Thursday, January 15, 2009

InfoMesa and Databases in the Cloud - Windows Live

InfoMesa is a technology demonstrator from Microsoft Life Sciences that I've blogged about previously. I've been working (as time permits) on two tracks.

First, I've forked the code to investigate how the interactive whiteboard/electronic research notebook would work in an environment like the Social Computing Room. I've already had some interesting results, and the product of that work is in actual use by researchers in day-to-day work. The main departure in this case is turning the interface 'inside out', essentially creating a 12,288x768 workspace, while migrating all of the other interface items into context menus. In the SCR port, there's more concern with laying out content around the room than having a free-flowing scrollable palate. Essentially, I'm trying to put this fork 'out there', and then asking researchers what sorts of tools they would like. I'm incrementally porting InfoMesa features to this environment as I can, and am especially keen on adding annotation features.

This brings me to the second track, which is looking at the 'cloud' as the source of data. In this way, InfoMesa becomes a 'browser' of sorts. The InfoMesa database becomes a link repository, a tagging service, and an annotation service. The whiteboards are composed of objects that may exist outside of the InfoMesa metadata repository. The data may be in a database, may be a resource on the web, identified by a URI, or may be stored in a cloud database, such as SQL Data Services in Microsoft Azure, or Amazon S3. The InfoMesa blog has some interesting demonstrations of porting the whiteboard metadata to Azure in the post InfoMesa and Databases in the Cloud - Windows Live.

I think the cloud data idea is useful, making whiteboards accessible anywhere. What I think is potentially more interesting is to think of InfoMesa as a resource browser and annotation platform, and looking at creating pluggable hooks in InfoMesa to be able to retrieve whiteboard objects from different locations, such as the above mentioned cloud data services. Questions to answer include designing such a pluggable architecture, laying out the metadata schema that would be able to store and properly access data in the cloud, and defining the security layer such that a whiteboard can acess data with proper security.

The ability to store and annotate data in these views has other interesting benefits, including 'wall-to-wall' collaboration. I imagine augmenting collaboration sessions with video conferencing between two visualization environments, where some ability to synchronize whiteboards brings remote parties together. I also am interested in the more pragmatic ability to allow a researcher to design a whiteboard that represents the agenda for a research group meeting at their desktop, and be able to walk up to a visualization wall, or an environment like the SCR, and have their data appear, ready to go. Think if this as a more fluid way of developing a presentation, where sequences of slides are less useful than a free-flowing group interaction with imagery, video, and other types of visual data.

You can see that the potential is endless. I'm trying to keep it focused on practical use, making working in the SCR a productive and fun experience.

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