journal is hard + sugar and the digital age

Tomeu Vizoso tomeu at
Sat Oct 11 05:34:45 EDT 2008

On Thu, Oct 9, 2008 at 4:15 PM, Carlos Nazareno <object404 at> wrote:
> Hi Tomeu. Some personal feedback:
>> 3) Basically - The journal is really hard for people/ kids to use over
>> a longer period of time. Kids and teachers can't find things that they
>> did unless it was done within the last 30 minutes.
>>Could you please elaborate on the difficulties that people have when
>>using the journal?
> I've experienced the same problem. Items tend to clutter up in the
> journal over time, it's like viewing your entire web browsing history.
> Its current implementation simply leads to information overload with
> the accumulating number of entries.

I can understand that if you expect to be able to deal with all the
items in the list view, you will find it unbearable after you reach
some dozens of entries. We don't have an "archive" button that can
take items from that list, so it keeps growing and growing.

But I don't think that's how the journal is expected to be used. We
don't have small, _fixed_ boxes in which you can deal with its
contents in just one go. Rather, we give ways for the user to create
those boxes dynamically. I think we have reached consensus that for
the journal concept to go forward, we need to improve the tools that
the user has to create those boxes in ways it makes sense to her.

As an illustration, I have several thousands of emails in my GMail
inbox, I never use "Archive" and only delete very, very occasionally
(not even once per day). I _never_ try to navigate through the list of
emails in inbox, and only use it to read the most recent emails (first
page only). Of course I would feel overloaded if I tried!

The other ways I use to find the information I want is to
automatically tag email as they come, I have the following filter

- One rule per big mailing list: Devel, Sugar, Bugs (trac mail), Localization.

- One rule that tags bug emails from Trac that matches some keywords
important for my work, because I stopped reading all bugmail some
months ago.

- One rule for the rest of the mailing lists I'm subscribed to (lower
traffic): Olpc-sur, Olpc-library, Testing, IAEP, etc

- One rule for tagging email from members of my family.

And that's all. The tags subdivide the biggest box in smaller boxes,
but still too big to be dealt directly. So I can search by sender,
receiver, full text, etc

Sugar already has some very primitive automatic tagging. Activities
set metadata based on the content of the activity and, hopefully, in
terms of how the user would describe (and thus search for) the entry.
We can do much better here, and have already plans to improve this

And I'm very happy that I stopped using Evolution and thus struggling
to keep my inbox clean, now I have more time to code and write emails.

> IMHO, the philosophy of "nothing gets forgotten" with the journal is a
> bit flawed because as people we don't even naturally do that. We
> selectively choose which information to remember and mark as important
> and discard the rest because that's just information overload.

We actually aim to forget:

> Think about it from a browser paradigm. You bookmark important items
> that you want to reuse later on. On the other hand, viewing your
> browser history over a prolonged period of time gets pretty unwieldy.

I guess that's why FF has a search facility in its history browser.

> Another problem I've had is that I tried to offload some programs onto
> an SD card due to the XO's limited internal storage. This can lead to
> hundreds to thousands of files when opening up the SD card in the
> journal. The flat heirarchy makes navigation extremely difficult when
> you have this many files.

How is this different from the main journal? If only that the SD card
is potentially used to interchange files with other OSs, then I agree
that presenting the same view as in other OSs makes sense. Now we only
need to find someone who implements it...

> Sure, there's search, but that presupposes that you know the names of
> the files you're looking for. What if you stick in something that has
> hundreds of files and you were looking for an image file or something
> that you didn't know the name of?

Well, that's why we have other means to aid in finding. You can for
example filter by the Image type and reduce the list to only images.
I'm sure we can improve here, what do you suggest? Perhaps considering
path components as tags and allowing the user to browse the device by
tags (Scott's proposal, I think)?

> Hmm. I think one improvement that can be added to the journal is to
> improve the display filters?


> Like for example, the ability to filter by delineated date? It would
> be a little better if users could browse the journal from a date
> range, like the range of 2 weeks to 3 weeks ago only because that's
> when the user remembers the activity that was used.
> Another one is the ability to view journal entries by name
> alphabetically. This would help in browsing through entries.

Totally, but as many things, we haven't had resources to implement
these improvements.

> That being said, is there a possibility of creating a separate file
> manager activity? The reality of having to deal with files and folders
> is an inevitability that users will eventually go through once they
> grow in sophistication and interact in other digital environments like
> pcs. I think giving the idea of giving XO users the ability to view
> the sourcecode and muck around with them (a much-touted feature of the
> XO) requires a sophistication levels above navigating through and
> dealing with folders and files.

Sure is there a possibility ;) I think we all agree that adding this
other view on the users' data is interesting and useful in general.
But we cannot do everything we would like to because time is short.

>>could you elaborate on what means for teachers/schools/govts to
>>prepare kids for the digital age? It may be that we are not giving
>>enough importance to that requirement (?).
> *Interoperability with current systems.

Are you sure? See Elana's example about the Japanese government
teaching Linux to students that later failed to get into Mongolian IT
schools. GNOME is very interoperable with Windows, but is not
identical to Windows. And even more, if the XOs shipped with Windows
but kids used only Etoys, wouldn't they probably fail any exam that
required "IT skills" like Word, Powerpoint, etc?

I think Elana referred to something closer to marketing, not so much
about which is the user experience that allows the user to better use
the laptop for their personal interest.

> The sugar environment fosters a new "closed" paradigm/ecosystem that
> is different from pre-established paradigms. The intentional "removal"
> of the file and folder paradigm might make transitioning difficualt
> and I think users are having difficulty because of it.

I think we all would love to implement a system that improved the way
in which users use their computers in ways that are important for
education and, at the same time, allowed the users to use their
computers exactly the same as in Windows, Gnome, OSX, OpenVMS, CP/M,
etc. Unfortunately, I don't think that's possible.

We'll need to stay close to some already existing approaches and
depart from others. Where is the sweet spot is what is subject to

Anybody who wants OLPC to drop Sugar (not saying it's you, Carlos) and
go for a desktop UI should speak to OLPC decision-makers. It's not
really a technical decision.

> Also, for high school students, this means *office applications*.
> They're pretty much a requirement in private schools here where I come
> from. One of the things we hope do achieve with OLPC is to bridge the
> divide between "haves" and "have nots", and that includes giving them
> a boost in IT skills (which is one of the biggest attractions of
> OLPC). I guess that's why governments or educational ministries
> insisted that the XO be able to run windows or no go.

Sure, but how can you use Sugar to train kids to use MS Office 2007? I
never heard this was a requirement of Sugar. Sugar cannot make your
coffee either, but can we do anything about it?

> Oh, some more observations slightly off-topic:
> Here in Manila, internet cafe rates are now cheap due to extreme
> popularity and proliferation. You can go surfing or playing LAN games
> for 20 Pesos/hour which is about 42 cents. Going home, I pass through
> a depressed area and there are 5 internet cafes in there.
> I've seen 6-8 year old street children in groups of about 3, pooling
> together money to play 3D realtime strategy games like the newest
> command and conquer or counterstrike and take turns at the seat
> playing in cafes playing. They have absolutely no problem navigating
> windows.
> Hole in the Wall project all over again.
> Only this time they're playing counterstrike and blowing up tanks in
> complex 3D RTS games :-/
> This is not something new as groups of street kids in the 90s would
> frequent arcades and play street fighter 2.
> We gotta create content that will compete with that on a fun level,
> guys. The rise of casual games and the popularity of stuff like Text
> Twist and Bookworm shows that this can be done.

Agreed, I know several people are already having fun creating games
for Sugar. Would you like to join them?



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