For scholarly publishers, librarians, and readers, the article remains the coin of the realm — a text-based narrative that strips data of all but its most superficial aspects and doesn’t integrate itself into the body of knowledge it supposedly adds to.
Your eyes can read the words and see the figures, but you can’t explore the article, expand the data, or experience how this new work fits into the realm of knowledge.
A main reason for this may be that computer interfaces have been, themselves, enslaved to the word, with keyboards, printers, viewscreens, and mice allowing us to do basically what we could do before — write information, read information, put information on paper, and move containers of information about.
New advances may change this, and some publishers are grasping the opportunities.
Through the popularity of the iPad and iPhone — and inheritors — consumers have become familiar with the experience of multitouch technology, which Wikipedia explains as:
An enhancement to touchscreen technology, which provides the user with the ability to apply multiple finger gestures simultaneously onto the electronic visual display to send complex commands to the device.
The variety of app-delivered games and tools currently available offers a representative taste of current capabilities in graphics manipulation and uses for interactively received inputs. The true potential for multitouch technology is still in its nascent stage.
Displax is promoting a lightweight, transportable polymer film that will transform a 50”+ LCD screen into a receiver that can accept input from 16 simultaneous touch points and registers the intensity and direction of air flow (the latter conjuring up visions of puff-driven Frisbee golf or other spin-offs of lung-powered Pong). Displax projects are predominantly B2C focused, including museum exhibits, TV meteorological reports, World Cup analysis, and retail and virtual shopping displays.
Archimedes Solutions has its roots in the high-tech exhibits business. But, while Displax is focused on lightweight solutions, Archimedes has headed in another direction with Session Desk, a heavy-duty hardware installation that resembles a 1970s copier.
Don’t let this dissuade you from watching the Session Desk trailer on YouTube. If video manipulation and/or data visualization are of interest, you’ll find something of interest in this four-minute product demonstration.
For the scientific community, the GLOBALDATA project is the most compelling. According to the GLOBALDATA product page, the application was created by Archimedes Solutions on behalf of the Max Planck Society and in cooperation with National Geographic and geoinformatics experts. It consists of:
- Four different overlapping and interchangeable maps
- Global development data on overfishing, food production, nutrition, and population, dating from 1950 to projections through 2030
- Capabilities that enable users to exchange views and manipulate visual data displays using these criterion
This encompasses three of the leading trends in our industry:
- Increasing demand to derive new utility from current and archival data sets [which is fueled by . . . ]
- Emerging data visualization and data networking capabilities [which will be delivered by . . . ]
- New mechanisms for user interaction across any/all devices
Information experts should begin to grasp not only how multitouch technology supports limited information interactions, such as those delivered by iPhone app, but what course this sets for future content and data experiences.
From a January 6, 2010, STMicroelectronics press release:
The new [STMicroelectronics] multi-touch controller detects up to ten simultaneous touches with fingers, nails or stylus, enabling application designers to replace complex menu sequences with more direct and natural user controls. Actions made easier with multi-touch capabilities include browsing and selecting options, handwriting and data entry, arranging and sizing windows, picking up and dragging images, and fast and intuitive game play. Other abilities include drawing pictures, using touch pressure to adjust line thickness.
As these technologies continue to improve, they will significantly alter the ways we work with and experience information, including images and data. We will increasingly transition from environments governed by the restrictions of mice and keyboards to more fluid and interactive environments — in the vein of Wii, iPad, and iPhone — that support a more fluid, intuitive, and experiential exploration of scientific and non-scientific content and media.
While timelines are uncertain, expect that consumers of our information will include traditionalists/linear thinkers and visual/experiential thinkers, all of whom will increasingly require that we meet them “where they are” by providing a suite of mechanisms for interacting with content of various types.
This requires us to have a vision and strategy for managing transition and an understanding that most of our transitions are complicated by an attachment to prior modes of working. How long will be able to maintain a foot in every camp, supporting numerous devices and capabilities?
What strategies will we develop (as an industry) to manage efficient and economical change?