Paper: Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active Reading

This is my latest project, which I will present tomorrow (May 9th) at the CHI 2012 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

I’ll have a longer post up about this project after I return from the conference, but for now enjoy the video. I also link to the PDF of our short paper below which has a nice discussion of the motivation and design rationale for this work.

Above all else, I hope this work makes clear that there is still tons of room for innovation in how we interact with the e-readers and tablet computers of the future– as well as in terms of how we consume and manipulate content to produce new creative works.

Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active ReadingHinckley, K., Bi, X., Pahud, M., Buxton, B., Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active Reading. 4pp Note. In Proc. CHI 2012  Conf. on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Austin, TX, May 5-10, 2012. [PDF]

[Watch Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active Reading on YouTube]

6 responses to “Paper: Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active Reading

  1. Marcelo Rodrigues


    One thing I’d like to see more thought given to is the concept of temporarily hiding elements of the “text” being viewed. For example, in a mathematical monograph, using a variation of the gesture for storing items to the Pocket, I’d like to be able to collapse regions containing proofs. This should prove to be very useful on a cursory first reading. Even more useful, another variation of the gesture would not only collpase but also place the region in the Pocket for deferred action. Giving you the mathematical example for clarity but there are many domains of knowledge in which the ability to collapse details would come in very handy indeed.

    • Hi Marcelo,

      Thanks for the comment. I like the thought of hiding parts of the text being viewed. In fact, both LiquidText and Hands-on-Math have a sort of vertical-pinch gesture for doing exactly that, where the page kind of folds up like a concertina to elide portions of the text. I recommend you check those out. And being able to move those to the “Pocket” of our work is a great idea as well.

      LiquidText (2011): see the vertical pinch about 30 seconds into the video.

      Hands-on-Math (2010): folding the page is about 3:20 seconds into the video. Has a bunch of other cool pen + touch interactions as well.


  2. Ken,

    I have two questions:

    1) I wonder if you got any feedback about pockets being a distraction for active reading and if you explored other means of presenting same information.
    2) Why do we still rely on translation of actions performed during reading a physical book to the digital book instead of providing the best means afforded by the technology today? I am referring to the gesture used for changing the page and the animation of the page simulating physical world.

    • Hi Aman,

      These are both good questions. On #1, I would say that with the graphic design and layout used in the current demo video, yes the pocket being in the middle was not ideal. Originally this idea was conceived with dual-screen devices in mind, like my old Codex project, and also in this specific project I would say the graphic design left something to be desired (e.g. the margins in the “gutter” of the e-book between the two screens are way too tight. And a number of test users hence said they would have preferred to have that Pocket allow tucking items along the bottom edge of the screen, for example. I still think the center might work with a re-design, or it could be that on a single-screen slate in landscape mode that the bottom really is best. Honestly it would require further investigation to be sure.

      On question #2, let me get back to that one. I’m still planning to do a longer post about this project, but things have been busy, so let me try to bang one out next week instead where I can answer this better than a quick comment here, and give more context to the project as well.

  3. Long ago I was at a Microsoft presentation in Sofia, Bulgaria. The lecturer mentioned the 3 screens vision of Microsoft: the cell phone, the PC monitor and the TV and how Microsoft struggles to make the user experience in these 3 devices the same. This paper and work seems to be following that direction.

    • Broadly speaking, it does fit into that vision, but in terms of our thought processes and how we actually went about the work, we were much more tightly focused on how people read, how they want to mark-up and repurpose content, and some of the failings that we perceived in current technologies and interaction techniques to effectively support those behaviors.

      But as it so happens, having more than one small piece of glass in front of you really tends to help out with this.

      When people are reading content deeply, to understand and crystallize and forge new viewpoints, the research shows very clearly that they almost always have more than one reading surface — whether that be a piece of paper, a book, a magazine, a notebook page, or a computer screen — close at hand, and they frequently move back and forth between them.

      So I guess that’s what “three screens and a cloud” sounds like when it comes from a researcher rather than a smooth, refined marketing type 🙂

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