HP Labs Making Web Browsing Similar to Using an Appliance

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HP Labs India is researching how to remove complexity from Web browsing and Web transactions.

Web browsing has to be as intuitive and as simple as using an appliance like a television, according to Ajay Gupta, director of the lab.

To this end, the lab is working in the area of user-generated widgets, ease of expression on the web, and translation and automatic summaries of Web content,

The use of the Web is still elitist, and if it is to become pervasive in emerging markets, it has to be accessible through mobile phones, Gupta said. Browsing and interactions with Web sites will have to be far easier than now, and will have to be in local languages, he added.

The widget technology developed by the lab allows users to create a dedicated program that removes the tedium of repeatedly browsing to various sites, and navigating through the sites to get to specific information, whether it is the individual horoscope for the day, or the price of wheat in a trading center.

The information is available on the Web, but non-technical users are deterred by having to type in the addresses and negotiate the Web each time they want the information, Gupta said. Instead the user will have access to the information he requires through a widget button.

Creating widgets using the technology developed by HP Labs does not require programming knowledge, said Geetha Manjunath, a senior research scientist at HP Labs. The technology will most probably be offered as SDKs (software developments kit) that people can download and use to create widgets, and then distribute them among the community, Gupta said.

The script for the widgets can run on a desktop or in a cloud computing model, Gupta said. By running the widget in the cloud infrastructure, mobile users, who do not have sophisticated mobile phones with browsers, can be offered options such as access to information using SMS (Short Message Service) or even voice, he said.

To provide content in local languages the widgets can chain together information services on the Web with translation services already available online, Gupta said.

HP Labs is also working on technologies that will make finding information easier using current search engines. While navigating the Web to a particular site is quite easy using a search engine, problems arise when a user has a more general query on, say, methods for growing cotton, Gupta said. HP Labs is working on a program that, based on feedback of previous interactions of the user with the search engine, will reformulate the user's query in the background for better results, he said.

HP is currently working on software that would run on a client device, but it also plans to look at a version that could run in a cloud infrastructure, Gupta said.

The lab is also working on technologies that summarize Web content for users using open ontologies like Wikipedia to select the key sentences in a document. The summarization technology can be used in a number of applications including summaries of documents on the Web, and potentially of links thrown up in a search on the Web, said R. Krishnan, senior research scientist at HP Labs. Summaries of large documents are particularly relevant for users browsing with a mobile phone, Gupta said.

Besides researching easier access to the Web, HP Labs is also working in the area of multiple ways for users to interact with computers, including through hand gestures and speech. Another group in the lab is working on integrating workflows around paper documents with digital workflow management.

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