Multiple-Display Software Follows Your Gaze to Keep You Focused

These days, multiple monitors are becoming the norm instead of the exception. And with most interfaces designed to capture your attention—everywhere and at all costs—the constant barrage of blinking windows, beeping notifications, and bouncing icons can be distracting if not entirely overwhelming. New Windows software, Diff Displays, wants to fix this by making sure you're focused on the information you need and nothing else.

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With the aid of an eye-tracking program, researchers at the University of St. Andrews created the software to intuitively dim and freeze monitors the user is no longer focused on and adjusts the highlighted display. As the user's gaze shifts, so does the highlighted display. And although eye-tracking technology may still be in its relative infancy, Per Ola Kristensson, a lecturer at St. Andrews and one of the system's creators, proudly boasts a 98 percent accuracy at detecting lines of vision.

The program offers four different methods of visualizing information, all of which are described in detail in the video above. However user testing showed that the "Pixmap" technique, which highlights information on a pixel level, offers the most effective balance in information density and level of intrusiveness. Any changes on the screen leave a bordering-on-psychedelic white trail of pixels in its wake, so you know exactly what's been updated and where, allowing you to focus your attention on the places that matter and save time, in turn.

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The remaining three techniques offer some variation on this, and even though Pixmap may be the most highly rated, Kristensson assures that "all of the visualization reduced the number of times a user switched attention between displays by about half." With these types of attention-focusing techniques, users don't have to worry as much about what they might be missing on other screens, which leads to less frantic eye darting and more (actually substantive) information consumption.

It's only a matter of time before more programs start following in Diff Displays' footsteps, but for now, if you're one of the many daily users of multiple displays, you'll probably want to head over to the University of St. Andrews Computer Human Interaction website, where you can download the Windows software for free. [MIT Technology Review]

DISCUSSION

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Zeust the Mepsuan

I usually don't have multiple windows open which visually change without me doing something to them, and even if I do I may not want to know instantly about the change. But for people who do this seems nice, though I can't really think of a lot of situations. That said, it would certainly be useful for a security guard observing a dozen camera feeds at the same time to easily spot when something is happening somewhere.

I also rarely use a second screen, but I am a great fan of "workspaces" which is kinda sorta the same thing - except I can only look at one screen at a time and have to hit a keyboard shortcut to move to another screen. But I gotta admit I still often end up cluttering up one workspace with lots of windows. Maybe Gnome3 can improve my behavior ;)