Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Hard(ware) Side of Collaboration

Better collaboration among remote teams and groups is certainly going to require new software and better ways of thinking about the whole collaboration process. But new types are hardware interfaces are also going to be part of the mix. Here's an interesting video of one such potential device (via Stephen Shankland of CNET news.com).

Jeff Han is a research scientist for New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Here, he demonstrates—for the first time publicly—his intuitive, "interface-free," [multipoint] touch-driven computer screen, which can be manipulated intuitively with the fingertips, and responds to varying levels of pressure.

This is cool stuff. There are actually simpler devices that are available for sale today, however, that could be useful for collaboration if they were cheaper, more widely deployed, and (therefore) software were widely available to exploit them.

Take for example Wacom's Cintiq (or a tablet PC). One of the things that I find really difficult about doing some things remotely is that I can't easily do a "napkin sketch." Yes, as my co-workers well know, it's going to be pretty horrid from an artistic perspective. But sometimes there no other comparable way to communicate a quick idea. Sure I can draw something with a mouse or a low-end graphics tablet--or sketch something on paper and scan it--but these are pretty awkward emulations of throwing something up on a whiteboard in a face-to-face meeting. A Cintiq or other form of directly writable monitor seems likely to become a pretty important ingredient in remote collaboration. I expect that the day will come, when such are cheap and ubiquitous, when people will find it hard to imagine that they ever lived without them.

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