Human Interface Guidelines/The Laptop Experience/Bulletin Boards

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Bulletin Boards

Bulletin boards provide a layer for contextual chat and sharing around any view.

Since the laptops have implicit connectivity via the mesh network, an additional layer of the UI has been designed to take advantage of it: Bulletin Boards. Taken literally, the Bulletin Boards provide a space for posting things.

Context is key to the usefulness of Bulletin Boards on the laptops. A button in the Places edge of the Frame toggles the Bulletin Board layer on and off, and although only one button exists for this purpose, each view among the various zoom levels has its own Bulletin Board. The scope of individuals who have access to a given Bulletin Board matches the scope of individuals that the view currently represents. For example, any items posted to the Home view Bulletin Board may only be seen by the child that posted them, effectively providing a traditional desktop environment. Likewise, anyone within the child's list of Friends may view things the child has posted to the Friends view Bulletin Board, and all of a child's classmates and her teacher can view her posts to the Class Bulletin Board; the Mesh view Bulletin Board provides an environment for sharing with the entire laptop community. Furthermore, each activity has its own Bulletin Board, providing a space for sharing files and ideas surrounding the activity itself that don't have a place within it.

Spatially Contextual Chatting Interface

As a transparent layer above any view, the Bulletin Board provides a spatially contextual chatting interface. This means that, unlike traditional forum-style threads that organize temporally, chat bubbles may be freely positioned on screen. Discussions formulate around specific areas of the activity beneath. Annotation-style comments open the door to a wide variety of conversational interactions. In a drawing of the ocean, for instance, one conversation could be happening below the water's surface, while another group of children discuss what kind of birds fly through the sky. In another situation, one child could remotely assist another in learning how to use a new activity, pointing out specific interface elements with detailed descriptions of their functionality. In a literary application, child or teacher could proofread another child's story, correcting spelling mistakes, pointing out grammatical errors, and sharing thoughts about specific sections of the story without directly editing the work on the activity layer beneath.

An Environment for Sharing

In addition to contextual chats, Bulletin Boards provide a space for sharing. Any object may be posted to a Bulletin Board for others to look at and enjoy and to pass on to others, promoting viral sharing. The sharing environment is an integral element of all views.

In the Home view, for instance, only the child to whom the laptop belongs has access to the contents of the Bulletin Board. Here, the Bulletin Board provides a convenient area for the temporary storage of objects and activities, as well as those things kept around for quick access: tomorrow's homework assignment, the pictures taken last week, the book the child is reading, a favorite game. In this way, the traditional desktop that the zoom levels replaced finds its way back through the Home view Bulletin Board. The functionality described here mimics the traditional desktop to some extent. Note that the contextual chat bubbles are also available in the Home view, providing a mechanism for writing "notes-to-self". The Bulletin Board metaphor emphasizes a temporary and ever changing space for placing objects, distinctly separate from the space in which they are stored. This may prevent the common overuse of the desktop as the primary place to store everything, which limits its usefulness as a quick way to find the files that matter most at any given point in time.

From the Friends and Mesh view, the Bulletin Board serves as a place to share interesting things a child has found or created with friends, and the entire mesh respectively. The important thing to remember with regard to sharing, of course, is that "Share this JPEG (or GIF or SVG or any other picture format) file with Bob and Sue" translates to "Share this photo (or picture) with Bob and Sue." The sharing metaphor functions much more naturally than the file transfer systems we're used to, since file transfer really just represents a technical implementation of the more abstract idea of sharing in the first place. Of course, children can also view the things that others have posted as well. Moreover, as a community space, group sharing occurs naturally.

Finally, the shared space the Bulletin Boards provide take on a slightly different, yet quite powerful meaning at the Activity level. Again, contextual to the current view, each activity has its own shared Bulletin-board. Posts to this layer provide supporting materials for the underlying activity that other participants in the activity may view (Or, if they'd like, keep for themselves). This actually means a great deal, since any object at all can be shared this way, including many objects that the activity itself may not provide support for. For instance, though one couldn't paste a song inside a drawing (no compound document), a song posted to the Bulletin Board layer could provide inspiration for it. Similarly, it provides a means of collecting materials relevant to the task at hand within the activity. Rather than having 5 individuals each pasting images of a shark directly into the drawing, they could instead post them to the Bulletin Board for others to see and discuss before deciding which to use as a basis for the drawing. Thus, Bulletin Boards provide a space for gathering research and supporting materials, and holding discussions around both them and the activity.