My GNOME of the future: People

I asked people to write up their realistic visions for GNOME. So here’s the part that I find most inspiring. Sorry if this seems like a mad rant – it seems sensible and feasible to me.

Obviously I am personally interested in directly giving end users what they want, both because I write software for users, and because I hope users can drive demand from the actual decision makers. That’s not an argument against other GNOME marketing strategies. It’s just a statement of what I myself am able to be motivated about. People should go ahead with whatever they see clearly.

To make most of the following happen just requires work, and perfection of existing stuff. It’s not something that I’m likely to work on much myself, but it feels like we could agree that we want it.

GNOME Is People

  • A contacts panel applet lists people with whom I most often communicate, with pictures of their faces. A search entry helps me to find other people, in my local list of people, and in lists on the internet.
    • This isn’t a separate application. It’s right up front. There’s a little picture of my face on the panel, and clicking it shows me a list of other people, with their faces.
    • gossip-telepathy‘s various experimental panel applets are already going in this direction.
    • Update: Gimmie is also partly there. I had no idea that it could be a panel applet on a regular GNOME panel. And you can change the preferences so it shows just the People menu. I’d like it to use telepathy and e-d-s, or generally something that can be shared across applications. It uses Gaim at the moment, which is understandable as a short-term hack.
    • The faces thing really makes a difference to the experience. And let’s call them hackergotchis. It’s our word so let’s make this our feature.
    • We would need some automatic way to make a hackergotchi from any random picture. The least the user would have to do is sometimes identify a square region of a photograph. It would rarely be perfect, but it would be good enough.
    • When these people are on my local network, that’s obvious. Avahi makes this possible. File-sharing with these people is easy and actually works without any configuration.
    • Optionally, this could integrate with a corporate contacts server, such as an LDAP server, but this really has to work without any central administration.
  • Every mention of a person is a way to contact the person via a variety of methods, and a way to view the history of my communication with that person. I can easily see what groups that person is in, both groups I have defined, and groups that people have defined on the internet.
    • If I have one way of contacting the person (email, IM, etc), my system can discover all of the other ways of contacting that person (email, IM, skype, SIP, blog, etc), either automatically, periodically, or on request. This would require some kind of standard, maybe a vcard would do.
    • There’s an über-simple way to back this up, ideally to an internet service. Otherwise, I will lose it when doing upgrades and reinstalls. This backup should be frequent and automatic, so I don’t have to think about it until I need it.
    • Ideally this would integrate with the various social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Xing (OpenBC), Facebook, Orkut. Most of them will be too greedy to risk offering the advantage of the freedom-to-leave, speeding their own demise, but we should give them the chance. If none of them do it, we can live without them.
  • The applet needs to be on the panel by default. A notification needs to encourage people to use it, with some very easy way to register yourself, so that people can ask to add themselves to your list. It needs to be useful quickly. Let the system administrators remove it if they don’t like it, but don’t force regular users to find it and add it.
  • Without adoption of standards, this might not work with all computer users in the world, but it can be made to work between all GNOME users, and probably all Linux users. That alone would be an attractive scenario. I’d be happy to hear about how Linux is the social desktop.

15 thoughts on “My GNOME of the future: People

  1. Do applications need to tie into this (so when you get, say, an email from someone, Evo shows their hackergotchi, makes it easy to get to them via the applet, etc) or would just the applet cover what you think needs doing?

  2. Yes, the information should all be available via e-d-s or some future version of e-d-s. I guess a reusable “person” UI widget could make it easier.

  3. It would be great to integrate web accounts as well, so gnome would display my gmail contacts, yahoo contacts, an ldap server etc. E-d-s really is to complicated for this, gnome needs a very simple API for contacts, and ways to sync accounts between accounts.

  4. I think the gimmie panel applet could very well do what you want if it’s worked on; it already has a “people” menu, only right now it only shows info retrieved from Gaim. But yeah, that’s doable.

  5. there is an effort that is similiar to this in kde called khalki- but the social aspects of it have not been fully developed. I do like the vision which you have of being able to ‘automagically’ find other channels to communicate with people who supply one location of contact information. this is a really cool idea, and reminds me somewhat of the functions built into sugar for olpc.

  6. OK … I like the idea.

    But it really shouldn’t be “a separate application”, as you point out. To me, this means: each contact is a file. We already have pretty good tools for working with files, and this would make it easy to search (with Beagle), copy to a thumbdrive, delete, etc., because everybody already knows how to do these things with files.

    Files are the lingua franca of Unix. I guess the only reason programs like Evo didn’t use something as simple as “every object is one file” is because they’d be a pain to index, but with a desktop search tool (pick one!), this can be almost a non-issue.

  7. Dude, have you completely missed the boat on Gimmie? This is exactly the goal for it’s People menu. And it doesn’t require a new panel, it already runs as an applet just fine. Sigh.

  8. * Update: Gimmie is also partly there. I had no idea that it could be a panel applet on a regular GNOME panel. And you can change the preferences so it shows just the People menu. I’d like it to use telepathy and e-d-s, or generally something that can be shared across applications. It uses Gaim at the moment, which is understandable as a short-term hack

    Sounds really interesting and what I have dreamed of when I first saw the integration of Evolution, Beagle and Gaim. But I really hope that you offer a generic API so that other messengers and programs (eg. gajim, or what ever) can plug-in and use it. It is so annoying that different programs all use different data. The provided platform should even be usable without running gnome. (using xfce, evolution and gaim for example).

  9. A standard way to store contacts and a standard API to access them would be a start (

    Then we could easier build such an app based on it.

  10. OK, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, here is the gimmie panel applet showing your contacts:

    It only supports Gaim contacts ATM, so we can’t say it’s very useful for what Murray is proposing. Now what if instead of showing a person for each Gaim contact it showed your stored vcards?

    Vcards indicate most ways to contact a person: what IM address to contact, what e-mail address to write to, what phone number to call, what webpage to visit. They also store a picture of the person. So yeah, Gimmie could show your vcards and fall back on several backends to contact them: telepathy to IM the person, evolution to e-mail them if they’re not online, maybe even Skype to phone them if that’s what you want to do. You could even drag a file on your desktop to the gimmie applet and then to the contact to send them said file -either through IM, e-mail or any other means if the person is connected to a LAN-, or drag a contact to an e-mail to attach that person’s data.

    You could store your own information -previously entered in the “about me” menu- as your personal vcard and then “exchange business cards” with any other computers connected to your LAN.

    It’s all almost there, we just have to know if Telepathy is up to it and if Gimmie devs would consider it.

  11. Note to self: This would be even more compelling if we can add in details of time and place, which are instinctively social concepts:
    – Integrate calendar events properly. For instance:
    – Event _details_ on the panel calendar:
    – The hackergotchi is a way to see that person’s event attendance, via their public calendar.
    – Timelines of previous communications.

    – via geoclue:
    – See a person’s location via their hackergotchi.
    – See who else is near the same location.
    – See what happened, is happening, or will happen at that location.

    Other note to self: Figure out what Project Soylent has achieved so far:

  12. Check out the svn version of Gimmie
    now its supports contacts from Pidgin/Gaim , Facebook and Gmail. Patches have been created the support Evolution Contacts but this hasnt been apporved yet.
    Another feature that will be worked on is listing contacts form other online services as Flickr and Youtube :)
    It is planned to use telepathy soon instead of pidgin :)
    check out the roadmap

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