Smith said the idea of reading information on objects is nothing new. One well-known attempt was the CueCat bar-code scanner. But the Microsoft Aura project differs by focusing on what Smith calls "conversations." "The CueCat model was Why not harness the wallet?" Smith said. "But our model is Why not harness the swarm?""All sorts of things have numbers on them, and theres almost always a database with information on them," Smith said, noting the range of bar-coded information from product UPCs to Vehicle Identification Numbers. Aura does more than trigger information from Web sites and Internet postings. It allows users to automatically post information captured from objects such as from their bar codes. Data scanned from objects such as a book, for example, could be stored in a private Aura blog, part of an Aura portal Microsoft Research plans to make available soon after the client, Smith said. In their Aura blogs, users could add annotations and comments to the data, then decide whether to post it publicly to further inform cyberspace, Smith said. "Maybe a swarm of shoppers are annotating objects, and as some become more valuable than others you could subscribe to their object-blog feeds," Smith said. Aura also is making use of aspects from Smiths other major research project, Netscan, which he brought with him when he joined Microsoft Research. It visualizes and analyzes the patterns of Usenet postings to determine, for example, the behavior of posters. Its ability to data mine large databases of annotations is applicable to Aura, Smith said.
These conversations could range from product reviews on popular sites such as Amazon.com Inc. to Weblog postings from a users community of blogs. Consider shopping for a book in a physical store. Equipped with an Aura-enabled handheld, shoppers could scan a specific book and find out what their friends thought of it or even grab suggestions on other books popular among the buyers of the same book.