Pen stroke cuts PDA Web clutter
Technology Research News
proliferation of the Internet and the increasing popularity of handheld
computing devices pose a challenge: it is difficult to read and navigate
through Web pages displayed on small screens.
Several research teams have addressed the problem with various methods
of zooming in on relevant content from a Web page to make it easier to view.
Researchers from Microsoft Research, Microsoft Research Asia, and
Tsinghua University in China have devised an interface that goes a step
further by allowing a user to zoom in on relevant content and collapse irrelevant
content with a single pen stroke. The interface could eventually be included
as an extension to small-screen Web browsers.
The scheme solves a problem that can arise when a Web page is simply
shrunk to fit a handheld screen. Content can be too small for the user to
be able to find what she's looking for in order to zoom in on it.
The researchers' collapse-to-zoom interface allows users to identify
areas of a Web page -- like columns containing menus, archive material or
advertising -- that can be replaced in the small-screen view with thin placeholders
that preserve context. "Collapsing content causes all remaining content
to expand in size, causing it to reveal more detail, which increases the
user's chance of identifying relevant content," said Patrick Baudisch, a
researcher at Microsoft Research.
The interface was designed to use as little screen space as possible,
said Baudisch. Users control the system using a set of single-stroke pen
gestures rather than on-screen buttons. There are four basic types of pen
Dragging the pen diagonally downwards from right to left collapses
all page content in the rectangular area covered by the pen. The content
is replaced by a thin placeholder that provides context but takes little
space. Clicking a placeholder restores the content.
Dragging the pen diagonally upwards from left to right zooms that
area into a 100-percent-scale reading mode and collapses everything around
the area. "This allows users to read a page once they have identified the
relevant area," said Baudisch.
Dragging the pen diagonally downwards from left to right collapses
an individual cell. And dragging the pen upwards from right to left expands
an individual cell without zooming in on it.
The interface also uses an icon to indicate that a collapse-to-zoom
action is taking place. The icon is green during upward, expanding commands
and red during downward, collapsing commands.
The interface also allows users to click on links from both the
zoomed-in reading view and from the thumbnail view.
In addition, the interface remembers how the user left a page. "If
users collapse content [like] a news page, bookmark the collapsed page,
and return to the page the next day, the page will be loaded pre-collapsed,"
said Baudisch. "Especially in this case, placeholders make sure the user
understands that the viewed content is just a subset of the page and allows
users to bring back content... by clicking the placeholders." Pages that
contain collapsed portions also load faster, he said.
Key to the simplicity of the interface is that all the gestures
are one-part commands. "To keep navigation efficient, we wanted all interaction
to happen in a single stroke," said Baudisch.
Traditionally pen gestures contain two parts -- identifying an area,
usually by circling that area, then choosing a command that will affect
the identified area. In addition to being less efficient, the method can
create confusion: if the user forgets what he's doing after he has already
chosen an area, a subsequent gesture intended to choose another area may
be misinterpreted as a command meant to affect the first area. These interfaces
have two command modes, which requires users to pay closer attention and
are more error-prone than non-modal interfaces, said Baudisch.
The researchers saw that the interface did not have to be modal
when they realized that there are four ways of selecting a rectangle, said
Baudisch. In an Excel spreadsheet, for instance, to select an area of cells
a user can start at the bottom left, the bottom right, the top right or
the top left of the desired area, he said. "You will get the same selection,
independent of what drag direction you used to create the selection."
The researchers' system uses drag direction to allow users to select
which command to apply to the selected area. "In Excel, that would be equivalent
to using a top-right to bottom-left drag to delete cell content, [and] use
the opposite direction to apply another command," said Baudisch.
The technical challenges to making the method work were figuring
out a way to analyze Web page structure on-the-fly and working out a way
to capture pen events in a Web browser.
The researchers have also devised a way to transfer the technology
to smart phones that do not include pens, said Baudisch. "It turns out that
the main commands required for successful collapse-to-zoom interaction are
'collapse column' and 'expand column', while the additional detail commands
for manipulating arbitrary rectangular areas that we had created are less
important." The smaller number of main controls can be used on a smartphone
by simply mapping them to buttons on the phone, he said.
The researchers are also working on making the text in thumbnail
views more readable.
These content viewing technologies are important because small-screen
devices are increasingly popular for keeping people connected in transit,
said Baudisch. "Today users limit themselves to a small number of manually
adapted Web pages, because the browsing experience on the small-screen devices
is still inferior to the desktop," he said. "Improving that experience will
eventually allow road warriors to access any type of Web information anywhere."
At the same time, small-screen devices are more accessible than
desktop computers in many places.
World-wide, cell phones are already more popular than desktop computers,
said Baudisch. "In many countries that do not have a strong PC infrastructure
today, such as India, a mobile device is likely to become the access to
the digital world," he said. "While the majority of content is still designed
for the desktop viewing experience, enabling small-screen users to access
the Web in a useful way can... help overcome the digital divide."
Baudisch's research colleagues were Xing Xie, Chong Wang and Wei-Ying
Ma. The researchers are scheduled to present the work at the Seventeenth
Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST 2004),
in Santa Fe, New Mexico on October 24 to 27. The research was funded by
TRN Categories: Human-Computer Interaction
Story Type: News
Related Elements: Technical paper, "Collapse-to-Zoom: Viewing
Web Pages on Small Screen Devices by Interactively Removing Irrelevant Content",
the Seventeenth Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology
(UIST 2004), Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 24-27, 2004, and posted at www.patrickbaudisch.com/publications/2004-Baudisch-UIST04-CollapseToZoom.pdf;
video posted at www.patrickbaudisch.com/publications/collapsetozoom/index.html
October 20/27, 2004
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