[Freedombox-discuss] User Interface thoughts

Alistair Davidson alistair.l.davidson at gmail.com
Thu Dec 2 01:53:03 UTC 2010

Hi all,

First time posting to a Debian list! I'm a programmer and UI designer,
trying to start an offtopic open source business at the moment.

I thought it would be good to start talking about the user interface(s) of
the freedom box's services. It helps with developing a shared vision, ease
of use is going to be vital to mass adoption, and sometimes UI decisions can
have a big impact on decisions about the back-end.

I think a key theme will be unification. Writing a blog post, microblog post
or email requires pretty much the same set of formatting functionality, and
in the mind of the user should have a shared addressbook scheme. As I
understand it young people send Facebook messages rather than emails (and
sometimes I do myself), and this is essentially because Facebook's email
system is unified with the user's best addressbook.

Another theme was supplied by Eben Moglen: the feeling of an "appliance". I
recently surprised a perfectly intelligent friend of mine when I explained
that a games console is basically just a dedicated general-purpose computer.
This is because to many users, even competent and intelligent users, a
"computer" is a complicated thing requiring mastery of various concepts and
metaphors. A games console, mobile phone, or PVR does one job and does it
well - it's an appliance, a tool, like a washing machine or a TV.

More correctly, these computers give the appearance of doing one thing and
doing it well. In reality, there are any number of sub-systems and different
protocols, but the user is presented with a unified tool. We would do well
to keep this in mind as the project develops and we get to making software

Functionality will of course need to be customisable. Installable
applications could each come with a 'plugin' for the unified user interface
web page.

I was looking at Diaspora's interface, which is a useful starting point:

It looks to me like we could replicate the functionality of Twitter and
Blogger by adding a "public" aspect and doing some dynamic DNS . The backend
software and protocols may be different, but there's a powerful opportunity
to unify the user interfaces of these functions. Naturally a blog post will
need more complicated formatting tools - it could look a little like
Facebook's "write a note" .

Continuing the theme, my inbound "public" aspect could integrate an RSS
reader - and we could surely find a way to allow websites to add a "Follow
me on freedombox" button that essentially causes the RSS reader to
subscribe? There may be some challenges there, but it would beat Facebook at
their own game rather neatly, and end the horrible practise of maintaining a
website and several social networking pages at the same time. Can we
replicate facebook's "x of your friends like this article"? It seems very
popular with web masters.

Looking down the list on the wiki, libre.fm, calendar and VOIP all look like
they could be sensibly integrated into this interface too.

All that said, we may want to make certain separations. If we've integrated
enough of this functionality, that "work" page could become a very useful
place to businesses - actually it starts to sound a bit like Google Wave.
This is in our favour in terms of adoption, but nobody wants work following
them home. So it's perhaps worth having two urls - work and play. Work
having a different visual theme, and perhaps a slightly different user
interface organisation. The two can share all their actual code and

If we get a bit of a discussion going I'll see about doing a few sketches of
our ideas.
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.alioth.debian.org/pipermail/freedombox-discuss/attachments/20101202/5d2210bd/attachment.htm>

More information about the Freedombox-discuss mailing list