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In Houston just before Sunday’s Super Bowl, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees took photos with fans and digitally signed the images with the Microsoft Surface, using the tablet’s Pen and Windows Ink.

Microsoft wants to change how sports fans think about autographs.

The tech giant this weekend unveiled “Social Autograph,” a new concept that digitizes an age-old art form — traditionally created with pen and paper — by taking advantage of the company’s Surface tablet and Windows inking technology.

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, a long-time Microsoft spokesman, showed off the first-ever “Social Autograph” while appearing on Conan O’Brien’s late night show.

Microsoft also invited Saints quarterback Drew Brees, another Surface spokesman, to its booth at NFL Experience, an “interactive theme park” for fans in Houston, where the Patriots and Falcons will face off during Super Bowl 51 on Sunday.

Brees took photos with fans and digitally signed the images with the Surface, using the tablet’s Pen and Windows Ink, which debuted last year.

Via Microsoft.
Via Microsoft.
Via Microsoft.

NFL legend Barry Sanders did the same:

“Our goal was to use Windows 10 inking technology on a Surface to completely reinvent and reimagine the traditional autograph in a way that only Microsoft can,” Jeff Tran, director of sports and alliances for Microsoft, said in a statement. “These Microsoft Social Autographs give fans an all-new kind of digital memorabilia that’s more personal, shareable and will live forever.”

Microsoft didn’t have more to share about what’s ahead for “Social Autographs.” It’s not clear if this is purely a marketing promotion designed to spark interest in Windows 10 and the Surface, which is used on the sidelines during games by coaches and players thanks to Microsoft’s 5-year, $400 million deal it inked with the NFL in 2013.

Egraphs allowed fans to buy digital images signed by their favorite players.

But this is not entirely a new idea. Back in 2013, a Seattle startup called Egraphs seemed to be paving the way for the future of the autograph, allowing fans to purchase a high-resolution digital photo and attach instructions for a personalized message from an athlete. The company had brought on hundreds of athletes across the NBA and MLB, along with racing and swimming celebrities; it also expanded into the entertainment world with comedians and musicians.

ESPN wrote an article in 2012 titled, “Egraphs are the autographs of the future.” The company split revenue between itself and the celebrity, who would use an iPad app to sign digital photos.

However, Egraphs ran out of money and couldn’t raise additional capital, ultimately shutting down in 2013.

One interesting tidbit — David Auld, who was Egraphs’ CEO, landed a job at Microsoft and is now a principal project manager for “Technology & Research.”

We’ve reached out to Microsoft to see if Auld is involved with the company’s new “Social Autograph” rollout.

The idea of digital autographs sparks questions about how they compare to something physical created with an old fashioned pen and paper, both from an aesthetics perspective and overall value. A sports star’s signature can be worth thousands of dollars and there are companies that have built businesses solely around authenticating autographs — how might digital signatures on digital images change all this?

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