Sunday, January 07, 2007

Discovery in corporate memory

I recently visited FXPAL, a Xerox-Fuji research lab next to Xerox PARC, and saw some fun demos of some of the projects there (thanks, Jeremy).

Afterwards, I could not stop talking about the ProjectorBox demo I saw. The idea behind ProjectorBox is to automatically record presentations effortlessly and makes all of them easily searchable.

So, for example, you can search for [personalization] across all talks given in the last couple years at FXPAL. Not only are matches in the text of the slides are shown, but also mousing over any of the slides brings up an audio clip of the room (the speaker and the audience) while that slide was being shown. This makes it quick to get back to information in a talk you saw before or find information in talks you may have missed.

The researchers (Laurent Denoue, David Hilbert, Daniel Billsus, and John Adcock) gave a Google Tech Talk called "Seamless Information Capture and Discovery for Corporate Memory" that gives a good feel for how ProjectorBox works.

The talk starts by framing the problem. They want to make it easy. They want to capture every presentation at the company and make them easily accessible, but "people don't do extra work just for the purpose of sharing information", so they want to capture the presentations "without adding any extra overhead" for speakers. They also want finding information in the presentations to be easy, helping people find useful information even if (perhaps especially if) they don't know that the content is available.

Their solution is a small box that sits between the projector and the presenter's laptop. It does video capture, then OCR on the captured video feed, then segments and indexes all the slides and audio.

The demo of searching the content starts at 12:43 in the video. They do a search, up pop the relevant slides, and mousing over a slide starts the audio from the presentation at that point.

I drool thinking about a generalized version of this. It would be incredibly cool to have this for all recorded lectures on Google Video. Or for all ACM conference talks. Or for every talk and lecture everywhere.

As the FXPAL talk continues, at 25:02 the researchers describe PAL Bar. PAL Bar is a toolbar-based recommender system for documents based on the current context (e.g. content of the current page) and the user's social network. Like Findory, the goal is to help people discover information they did not know about without requiring any effort from the user.

There is also a WWW 2006 paper, "Seamless Capture and Discovery for Corporate Memory" (PDF), that discusses ProjectorBox and PAL Bar. The paper is good, but the video is also useful to get a better feel for how ProjectorBox works. Very cool project.


Anonymous said...

The fact that PowerPoint is insufficient for corporate memory is part of why Amazon, Jeff Bezos specifically, "outlawed" it. All presentations were written up as 1- or 2-pagers so that the team was forced to articulate its ideas fully rather than relying on slick graphics. It also made it much easier to go back months later and understand the discussion and strategy at the time. Let's face it, the medium and the message are related; perhaps PowerPoint isn't the right medium for communicating complex issues and establishing corporate memory.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Greg for the post, and James for the comment. (BTW, I'm one of the FXPAL researchers). James hit upon one of our main goals for this research: namely, to make it "much easier to go back months later and understand the discussion and strategy at the time". ProjectorBox automatically captures documents shared via projectors and any associated discussion, making it easier for people (including those who weren't there) to retrieve and understand what happened. PowerPoint just happens to be one of the most commonly used tools for this type of communication. But our approach works for other document types as well.

The big picture for us is to seamlessly capture and organize all manner of real-time collaboration information and make it accessible and useful to people. While there are many ways to preserve and share digital documents, email, etc., there aren't any simple and affordable ways to automatically preserve and share the knowledge produced during real-time collaborations such as presentations, web meetings, etc.

We're currently incubating a company in this area, and welcome your comments and ideas. Stay tuned!