Project : in-situ
Section: New Results
Most computer software for managing on-line documents assumes that all user interaction takes place via a keyboard, mouse and screen and that documents exist only in their on-line form. Yet users often write by hand and annotate printed documents, forcing them to juggle on-line and off-line versions. We are exploring the concept of ``interactive paper'', with the goal of better integrating physical and computer documents and allow users to take advantage of the best aspects of each.
We have been working for several years with research biologists at the Pasteur Institute, observing their use of laboratory notebooks . For both practical and legal reasons, lab notebooks must exist in a physical format, even though a large percentage of the information they contain may come from a computer. From a user's perspective, some information is best entered by hand as ink on paper, e.g. making annotations or quick sketches, whereas other information is best entered on a computer, e.g. generating a graph of the results of an experiment. We have collaboratively designed several prototypes that help biologists do both, maintaining a physical notebook while simultaneously generating an interactive, on-line version.
This year, we began working with a new technology, the Anoto pen , which allows us to capture the strokes as the user writes on ordinary paper. This provides an extremely light-weight method of obtaining a copy of the hand-written parts of the notebook, which we can then provide a variety of on-line services. We developed a working prototype in collaboration with several biologists and plan to test it with them in 2004. Of particular interest is investigating how best to let the biologists create their own personal annotation systems, which they can then use to create personalized indexes, facilitate searching, and provide links to both physical and on-line objects.
In the past two months, we began two new projects in a related area, which involves working with historical manuscripts. For historians, the physical characteristics of these manuscripts are often as important as the information they contain. They need to interact with the actual physical object (often without touching it) while simultaneously entering information into a computer, for subsequent analysis. We are interested in exploring new techniques for linking physical and on-line documents, as well as providing novel methods of visualizing their contents. We are also working with archivists, who are interested in identifying and visualizing the evolution of related documents over time. We ran an initial workshop with historians and archivists in November, and will continue collaborating closely with them next year.