This post has been in the drafts dept of this blog for forever (more than a year), so I now decided just to publish it. If anyone reads it, and has some ideas expanding on it, it has been more useful than I thought it would be. I have not even re-read it at this point, so I’m not even sure I agree with myself anymore. Well…
Due to various circumstances, it has been way too long without a blog post about the hackfest I was lucky enough to be able to attend, thanks to Seif and the super nice people at the GNOME Foundation who sponsored me. There were some super talented people there, and I got to see first hand the skills of these guys.
Zeitgeist has been described as an “event logging framework used to keep a log of user activity in a structured way”. In this post I will deal with only a small portion of what I think that the desktop of the future should provide.
During the hackfest I wrote up the start of an overview of what Zeitgeist and related software will do for the user, from a non technical point of view. That document is still a work in progress, so you’ll have to wait for that, but I’d like to bring in some of the points there in what the current problems are (in my opinion):
When talking about usage of a computer, I think that dealing with “files” and “applications” is not a very functional appraoch. I’d rather talk about “activities”, because they can be so much more than making a document. Browsing the web, reading an e-mail, chatting, deleting a document, etc. are all activities that are important. Otherwise we wouldn’t do them.
In the work-in-progress, I wrote:
As it is right now, information is highly fragmented. Most applications keep their own logs, so you can browse your history. In e.g. a word processor, my history is usually limited to the last couple of documents. Furthermore, the history is not giving me a structured view of the time aspect of my work.
Information is also fragmented in the sense that traditional files are generally viewed as the primary items.
In an age that values sharing of information, many of the activities I do on my computer is not stored in traditional files, but rather scattered around the web. The history items in my web browser are just as important as a random file on my computer! So are my chat logs, my future and past tasks in my preferred task manager, my search history, etc.
All these things are important because of several aspects:
- They could have historical significance
- They could show me “how did I go from point A to point B?”
- They could provide other people with insight into my work flow
- They could show me exactly what I did when I last stopped working
In addition to this information being fragmented, it is also accessed in highly different ways, usually with a set of options for each application. In the end, it seems better to take notes, or rely on your memory to remember where you were, what you did, and how you did it.
We categorize our activities in various way. Traditionally we have used basic pre-planned (more or less) structure with a directory (“folder”) hierarchy. That tends to get out of hand and need large cleanups once in a while, and often also results in a lot of going back and forth looking for where you put whatever you’re looking for.
Zeitgeist is going to give the possibility of tracking in a contextual way, so we have some sort of time aspect to what we do. That will be a huge improvement.
However, there is one thing lacking, and that is ordering by content. A content based approach to categorizing is related to structure, because we most often make structure based on content, but that approach has some definite limitations. For example, it only helps us deal with files and directories, and misses a lot of the activity items I mentioned above. It also misses the fact that many files can have several uses, and then where do they go? Since artificial intelligence still has a long way to go, there is an ocean of difference between how people can decide what category something belongs to compared to a computer program.
This is where tagging comes in. Tagging is dynamic, has basically no limitations on how many and what kind of keywords you can attach to an item, and is user driven, so it doesn’t rely on artificial intelligence.
In order to have computer users actually use tagging, it needs to be in their face, but not so much in their face that it will be like a reincarnation of Clippy…
- Have a tag bar that pops out from the side of the desktop, that includes basic default tags like “Work”, “Family”, “Private”, etc and user generated tags.
- Or make the tab bar a part of Natan’s recent activities bar
- Drag and drop any tag to any window, automatically adding the tag to the activity item happening in that window.