The Technology of Digital Ink and Recognition
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Published: 15 Mar 2007
In this article Arindam discusses the Tablet PC Platform's ink analysis technology and explains when and how to use it.
by Arindam Ghosh
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Free-form document annotation is a crucial part of every knowledgeable worker’s life. Despite the exponential improvement in computer performance, when it comes to reading and annotating documents people still turn to pen and paper. This is reasonable, as pen and paper offer many advantages. One key advantage is the ease with which the reader may sketch unstructured notes and drawings in response to document content.

There are definite advantages to emulating this annotation ability on a computer. While real ink annotations often end up in the recycle bin, digital annotations can persist throughout the lifetime of a document. They can be filtered and organized, and like digital documents, they can easily be shared.

Now that email and the World Wide Web are well established, the number of digital documents people interact with on a daily basis has increased dramatically. Unlike their paper counterparts, these documents are read in many different formats and they are displayed on diverse devices and in different-sized windows. They may also be edited, included in other documents, or they may even dynamically adapt their contents. All of this means that any given document may reflow to many different layouts throughout its lifetime.

The lack of a permanent layout poses a unique challenge in the adaptation of freeform pen-and-paper annotation to the digital domain. Each time the content of a digital document reflows to a new layout, any digital ink annotations must also reflow to keep up with it.

This represents a significant technological challenge. In order to meet it, we must follow three broad steps.

First, as a user is marking up a document, we must group and classify their ink strokes according to rough annotation categories (e.g. underline, circle, connector, margin comment, etc.).

Second, we must anchor each annotation to its surrounding context in the document. And third, when the layout of the underlying document changes, we must transform each annotation to agree with the new layout of its context.

This third and final step is the primary focus of this paper. We have implemented an initial, straightforward approach to the problem of reflowing ink annotations and there is much work left to do in refining it and developing it into a working solution. Before we develop our approach further, however, there are significant empirical questions we must answer in order to guide our future research.

For instance, what do people expect to happen to their annotations when the underlying document reflows? Does our initial approach achieve the most basic requirement of reflowable annotations, to preserve each annotation’s contextual meaning? And do users prefer their own original ink when viewing their own annotations or are more formalized versions (which are technologically easier to reflow) acceptable? Most people are not familiar with experience of having their ink reflow and so their reactions are largely unknown.

Many groups have addressed handwriting and diagram recognition issues, some have looked at annotation anchoring and some have even looked at modifications to existing ink (for instance “prettying” handwriting), but none to our knowledge has addressed the issue of how users react when their free-form digital ink annotations are automatically reflowed.

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