For the third year in a row, I’ll be flying to Brussels, Belgium next month to attend the XMPP Summit/FOSDEM combo. I didn’t look through the FOSDEM schedule yet but when it comes to XMPP, I’m looking forward to some discussions on Jingle Nodes and Publish-Subscribe. I’ve been working more and more with XMPP in the past months, especially hacking on ejabberd, and attending is a good motivation to get some of my Jingle Nodes related code shaped up on time. See you there!
I just released the first version of gwt-strophe, GWT bindings for the Strophe XMPP library. Nothing much to say else than it is pretty young, with all that can imply. The project is hosted at https://launchpad.net/gwt-strophe
bzr branch lp:gwt-strophe
For the second time in my life I’ll be attending FOSDEM in Brussels, beginning of February. I’m looking forward to it because it’s a very rich event that exposes diversity of the FOSS communities through lots of presentations given by tons of projects. It’ll be great to run into friends as well.
We’ll give a talk on the People framework in the GNOME devroom on Saturday, 7. It’s been a while I really produced work on People, mostly because of active life adaptation and energy spent at work (I’m working for TANDBERG in Oslo, Norway since September 2008). Giving a talk hopefully provides me with enough motivation to make things move forward.
The goal for us is to quickly (well, before the event) have a usable and installable framework, providing a daemon, application libraries and a useful set of contact sources. Following my thoughts exposed in a previous post, and considering that we are presenting towards the GNOME community, we hope to demonstrate some hot integration with components of this desktop ecosystem, such as Empathy.
See you there!
Right after our GUADEC presentation, Ali Sabil and I met with Owen Taylor, Marina Zhurakhinskaya (both from Red Hat’s Online Desktop project), Robert McQueen (Telepathy) and Travis Reitter (Soylent). The goal of that quick meeting was to define how to integrate all those pieces of technologies together. Even if People aims to define a data model and a D-Bus API to be used on all the free desktops, we are also part of the GNOME community, thus particularly eager to see People integration with GNOME technologies happening.
It’s been always difficult to make people understand what People is. Moreover, our project is quite unknown. We are not present on GNOME’s main communication channel (Planet GNOME) and that’s something you feel also at GUADEC when the conference room isn’t very populated. In that blog post, I’ll try to explain what is People and what it will be for GNOME.
The best explanation I can give to begin with is maybe that People is actually like “libsoylent”, which has been announced few time ago. The main goal is the same: provide first-class people objects to applications. Our approach is different: we designed People from the backend to application level, which allows us to consider whatever contact source, while libsoylent, based on what is done in Soylent, only uses Evolution Data Server and Telepathy as sources (for now). I think that our development is more advanced and our solution wider, hence even Soylent should use People.
On the next diagram, you can find several components that are part of the GNOME ecosystem. It is based on the GUADEC after-talk meeting result and is not meant to be exhaustive.
- Green boxes are what we call contact sources. Any application, service or data source handling and exposing objects referred as contacts, friends, persons, people is a potential contact source. Those contact sources are plugged into the People framework through a backend system. That interaction is represented as dashed arrows on the diagram. Each contact source provides partial information about some contacts to People.
- The blue box is the framework. It contains the backend system, a mechanism to gather partial contact informations into high level contact object (often called meta-contacts) and a D-Bus daemon to expose those high level contacts to applications. At some point, we’d also like to expose backend directly to allow synchronization solutions to use them.
- Yellow boxes are a few possible applications that could use the framework.
Concerning Empathy, the current contact list could be turned into a people list, where each item wouldn’t be an instant messaging contact anymore but just a known person, that you may reach using instant messaging. That list would contain some friends you have in Facebook and you could actually subscribe to them on Jabber directly from Empathy, as People would provide to Empathy the information saying that your friend has a jabber account.
