Despite the hype about the 'paperless office', important documents are usually printed. This is due to the various affordances paper provides over electronic documents, which include easier reading, annotation and very often the process of sharing the document with colleagues.
This factor means that a wealth of documents passes by the typical office printer without being electronically available for future use. This is because the printing process has essentially no memory.
The SmartPrinter project started from the observation that several aspects of the print process, i.e. the ways paper documents are produced and used, lend themselves to the provision of new user services. These services support the management and sharing of the knowledge embodied in printed documents at both the personal and community levels. They are also particularly well integrated with existing work practices as the daily print actions feed the system and hence permit the provision of the services, irrespective of any particular user application or desktop.
SmartPrinter is not a printer in the concrete sense. It is software that acts as a print server.
With SmartPrinter what you print not only produces paper documents, but also feeds a digital archive of prints. You can access this archive and many associated services either on the Web or on paper thanks to the smart coversheet. A smart coversheet is a print separator page augmented with machine-readable code, so that it not only separates print jobs but also conveys SmartPrinter services.
SmartPrinter is about providing valuable services without disruptive nor additional constraints for the user: you print as usual and SmartPrinter provides the services!
Functionality and scenarios of usage
With SmartPrinter what you print not only produces paper documents but also feeds a digital archive of prints. You can access this archive and many associated services either on the Web or on paper, thanks to the smart coversheet, a machine-readable paper form that is produced together with the printed document. SmartPrinter is about providing valuable services witout disruptive or additional constraints for the user: you print and SmartPrinter offers you the relevant services!
Passively feeding a print memory
The primary function of SmartPrinter is the seamless capture of the stream of printed documents. A virtual printer is associated with a physical one (e.g. in Figure below a smart_stampa is available to augment the service of the physical printer stampa); the user chooses from the print menu whether to enable the SmartPrinter service or not.
By printing on the smart printer, the user enables the storage service, which keeps a print-ready version of the document, i.e. a PostScript or PDF file, in the users’ personal print memory.
The availability of the printed documents in the repository also creates a workgroup memory of relevant (because printed) documents on top of which it is possible to provide additional personal and collaborative services:
- Indexing to provide full text search and electronic document retrieval .
- Context-based searching. Human beings have an episodic memory: "I remember I printed that document last week on my colour printer" therefore I’ll search for document printed last week on my colour printer.
- Re-printing of a document from anywhere using a Web browser (figure below). The user accesses her/his print memory from the Web, anytime, anywhere. S/he gains access to the PDF version of the document.
- Re-printing of a document from anywhere using an MFD (e.g. Xerox DocumentCentre machines). The user scans in the SmartCover (see next section) and gets the corresponding paper document. (See next section).
- More generally, effortlessly building a personal print history, that you can search, browse and annotate.
- Sharing of a document within a work group: by "smart printing", team members share documents.
- Retrieval of related documents (the friends documents) along with the names of who printed them to support awareness of related activities and facilitate expertise location.
- Clustering and categorization of documents to support self-awareness of activities and shifts in individual and group interests.
- The recognition of multiple versions of the same document (twin documents), allowing automatic versioning even when multi-authoring occurs. By extension, SmartPrinter can trigger an alert to earlier readers or authors when a more recent version of a document is printed.
The SmartPrinter architecture also includes a Web server that allows users to access the services from their Web browser, as shown in the screenshot below.
DocuShare is an interesting alternative both for the storage and the access of the printed documents, and for providing the associated services.
A paper-based user interface to support work on paper document
Printing is indeed about producing a paper document, to presumably support further paper-based activities. A paper-based user interface is therefore an ideal complement to the Web-based one. Not only does SmartPrinter provide such an interface but it also creates, on the fly, the right paper form at the right place: when the user picks up his/her job, s/he also picks up the print separator page (instead of throwing it away). This page is a FlowPort form that SmartPrinter has produced on the fly, specifically taking into account the printed document and the user.
We call these special print separator pages Smart Coversheets, and thanks to smart coversheets, paper-based activities on documents are coupled with the SmartPrinter system.
A Smart Coversheet is also a document token: it is a materialization of the stored electronic document. This is why the SmartCoversheet holds the document title or URL, and a thumbnail of the first page of the document. Scanning it allows the user to obtain a reprint of the document. It also holds a unique number identifying the document in the user’s print memory: i.e. index.
Secondly, by ticking checkboxes you can instruct the print memory, to archive the document permanently, make it public, or erase it from the print memory. Associating keywords with the document or classifying it in a very convenient way is also possible. Special regions of the form can also capture handwritten comments, so common when the user reads a document.
Thirdly, the smart coversheet is a source of information: who else printed this document? Which documents are similar, and who printed them? What are the comments that previous readers stored?
Finally, the smart coversheet is also a means to integrate external services into the work practice. For instance, at XRCE we have connected the KnowledgePump collaborative recommender service to SmartPrinter, in order to facilitate user interaction with KnowledgePump, by both decreasing the perceived cost of pushing information into the KPump and increasing the immediate benefit by providing, at the time of print, additional information related to the document.