Social from the Start
From the beginning of the evolution of Linux on the desktop, one of the many benefits of the open-source methodology is that we often can be reactive to user needs much quicker than our proprietary counterparts. The reason is simple and gets to the heart of open source itself; with more people inspired, motivated and equipped to solve problems, problems are solved more quickly, and everyone in the community benefits.
Just over a year ago in Spain at the Ubuntu Developer Summit, Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the Ubuntu Project, started coining the term Social from the Start. His idea was also simple: to build social media and social networking into the core of the Ubuntu desktop. As the leader of the Ayatana Project (which has been driving desktop innovation in Ubuntu), part of his vision is that access to social tools should be simple, elegant and integrated. We have seen the true fruits of these efforts shipped in the Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx release.
In this article, I peel back the covers and explore what Social from the Start currently includes in the Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx desktop and the opportunities we have open to us in the future.
When the Ayatana Project first was announced, its focus clearly was articulated as improving the perception and presentation of information in the desktop, hence the name of the project—the Buddhist term for a “sense base” or “sense sphere”. The first innovation along this mission was the new notification bubbles that have shipped with Ubuntu for a few releases now. The next major change was the messaging menu, as shown in Figure 1.
The messaging menu provides a single place in which new information is made available to you. In a default Ubuntu installation, e-mail in Evolution, chat messages in Empathy and tweets in Gwibber are all made available in the messaging menu. In the past year, we also have seen numerous other applications make use of the messaging, such as the XChat-GNOME IRC client and Zimbra. The messaging menu neatly merges all of these different information flows together into one common place on your panel, only ever a click away.
By default, the messaging menu includes three primary types of content:
Chat: interactive text-based real-time discussions with friends and colleagues.
Mail: e-mail messages.
Broadcast: social-networking broadcast messages, such as Twitter.
A key component at the core of the social-networking support in Ubuntu is a simple little tool called Gwibber. Gwibber is a window in which to view a world filled with different social-networking Web sites and streams. Gwibber provides support for Facebook, Twitter, identi.ca, Flickr, StatusNet, FriendFeed, Digg, Qaiku and more networks are added with each release.
To use Gwibber, you first need to have an account on at least one social-networking service it supports. As an example, I have a Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/jonobacon, and I can use Gwibber to send and receive content without ever having to use the normal Twitter Web site. Gwibber's major benefit is that it brings all of these different social-networking services together into one window. Continuing my example, in addition to Twitter, I also have a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/jonobacon) and an identi.ca account (identi.ca/jonobacon). Ideally, not only do I want to read all of these feeds in one place, but also when I post a message, I want it to appear on all three at the same time. This is simple with Gwibber.
Let's first set up your accounts for the system. To do this, click your user name in the desktop panel (in the top-right part of the screen), and in the menu, select Broadcast Accounts.... The window shown in Figure 2 appears.
Click the Add... button, select the type of account and then click the Add button next to it. Finally, enter the login credentials for the account, and click the Add button to complete. Repeat this process for each of the different accounts you want Gwibber to talk to.
Now, let's see your accounts in action. Click the messaging menu (the little envelope in the panel), and click Broadcast to load Gwibber. A window that looks similar to Figure 3 appears.
Gwibber is split into a series of panes called streams. The stream on the far left is the Messages stream. It displays all the messages of the people you follow across the accounts that you set up in Gwibber. It merges all of these different messages into one place and organizes them chronologically. You can see which network a message is from by looking at the icon next to the name of the person in the message. Gwibber repeatedly updates all the different streams to keep you up to date with new content.
To the right of the Messages stream is the Replies stream. These are all the messages directed at you (for example, in my Gwibber, all messages with @jonobacon appear in this stream). Messages that come into this stream not only appear in Gwibber but also a notification bubble appears indicating a message has arrived that you may want to reply to.
To reply, hover your mouse over the message in Gwibber, and click the small envelope. The recipient's user name now appears in the text entry at the bottom of the window. Type your message, and Gwibber indicates how many letters you have left within the 140-character limit. With the character limit so precious, Gwibber also handily shortens Web addresses you paste into it. When you are ready, press Enter or click the Send button to send your message. Your message appears in your Messages stream to show it was posted.
When sending a new message, under the message entry text box is an icon next to Send with for each of the different accounts you configured in Gwibber. Click these icons to select or deselect to which networks your message will go. By default, your message will go to all networks.