This is what People does, it provides contact information to application, and then applications should know how to use that information. People won’t tell you to launch Evolution to write an e-mail, it’ll just tell you that you can reach a certain contact through e-mail. We then need sort of an “activity launcher” and I think that’s what Soylent should be. Using the people list provided by the Empathy widget set, Soylent should allow you to start activities with the people you know. At some point, maybe Empathy’s client and Soylent are meant to be the same application.
Our demonstration at GUADEC was an application containing a list of high level contacts built from local (sqlite database) and distant sources (lastfm and friendfeed web services). The list exposed contact information such as the full name of the contact, a picture, an e-mail address, a phone number, an icon per social network he’s susbscribed to, all those information being provided by People. At some point, Ali brought his mobile phone next to the laptop and his phone’s addressbook automatically became a contact source (over bluetooth) for the application, adding contacts from the phone in the list. This was supposed to show how flexible the backend system is and how cool are the things that People enables .
Yesterday we set up www.people-project.org which is currently a wiki that will be useful to collaborate on stuff that are not code. We are also releasing 0.0.5 “Smelly hotel lobby” (tribute to our hotel in Istanbul, where people still smoke in public places and People don’t) today, as dictated by our sprint schedule. We are currently developing more backends (Online Desktop, Telepathy, EDS, …) and trying to improve what we have for now. The backlog is huge but considering all the possible cool applications, will is around.
As of now, my previous post about People is the only explanation of what People is, and more precisely what it is supposed to be. Not to mention it is heavy and a bit messy. This one will clearly and shortly expose what you can expect from People, in the next two months. The following goals are roughly the one we plan to complete in time for our presentation at GUADEC on July:
- Let the user explicit meta contacts as an aggregation of informations from different contact sources.
- Request address books from a D-Bus service, the content of those address books being meta contacts defined as above.
- Use Google Contacts, Microsoft Live, Evolution Data Server and your phone as a contact source.
And this is pretty much it. Felipe joined us on developing backends, which is great and Ali has been working on improving the server side D-Bus support for Vala, developing the address book service. On my side, after working on the library on which will rely the address book service, I have to continue on the backends and start to think seriously about the demos.
Today, people subscribe to social networks, use instant messaging, subscribe to podcasts and blog feeds, use electronic mail, and communication devices to exchange information but more importantly to keep in contact with their contacts and their entourage. Tomorrow people may use different means to achieve this same goal, but in the end it will always be about contacting people, and maybe by then smarter solutions would be found. But in the mean time, we are are stuck with the proliferation of independent and disconnected applications and appliances, each one tearing unique logical entities away to make them fit into limited models. In simpler words, the way applications treat contacts brings a bad user experience.
Unfortunately, we cannot really do much about it, but we can still try to attenuate the effects on the Free Desktop by providing a unified vision of who is a person to the user. The solution we propose is named “People“.
Many people agree that, in the desktop, a “people framework” is needed. Things get more complicated when it comes to define the scope of it. The People project intends to provide an unified way to access and manipulate contacts for the desktop applications. The goal is not, at first, to gather the pieces and simulate unity, but more to bring the tools allowing to do it in a smart way, among other things. In People, we consider that each contact source is incomplete and provides just a restricted vision on contacts (the way they are represented and the way we can act on them). With that vision, contact sources can be as numerous and lightweight as needed to cover every place where the notion of person appears: LDAP, Google Contacts, Facebook, MIT Public Key Server, Telepathy, EDS, phone address book…
Among the possible top level components that People aim to bring, a service providing meta-contacts (gathering all the little pieces of contacts and bringing back the notion of unique persons) is fundamental, as well as a synchronization solution (to update or enhance whatever contact source from another one). Another idea would be to provide a service managing ephemeral contact-related information (like the presence status of a person) to be shared among applications. An obvious and really great use of People would be an address book management application.
The idea behind the People Project is people sanity for the desktop: when some start to talk about amazing people integration in GNOME, the first step is to get consistency around the notion of a person. As the semantic of a person can’t be defined as a standard, we have to allow and exploit all the possible representations of it.
