The InfoGallery is a new media that makes digital content visible in the physical space. With this media it is possible to expose digital content other places than on the internet, and the system is a most welcome alternative to the physical poster or billboard. The content can be changed dynamically which makes a short distance from sender to receiver.
The InfoGallery was at first designed for libraries, but we intend to deploy it in broader contexts - such as at museums, in stores or other public places.
Motivation and challenges in the library domain
Empirical research in libraries revealed a problem in creating awareness about all the digital resources. Many library materials have become digitized and many resources such as periodicals come as digital only. In many libraries physical shelves are placed centrally to expose new books and new issues of periodicals. This supports serendipity, meaning the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident. The library visitors may discover unanticipated material of interest when passing the shelves. According to the librarians this rarely happens with the digital resources. It takes a long time before library users discover new digital material.
This challenge made us look into the field of informative arts, which is a new research area focusing on making digital information displays aesthetic, calm, and pleasurable. The aim of introducing informative art applications in the physical library space is to support serendipity for digital library resources and grabbing of digital material of interest. A central element of Informative Arts is to provide an artistic or aesthetically appealing interface to information. The visual expression and other means to draw attention to the information is central aspect of providing an informative arts service.
Experiencing the InfoGallery
Visitors at the libraries typically experience InfoGallery on a large plasma monitor or projection surface on walls, floors or ceilings. The display will feature an animation of a collection of InfoObjects each consisting of a snippet of text and some graphics. At random an InfoObjects may zoom to large scale and show up in the center of the display for a while before it again continues to be part of the animation.
If the display enables interaction, visitors may at any time click or tab on the touch-sensitive surface to explore a piece of displayed information in depth. And finally references to the information may be dragged to a BlueTooth phone or sent to an email address supplied by the visitor.
It is also important that an institution that provides information by means of informative arts has the possibility to tailor the visual expression to their needs and sense of aesthetics. InfoGallery provides this tailor ability by means of the GallerySkin concept. Graphic designers and artists can be involved in the design of a GallerySkin, and a new skin can be installed on-the-fly from an editor application making either a specific Gallery change its skin - or all galleries in a building to change skins at the same time.
Below we show how the GallerySkin concept can be used to tailor InfoGallery to two different institutions with a minimum of development effort. The two institutions are the Royal Danish Library (Danish acronym: KB) and the Municipal Libraries in Århus (Danish acronym: AAKB), Denmark. We show how two radical different visual expression and animation schemes work on the same set of InfoObjects, from a set of H.C Andersen resources. In the shown versions, there are four different levels of view.
In the level 1 view the entire set of registered InfoObjects for all channels are animated. On the left the KB GallerySkin with a tile layout is shown. Here the animation appears much like a memory game, where tiles shuffle, show and hide in a slow animation. On the right the same set of InfoObjects are shown in the AAKB skin, which is a slow bouncing ball like animation with a slightly higher speed.
The level 2 view appears in two different situations: at random as part of the animation or when a user click or tap with his/her finger on an InfoObject in an interactive InfoGallery. Here all the detailed meta-data for a resource is presented, and it is possible to follow links to the actual library resource.
The level 3 view appears when a user has followed a link on an InfoObject to the actual resource being exhibited. The resource is presented in an embedded Web browser with its navigation being restricted to only follow links inside the InfoGallery context, since we do not wish the gallery to become a work station for web mail or the like.
The users at the libraries can explore information and pick up references to information found in the serendipitous "search" among objects being exhibited. Picking up references to resources may be supported in several ways, such as Bluetooth pick up, SMS, or e-mail.
In the two versions delivered to KB and AAKB we have chosen a low tech solution for picking up references. Since the number of users with active use of BlueTooth enabled cell phones is still quite small, we have chosen to make a low tech email interface. This interface enables a user to bring up an address field and in the case of a touch monitor also an on-screen keyboard allowing the user to type in his/her email and receive the reference this way. This interaction does not in the same way as the BlueTooth pick up described earlier give an experience similar to picking up physical material, but it does provide the user with a means to save the reference for later use.
InfoGallery is not attempting to look like a painting but it is important that display surfaces are not becoming disturbing billboard like commercials in library space. We have thus chosen fairly slow going animations that move fluidly, allowing people to read texts easily even when they are moving on the display. The speed of animations can be specified in the editor application with ranges that prevent the display for becoming disturbingly dynamic.
Having developed InfoGalleries to a number of customers, we still have a long list of potential extensions to the concept and follow up studies.
We plan to include sensors to make more advanced interaction with the galleries. In particular, we wish to provide multi-user interaction with large scale displays on columns, walls and floors.
We see many prospects in using the InfoGallery for other application domains than libraries. We may support as diverse things as commercials in stores improving state of the art in InStore TV and the sharing of knowledge in a corporate building by allowing people to distribute InfoObjects on specific channels to InfoGalleries.
For more information visit http://infogalleri.net/ (in Danish)