Dasher by David MacKay, Inference Group, Cavendish Laboratory
Dasher is an information-efficient text-entry interface, driven by natural continuous pointing gestures.
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Dasher is intended as a utility to enable typing in situations where a keyboard can't be used. One might expect some sort of dry but functional "innovation" in human-computer interaction - perhaps with some gratuitous visual flourishes thrown in. As the authors acknowledge on the website, Dasher is somewhat difficult to learn. But, at least for someone who doesn't urgently need to depend on its functionality, therein lies the fun.
Dasher is somehow reminiscent of the old party game, Twister, in which participants twist themselves into contortions on a plastic mat with colored circles: things just get keep getting worse till everyone falls down laughing. But in Dasher, it's more complex than that (and you probably won't fall over). You navigate through text characters that swirl around your mouse. Text swirling around a cursor is by now a tired digital art cliché - but in Dasher, the letters gradually form words - and you can't quite figure out how except by intuition. It's very kinetic and gestural - a nice approach to the notoriously static activity of typing.
And somehow, if you keep moving toward what you're thinking about, the right letters start to fall in place - usually. Other times, Dasher seems to start writing something else, something also plausible, but not quite what you had in mind. (Apparently this is where the need for practice comes in.) The way words form somehow comes from moving toward letters, and having appropriate letters reveal themselves to you as you go. The authors describe this approach as an automobile driving metaphor, but it's also like an arcade game. And Twister. But not at all like Dance Revolution. I hope that with practice Dasher doesn't start to make too much sense - it probably wouldn't be as much fun.

by Amy Alexander, posted 06 Jun 2003

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