There are tons of possible applications to be explored: meta-contacts in Empathy, Gimmie or Soylent, integration with Seahorse, personal presence handling, activity framework, contact relationships, multiplayer games… People also fits the definition of what the address book component should be in the Online Desktop.
People is architectured around two libraries: a low level one to build backends and a higher one on top of which will lay a D-Bus interface. That interface must not be tainted by People as other implementations could come up. The libraries are developed using the Vala programming language. We want to allow backends to implement custom interfaces when it makes sense so we are not heading to a less common denominator syndrome. As an example, a relationship interface could be implemented by backends supporting FOAF. We have neat feature ideas that we take care to bring with several hot spots in mind, amongst which stand memory usage, network bandwidth usage (use on mobile devices) and i18n (name representation, automatic phone number formatting, …).
The idea that gave birth to People came up during a discussion I had one year ago with Felipe Contreras. It took some time for us to realize the potential of it. Few months ago, Ali Sabil got interested and passed it as a university project to get some time to hack on it, which brought some helpful hands as well. Lately, the development of People has been more and more active. We are constantly questioning our work in an iterative process to get the better implementation we can provide and each added feature is tested. Our effort aims to provide a working and validating implementation as soon as possible (with the release of a first usable version by June). There is currently a resource request for the People project at Freedesktop.org.
We hope to give a talk at GUADEC to get more people interested!
Few months ago I wrote a bug report on the freedesktop.org bugzilla to ask for means to start a new project. The goal of that project, called “OpenIM” was to gather effort on the opening of closed instant messaging protocols. In the bug thread and on the pidgin mailing list, a discussion started to determine if freedesktop was the right place to host that kind of project (i.e. support reverse engineering and documentation of proprietary protocols) and a lot of people joined it, agreeing that such an effort was needed, regarding the poor and all over the place documentation parcels (at least referring to the MSN protocol ones). Those people included valuable guys from amsn, pidgin, pymsn, jabber, and other worthy individuals of the IM field.
Instead of freedesktop, the pidgin guys proposed to host the initiative on IMFreedom, a Foundation they did setup as a façade when they got justice problems with AOL. We all agreed that using IMFreedom for OpenIM would make more sense. That gave birth to a brand new wiki to collect our efforts.
Be interested, sweat, contribute!
So, lots of good things are happening to me these times. Well, I guess.
Studies are soon-to-be-finished and I actually began my final year internship that ends in June, when I’ll graduate. For one week now, I have been a trainee at Nokia, Helsinki (Finland). This is quite a big move for me, since I never really left France until now. I’m really enjoying that new environment, this is challenging to adapt, on a personal side. I’m working in the OSSO Multimedia team at Nokia and I got surprised of how my arrival went well, people are really cool and I’m enjoying to be there, that’s a great opportunity to learn from them and actually discover the “big company” world, even using open source technologies. I’m sure that experience will bring me a lot and I’m not waiting for less on that.
So it’s Sunday night and I’m in Brussels (Belgium), spending some cool time with friends in the hotel hall. That was my first FOSDEM and I enjoyed it. Well, the classic thing about FOSDEM is to say that it was too short, and it was, but I can add my very own observations as well. The top advantage of such conferences is to gather and share some words with cool and respected people that you already know, like the Collabora crew and the GNOME community or meet with guys you aspire to share with, like the Vala developers. It’s also still refreshing to spend time with friends that are usually just too far away from you. FOSDEM is just maybe too subject-wide and not a lot of the talks grabbed my attention. As a comparison, GUADEC talks were a far lot more oriented to my fields of interest.
That conference was also the opportunity for Ali and I to share a bit about the project we’re working on, People. People is an unified address book management framework and I’ll blog about it very soon.
Tomorrow morning I fly back to Helsinki and try to begin well my second week there. The real difficult thing is to keep myself alive (i.e. feeding and basic other things like that) but I enjoy the freedom I have there and all the free time I can use (to hack a lot on People, eventually).