This research will evaluate the potential of a new generation of electronic document readers that present information across multiple displays - a design that anticipates the future availability of fast, bi-stable, display technology. Despite the fact that e-book readers have been available to the general public for several years, paper remains far more popular as a medium for reading and annotating documents. Although electronic devices for reading can provide unique affordances such as a large storage capacity, keyword search, indexing, and some interactivity, they remain unpopular probably because they fail to offer several core affordances of paper such as efficient page-to-page navigation, quick access to multiple documents, and efficient handling of annotations.

Starting from an existing proof of concept, this project will design a fully functional prototype that addresses a large spectrum of reading activities that include: reading a book or magazine, lateral reading, and active reading. A set of deployable prototypes will be used to evaluate the potential of the design through a series of longitudinal studies. In producing prototypes of a next generation electronic document reader, this project will systematically study the design parameters that might enhance the reading experience on such devices in a wide variety of scenarios encompassing a diversity of reading activities.

It is possible that digital displays will become the predominant technology for consuming text information. However, digital reading devices will be used only if they combine physical design, software infrastructure, and interface features that support a wide variety of reading patterns. Increasing amounts of reading material (both classic and modern) are available through digital distribution. By making it convenient and enjoyable to access this wealth of digital content, this project will spur new interest in reading both for work and pleasure.

Project Report

The goal of this project was to evaluate how the use of multiple slates connected through a personal network could improve active reading. In the context of this proposal, active reading is the kind of reading performed by students or knowledge professionals when writing the synthesis of several documents. Because no proper hardware was available at the beginning of this project, we first designed and built a new ebook reader capable of capturing pen input on a large e-ink display. Our system combined a fast processor a 9.7' Eink display, a Wacom pen system and network connectivity in a 8mm package. This prototype, designed an implemented before Apple announced the iPad, is a unique hardware platform for development. We then developed a multi-slates reading application as well as the first prototype of the equivalent of a windows manager for multi-slates configurations. Our system lets users manage cross-slate interactions to support: Annotating documents; Navigation within and between documents; Information transfer between slates (copy and paste); Remote interaction from another slate or a laptop to update the content of a difficult to reach slate; Document pile management to simplify mapping between documents and slates when the number of available slates varies (for example when one is leaving one’s office with only one slate); Documents are added to the system by simply dropping them in a special DropBox folder on the users’ laptop. For increased reliability, all annotations are also saved in the "Cloud" before being processed to be readily available by all slates connected to the system. We evaluated the system by asking PhD students in the Humanities to use a set of 4 slates for about 4 weeks. The outcome of the study was extremely positive. Users told us that having multiple independent slates greatly improved their reading experience in a wide variety of contexts from reading endnotes to having simultaneous access to 4 documents when preparing a review session. They also enjoyed the ability of our system to capture and reliably distribute annotations to all their devices (PC and slates alike). As a result, they reported that our system offered several advantages over using paper in their everyday activities. Our work confirms the conjecture that multiple digital slates have the potential to outperform paper in active reading tasks. This is the first work to report that a digital configuration outperforms paper in traditionally paper intensive tasks. As penetration of slate computers in household is increasing, it is expected that within a 5-year horizon, many people will have several slates at their disposal. The work supported by this proposal has laid the foundations of how users can efficiently leverage the slates they own.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS)
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William Bainbridge
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Cornell University
United States
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