Imagine sitting at a table with friends or family, passing treasured
photographs around, pointing out people or places and recalling
your memories of when the pictures were taken.
We can share and discuss real pictures like this, but -- until
now -- it couldn't be done with digital images sent over the Internet.
Researchers from Hewlett-Packard Laboratories in Bristol (UK) have
developed an experimental application they call HP
Labs PicShare, which recreates the experience of sharing pictures,
photograph albums and conversation at a distance.
Maurizio Pilu, the scientist who created PicShare, says he is
interested in exploring remote sharing of photographs.
"We started by looking at the currently available applications
such as Microsoft NetMeeting and various instant messaging programs,"
he recalls. "But although they do make image sharing possible,
they also present a number of technical problems because they are
not designed for sharing photographs."
So Pilu and fellow researcher David Frohlich decided to find out
exactly how people share photographs around a coffee table -- what
do they do and say to make this an enjoyable and useful experience?
Their aim was to design an electronic system that would be as close
as possible to the real activity of sharing and discussing photos.
No other application allows people to do all this. For instance,
with instant messaging there are problems with screen mismatches
for participants and it would not be possible to point, zoom or
manage multiple images. With NetMeeting, which needs a high bandwidth
connection, there are set-up difficulties and two-way interaction
Frohlich has run a number of formal user trials to find out what
people think about HP Labs PicShare. In the experiment, 10 pairs of friends and four extended
family groups shared holiday snaps and old family photos while they
were in two separate rooms.
"The feedback we obtained was extremely positive," says
Frohlich. "They rated synchronous photo sharing highly in terms
of its ease of use, control, enjoyment and efficiency. The key value
was the ability to tell a story with photos and instantly to obtain
reactions and comments to these stories."
This contrasts with current methods of sending photos without adequate
explanation and or feedback on their reception.
Unlike NetMeeting and similar applications, which are good for giving
presentations at a distance, PicShare is optimized for conversation
"We use the shared photo album as a vehicle for two-way interaction
and conversation," Frohlich says.
Pilu says the researchers learned a lot from user trials and by
observing people operating PicShare.
"Now we firmly believe that live sharing of photo albums online,
with friends and family, could become a widespread and fun activity,
especially if synchronous photo sharing is integrated into mainstream
communications applications such as instant messaging systems."
The researchers are currently exploring this and other
options for offering sychronous photo sharing to the majority of
by Julian Richards