Details

Video introduction

This video (5:25) provides an overview of the Glider application showing the current prototype. For details, see the text below.

Overview

Over the past couple of years, the Brown University Library has been developing a simple web-based framework for creating interactive distributed applications that leverage large-scale display walls. This framework provides a modular, extensible toolkit for users with a broad range of technical expertise, content, and applications—such as enhanced lectures, interactive classroom activities, and digital exhibitions. The goal and emphasis of the framework is flexibility, extensibility, and ease of use.

With a supported development period, this working prototype will be made production-ready and will be released as an open-source project for general use and extension by institutions that have a display wall, or any type of large-screen display, but do not have an easily accessible means to take advantage of this technology’s potential.

With Glider, any wall can become an interactive wall; any classroom can become a collaborative environment.

Problem Statement

In the last 5+ years, display walls have garnered significant interest in the library community as visible investments towards a digital, collaborative, visual approach to academic endeavors. Once purchased, libraries understandably face pressure to demonstrate the value of large-scale displays. However, apart from a few notable exceptions (e.g., Google Earth), there are a limited number of out-of-the-box applications that showcase the utility of these significant hardware investments.

Brown University Library installed a 7’×16’ display wall in 2012 and immediately realized that what should have been a simple operation — to bring up a sequence of full-resolution images controlled through a remote interface — was insufficient with existing software. We resolved this problem by building a custom framework.

That one-off solution led us to recognize the need for a general-purpose framework for delivering wall-ready content efficiently. For the last four years, we have been developing such a content delivery and interaction framework, dubbed Glider, that aims to address the most general needs for utilizing display walls with the simplest, most accessible approaches.

Overview of the Glider Application

Glider is an open-source, web-based, extensible framework for designing time-based interactive environments with distributed displays and controls. It consists of four foundational functions, upon which additional modules can be built:

  1. Wall Geometry
    Visual elements can be easily aligned and sized to accommodate screen dimensions and features such as a bezel grid.
  2. Timing
    Elements can change over time according to complex sequences.
  3. Assignable Content
    Content can be distributed and updated across arbitrary displays or sets of displays simultaneously.
  4. Multi-agent Control
    Commands can be sent between devices, allowing for remote user-to-wall control and other interactions.

Applications

With the four foundational functions outlined above, the framework allows for multiple use cases, including:

  • Interactive digital exhibits, with which viewers interact via a touch controller (kiosk-style) or cell phones
  • Digitally enhanced collaborative classes, in which content and shared documents are pushed to students
  • Participatory presentations, in which audiences receive supplemental materials as the lecture is delivered
  • Digital repository viewing interfaces, in which users interactively select and display items on the display wall using their cell phone

Architecture / Design

Glider is designed to be a lightweight, extensible framework based on web standards that provides an easy interface for authoring and delivering content. Major design goals include:

  • Author-friendly content creation
    The system must be easy for users with varied skills to create content.
  • Built within standard web languages to leverage existing resources
    Since Glider is built out of HTML/CSS/Javascript, it allows web designers to leverage their existing skills and continue using familiar XML tools, such as oXygen. Timing is handled by a W3C SMIL-compliant library.
  • Minimal technology requirements
    Designed with institutions that have limited access to technical infrastructure in mind, the current working prototype only requires access to a websocket service and a computer running a modern web browser.
  • HTML as both the display and archival format
    As a starting point, a Glider environment can be encapsulated in a single XHTML file (enhanced features will require additional files).
  • Modular, extensible architecture
    Following the design principles of frameworks such as Wordpress, Glider allows for customization of individual presentations (e.g., color schemes and presentation-specific behavior) as well as extension of the system through additional modules.

Status and Record of Use

Glider is currently a working prototype. Not all of the features that have been used are accessible to users of limited technical expertise, and there is no visual authoring interface. Funding provided through this grant would be used to address these issues. Additionally, the existing prototype code needs to be reviewed and made more robust.

The Glider prototype has been employed on a number of occasions—most notably in collaboration with the Brown University Herbarium, investigating the use of the display wall to explore the digital archive of their plant collections (hosted in the Brown Digital Repository). This collaboration resulted in a public Commencement talk that used Glider running on the library’s display wall as the presentation platform (the video of that talk is available online).

The Commencement presentation demonstrated that the platform is an effective tool for collaborative work; the Library’s Publications and Design Specialist was able to contribute with minimal training in the system. On another occasion, an undergraduate student (versed in HTML) was easily able to use the framework to create a presentation for submission for a library prize.

Work Plan

Our experiences to date indicate that the framework is useful and viable for display wall applications. However, much work remains to transform this promising working prototype into a production-ready open-source project that would be of general use to a broad and varied user base.

We propose a two-year development process, which will focus on three aspects:

  1. Reviewing and refining existing architecture, code, and interface designs, and developing new features (particularly a visual authoring interface)
  2. Partnering with instructors, scholars, content-holders, and owners of display walls and other large displays, to create content in the framework for testing and demonstration purposes
  3. Creating a community website for documentation, dissemination, and participation