscriber base. The term manifolding is used by the inventor to describe a seamless cooperation in the data transfer and dissemination between WEB servers from a single-point interface, which is facilitated by software 27. Software 27 manages task decomposition and delegation as well as contact management in association with WEB servers 17 (1-n) on behalf of a subscribing user. A user operating PC 35 can utilize server 23 and software 27 to delegate several subtasks to appropriate WEB servers such as WEB servers 17 (1-n) from a single interface such that the subtasks are performed by servers 17 (1-n) in order to facilitate a main task for a user. In addition to the ability of decomposing a main task into subtasks and delegating the subtasks to be performed, software 27 also allows a user to multicast various types of messaging to a plurality of WEB servers and to have responses routed back to the user's single point interface.
 It will be apparent to one with skill in the art that server 23 is adapted as a user-interfacing WEB server, and as such could logically be held within the premise of ISP 13 as is shown in this embodiment. However, server 23 may be anywhere within Internet 11 without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention.
 FIG. 2 is a block diagram illustrating task decomposition and delegation of subtasks to various WEB services by virtue of the software of FIG. 1 according to an embodiment of the present invention. Software 27 provides a single point interface (browser interface) for a user to delegate a task. For example, if a task defines traveling to a scheduled business meeting that is out of the local area of the user, then subtasks would include such as making travel arrangements, making hotel reservations, acquiring a car rental, and so on.
 In this example of methodology, a user enters a main task (appointment for meeting) in a subscribed-to appointment calendar service 12. The appointment calendar service 12, which may represent a service hosted by WEB server 23, or one of WEB servers 17 (1-n) of FIG. 1, may in some embodiments, be the only WEB service a user must interface with from his or her single-point interface in order to accomplish the task. This is because the abstract definition and entered parameters of the appointment include time, date, location, and whom the appointment is with. Such parameters become rules that effect all of the sub-parameters that must be met in order to enable the user to accomplish the scheduled meeting (main task). Software 27 acts to research what parameters will be necessary to allow the user to make the scheduled appointment according to appointment parameters or rules. This research is accomplished by accessing appropriate databases stored in such as repository 25 of FIG. 1, which contain user profile data regarding subscribed-to WEB services.
 Software 27 utilizes helper applications 37 (GlG6). These helper applications are termed guards by the inventor. In this example there are 6 guards 37 (G1-G6), however there may be more or fewer without departing from the spirit and scope of the present invention. Guards 37
(G1-G6) verify parameters associated with facts known about the appointment and the user-data generic to the user's subscribed-to WEB services. For example, if the appointment is in Chicago and the user is in Maine, then an airline reservation is required. Gl in this case would be set to true. Information about the location of the user may be stored in a database such that if a user proceeds to another location it is known. In other cases a user may simply set the guard manually to true (need reservation).
 If Gl is true, then G2 (need hotel accommodations) will likely be true unless a user has made plans to stay with a friend instead of using a hotel. G3 (need a rental car) will also be true provided that a user is not being received in such as a company car once he arrives at the meeting locality. In most cases, a user may set guards to true or false from within the single-point interface. In other instances, guards may be automatically set by default based on known data about a user.
 If guards G1-G3 are true, then subtasks representing each part of a main task are propagated to the appropriate WEB services represented by three center blocks labeled Airline Service 14, Hotel Service 16, and Car Rental Service 18. These services represent selected user services. That is to say that if a user, for example, typically patronizes more than one airline, then he or she may select the one service to which a subtask will be delegated. Generally speaking, the service blocks illustrated in this example represent such as WEB servers 17 (1-n) of FIG. 1 as is indicated in the example. In other embodiments, a user may select more than one source for completion of a subtask, and configure criteria such that the sources compete. For example, a user entering an overall task for which an airline reservation is one subtask, may configure for more than one airline reservation server to complete the subtask, and accept as a solution that option that produces (a) lowest fare, (b) fewest connecting flights, (c) certain departure and arrival windows, (d) first class only, or a combination of such criteria.
 Returning to the present example, if guards G1-G3 are true, then the services must be compensated (paid) for accomplishing the subtasks. An accounting/financing service 20, subscribed to by the user, arranges transfer of funds from a user account such as an expense account to various WEB services accomplishing subtasks. G4-G6, the payment paths, then would be true because G1-G3 were determined to be true in this example. The subtask delegated to and accomplished by an accounting service is delegated the subtask of paying for the other provided services.
 Software 27 in a preferred embodiment is implemented with transaction protocol as known in the art, so that historical data is saved for each transaction and step in a transaction. This feature allows rollback and rollforward actions in case a step fails. There is an example in this disclosure of performance of subtasks in making and paying for an airline reservation. If, in that process, the ticketing subtask fails right before a subscriber is to pay for the reservation, having the transaction mechanism in place allows for error recovery so tat no data is lost, and the process can be restarted and successfully completed.
 The methodology described above allows a user to simply enter a main task at a single-point interface, and then go about his or her business while subtasks such as acquiring a hotel reservation and booking and paying for a flight are