Friday, June 08, 2007

Scaleable Print and Collective Seeing

Microsoft are developing some incredibly cool image technologies. They are highly relevant to the way magazines, newspapers and books will be viewed and read on the screen in years to come. From O'Reilly I found a link to an amazing presentation of Seadragon and Photosynth from this year's TED conference, by one of the developers, Blaise Aguera y Arcas.

One of his examples shows a digital edition of the Guardian (one of the very, very few newspapers which publishes a perfectly respectable digital edition). The digital newspaper in the Seadragon environmnent can be seamlessly zoomed and scaled. As Blaise says, newspapers and magazines "are an inherently multi-scale medium" but, ideally, the only thing which should constrain our digital view of the print is the number of pixels in the screen, and Seadragon enables indefinite and smooth zooming. The Microsoft team have inserted a doctored car ad in the corner of the Guardian page, so that one clicks on a thumbnail in the ad to see alternative model choices, and then within the thumbnail there is another thumbnail for prices and one for technical specifications. So print which would be 1 point, if it were real, and at normal resolution completely illegible, can be zoomed up to a comfortable reading scale. This additional tunneling into the detail, by zooming, has enormous potential for newspapers/magazines on the web. Zooming out is also important. Exact Editions' own 16-page view, has become for our users an important way of scanning the digital magazine.

Newspapers and magazines will certainly go this way, Seadragon or similar. All the publishers and the associated technologists who are busily developing repurposed web-sites and pale web imitations of their print offerings should mothball their solutions at this point (including the Guardian's own Unlimited service). Oh yes keep the HTML going, whilst there are eyeballs, but strategic planning must focus on the Print Edition and the Digital version of that........The printed look and feel is going to be with us for a long while yet.

Cool as Seadragon is, Photosynth may be even more important. You must see the video presentation to get the full richness of the software. Blaise shows us an incredible montage of Notre Dame cathedral, where a three-dimensional model of the building has been constructed from thousands of Flickr images of the cathedral (I guess every photo on Flickr tagged for Notre Dame, Paris). Its an amazing scaleable, zoomable, pan-able, rich, community-generated collage. A community-generated and optimised view of the building. Collective seeing. The software application is figuring out from the internal visual properties of the photos and snapshots how they should be joined up, registered, smoothed, or hyperlinked together. Scene recognition and optimised editing in one framework. A system which is hyperlinking thousands of photos on the basis of what they are representations of.

I would provide you more links to the Photosynth solution (here is one to a project, How We Built Britain, that has just been launched by the BBC and Microsoft) but the environment requires the latest versions of Windows, and I have a Mac so have not poked around these examples and cannot vouch for them.

There are some obvious ways in which Photosynth-type applications could be extended (eg in piracy, or in collective archives of self-scanned print images). Photosynth-ed images of scanned print would be a doddle. Can you see Microsoft doing an 'end run' round Google Book Search by encouraging readers to assemble and share collective digital copies of books?

These image-manipulating techniques, in the hands of users, will be incredibly viral and publishers need to figure out how magazines, newspapers and books are distributed through the web in an authorised way by the publishers themselves. Before the users do it for them.

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