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Reading software facilitates document interaction

Posted: 13 Jul 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:active reading  reading software  finger motions 

Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed a software called LiquidText that enables active readers to interact with documents—highlighting, outlining and taking notes—using finger motions.

Taking advantage of touchscreen tablet computers, LiquidText is said to significantly enhance the experiences of active readers by facilitating an innovative approach to active reading—a type of reading that requires the person to not only read a document, but also to understand, learn from and retain the information in it.

"Most computer-based active reading software seeks to replicate the experience of paper, but paper has limitations, being in many ways inflexible," said Craig Tashman, Georgia Tech graduate student. "LiquidText offers readers a fluid-like representation of text so that users can restructure, re-visualise and rearrange content to suit their needs."

LiquidText was developed by Tashman and Keith Edwards, an associate professor in the Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing. The software can run on any Windows 7 touchscreen computer.

Active reading demands more of the reading medium than simply advancing pages, Edwards noted. Active readers may need to create and find a variety of highlights and comments and move rapidly among multiple sections of a document.

"With paper, it can be difficult to view disconnected parts of a document in parallel, annotation can be constraining and its linear nature gives readers little flexibility for creating their own navigational structures," added Edwards.

LiquidText provides flexible control of the visual arrangement of content, including both original text and annotations. To do this, the software uses a number of common fingertip gestures on the touchscreen and introduces several novel gestures. For example, to view two areas of a document at once, the user can pinch an area of text and collapse it.

Active reading involves annotation, content extraction and fast, fluid navigation among multiple portions of a document. To accomplish these tasks, LiquidText integrates a traditional document reading space with a dedicated workspace area where the user can organise excerpts and annotations of a text without losing the links back to their sources. In these spaces, the user can perform many actions such as highlighting text, commenting, extracting, collapsing, and text bookmark and magnification.

For commenting, LiquidText breaks away from the traditional one-to-one mapping between content and comments. Comment objects can refer to any number of pieces of content across a document, or even multiple documents. Comments can be pulled off, rearranged and grouped with other items while maintaining a persistent link back to the content they refer. To add a comment, users simply select the desired text and begin typing.

LiquidText can also copy and extract content. Once a section of text has been selected, the user creates an excerpt simply by dragging the selection into the workspace until it 'snaps off' of the document. The original content remains in the document, although it is tinted slightly to indicate that an excerpt has been made from it. Excerpts can be freely laid out in the workspace area or be attached to one another or to documents to form groups, while each excerpt can also be traced back to its source.

"The problem with paper and some software programs is that the comments must generally fit in the space of a small margin and can only be linked to a single page of text at a time," said Tashman. "LiquidText's more flexible notion of comments and large workspace area provide space for organising and manipulating any comments or document excerpts the user may have created."

In addition to traditional zooming and panning, the user can create a magnifying glass in the workspace by tapping with three fingers. The magnifying glass zooms in on select areas while allowing the user to maintain an awareness of the workspace as a whole. Users can manipulate the magnifying glass with simple multi-touch gestures, such as pinching or stretching to resize the lens, or rotating to change the zoom level—like the zoom lens of a camera. Users can position, resize and control the zoom level of the magnifying glasses in a continuous motion by movements of the hand alone.

The ability to move within a document, search for text, turn a page, or flip between locations to compare parts of a text is also important for active reading. To complete these actions, LiquidText allows users to collapse text, dog-ear text and create magnified views of text.

"In contrast to traditional document viewing software, in which users must create separate panes and scroll them individually, LiquidText's functionality lets a user view two or more document areas with just one action, parallelizing an otherwise serial task," explained Edwards.





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