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GNOME Zeitgeist

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Author(s): 
Seif Lotfy, Federico Mena-Quintero, Thorsten Prante, Siegfried-Angel Gevatter Pujals, Natan Yellin

This talk and demo will treat the Zeitgeist project. Our focus currently is on supporting personal-information-management activities, such as re-finding of information, but will extend to task and time management (via user-initiated and automatic tagging / labeling) as well as to supporting activities common to general information or knowledge work, e.g., via tracking information development (re-visioning) and diffusion as well as anchoring the user's desktop activities to real-world events, activities, and experiences; thereby also providing for a multitude of entry points for searching and browsing or orienteering. 

It shouldn't go unnoticed that Zeitgeist can be considered 'spyware for personal use'. This issue (user control, privacy, security) will not be put aside in our talk. 

The user interface of the first version of GNOME Zeitgeist, to be released in April/May 2009, provides a time-oriented browser with tagging and bookmarking functionality as well as a search engine. It is based on and works with logged journaling data of the user's working with her/his personal (desktop) computer. An overview description of the extensible architecture will be given in the talk. Usage data are incorporated via dedicated logging components or via D-Bus, facilitating functionality spanning multiple applications. An RDF model will also be developed to provide for interoperability. This way, Zeitgeist will reduce fragmentation or compartmentalization of the user experience when, amongst others, going back to information already used, orienting oneself in one's information, resuming work and task switching. 

This is already tackled by common desktop search engines, but they rather fail to find and present the user's information in the context of their, possibly repeated, usages and exploit the thereby implicitly or explicitly established relationships. 

The journaling data can be understood as providing extensions to or a generalization of the 'recently used' information access method common to most operating systems, where extension is meant time-wise and spans potentially all information formats of information items which you touch on your desktop, including, for example, text documents, pictures, web resources, instant and email messages, but also contact information, calendar items and other information items related to planning. 

Thereby, meaningful integration of information items formats is facilitated such as, e.g., across communication formats and tools (e.g., per person) or all the stuff belonging to a certain activity, including comments/reflections, documents, people you met, etc. (via logging the different aspects of the activities). 

One of the key ideas behind Zeitgeist is to enrich information items with personal usage context, in order to build up a personal context history in turn facilitating a personal experience representation. This representation includes, amongst others, the traces a person left with, on, or otherwise related to information items over time, across applications and possibly across devices. 

Currently, the domain of Zeitgeist is the desktop and the information a user has touched. It will go beyond this by a) extending its focus across personal computing devices (i.e. personal computing environments, e.g., smart phone and laptop) and b) by including so called z-events, representing information directed to or interesting to a user, e.g., information she/he subscribed to. 

Currently, users can employ the Zeitgeist UI for going back directly to the time span / day when she/he had last processed your activity, or searching for a file or tag name or a bookmark, while constraining the search or the browsing view via filters such as types of information items. In the future, as noted above, more relationships will be exploited to browse and search your information items: usage-induced, semantic, and explicit grouping and linking. 

As opposed to the intimacy expressed by many people, and in particular knowledge workers, interacting with their personal computing devices throughout the everyday and across private, professional and educational domains, today, it is striking to observe that this very personal computing environment is not really prepared and in fact offers only limited support in answering the central questions of orienting oneself: 'What did I do?' (retrospective perspective), 'What am I currently doing?' (current perspective, where 'current' turns out to be a very vague term), and 'What have I planned for the future?' (prospective perspective).

Author bio: 
Seif Lotfy is a student at Darmstadt University of Technology. Federico Mena-Quintero is a software developer working for Novell, Inc. Thorsten Prante works on his computer science PhD thesis 'experience computing'. Siegfried-Angel Gevatter Pujals is a student at IES Alba del Vallès, Natan Yellin is a High-School student in Israel.