Microsoft and the GatherReader e-reader: More on Microsoft's vision for reading

There's more than one way to advance reading. Amazon has some ideas; Microsoft has some others in the 'active reading' space.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

At its Kindle roll-out on September 6, Amazon executives talked up their latest ideas for advancing reading. Called "Immersion Reading," the new technology coming this fall with the newest Amazon tablets, will allow users to "fuse together" Kindle Books and audiobooks, allowing readers to listen to a spoken version of their text while they read.

Microsoft also is looking to advance reading, but is taking a different tack. As I blogged recently, the Microsoft Office team is working on "active reading" technology that could debut as a new Office app at some point in the future.


But that's not the only work around active reading happening at Microsoft. One of my readers pointed me to a white paper that Microsoft researchers presented earlier this year at CHI 2012 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

The paper, entitled "Informal Information Gathering Techniques for Active Reading," is authored by Ken Hinckley, Xiaojun Bi, Michel Pahud, and Microsoft natural-user-interface expert Bill Buxton. The topic is a "prototype e-reader" that uses both pen and multi-touch called GatherReader. (There's a floating visual clipboard that's part of the prototype called "the Pocket," too.)

The Microsoft Research prototype was built using Windows 7 using a Wacom 21" FS5 pen + touch display tablet.

Here's the authors' description of the prototype:

"GatherReader uses both pen and multi-touch interaction to support fluid transitions between reading and writing tasks. We contribute techniques for grabbing pieces of content, collecting entire pages, temporarily storing items in a floating visual clipboard known as the Pocket, reading sideby-side with writing, automatic two-way cross-referencing of notes with source material, and post-hoc interpretation of pen gestures. Such interactions afford a middle ground where content consumption and lightweight content creation feed into one another, a virtuous cycle where the user can browse, collect, aggregate, annotate, and of course read content using a combination of pen and touch inputs."

Update: Here's a video from Hinckley, one of the authors of the paper, showing GatherReader in action. (Thanks to @DaQuantumFro for the find.)

If all this sounds somewhat familiar, it should. Anyone remember the Microsoft Courier dual-screen prototype device that Microsoft axed before it ever went into production? The promotional video of that device showed users employing a pen, touch and a canvas that looked like OneNote on steriods to create new kinds of documents. The Moorea Office app -- which apparently slipped from Office 2013 -- supposedly will offer similar capabilities/concepts when and if it arrives.

 The paper acknowledges this is just an early prototype, and one that was tested very limitedly (with 11 knowledge workers). And, as I note whenever I write about Microsoft Research projects, there is no guarantee when or even if they eventually will be commercialized in whole and/or in part.

Could this someday figure into whatever Microsoft and Barnes & Noble are collaborating? Maybe... In any case, it's still worth noting there's more than one way to take reading to the next level....

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