Human Interface Guidelines/The Laptop Experience/The Journal

The Journal

The Notion of "Keeping"

The traditional "open" and "save" model commonly used for files will fade into abstraction on the laptops, and with it the customary floppy disk icon, as not only will the laptops not have floppy drives, but most likely the children will never see one of these largely obsolete devices. Instead, a much more general notion of what it means to want to keep things prevails. Generally speaking, we keep things that we want to hold on to, and the rest just fades with time. Appropriately, the Journal's primary function as a time based view of the activities a child has done and the objects she's kept reinforces this idea.

Most of us recognize the "save early, save often" mantra; most of us have failed to live it and incurred the consequences. The laptops aim to eliminate constant concern for this type of technicality, making automatic and incremental backups and allowing the children to focus on the activity itself. These incremental backups will occur at regular time intervals, and activity events such as changes in scope, new participants, among others can trigger them as well. In order to cater to the needs of many types of editing environments, activities can also specify "keep-hints" which prompt the system to keep a copy. For instance, a drawing activity may trigger a keep-hint before executing an "erase" operation immediately preceded by a "select all". Of course, a child herself may choose to invoke a keep-hint by selecting the "keep in journal" button, but adequate adoption of this new notion of keeping from activities should virtually eliminate need for this.

Based on the Object model associated with files, each kept Object is, technically speaking, a separate instance of the activity which created it. This eliminates the need to "open" a file from within an activity, replacing the act of opening with the act of resuming a previous activity instance. Of course, a child will have the option to resume a drawing with a different set of brushes, or resume an essay with a different pen, providing "open with" style functionality, but no substitute for an "open" command will exist within an activity's interface.

Deprecating Hierarchy

Temporal Organization

Along with the idea of implicit keeping, the laptops will drastically minimize the hierarchical filesystem as a means for organization, replacing it with a temporally organized list of activities and events, furthering the Journal metaphor. This drastically simplifies the auto-keeping behavior, since it eliminates the need to specify a location in which a newly started activity should be kept; naturally, the newly started activity will appear as the most recent entry in the journal.

Temporal organization functions naturally in the absence of explicit or hierarchical methods, since humankind's intrinsic relationship to time gives them, at the very least, a relative notion of "how long ago" something happened. By moving back through the Journal, a child can simply locate the period in time within which she knows she made something, and then employ additional use of searching, filtering, and sorting to pinpoint exactly what she's looking for.


Due to the laptops' limitations in storage capacity, the potential exists for the Journal to contain so many entries that no more may be written. However, the frequency of such occurrences is limited by temporal falloff, which tidies up the Journal contents and keeps space available for new entries. One might think of this as an intelligent combination of garbage collection and disk defragmentation.

The driving principle here is that of temporal granularity, derived directly from our very capacity for human memory. Our minds, generally speaking, maintain a high level of granularity with respect to very recent events, but only a low granularity for events from several years ago. Moreover, this granularity tends to follow a logarithmic curve, where the past few minutes remain quite clear, the past few hours more blurry, and by last month quite vague. When we look years into the past, only specifically memorable events stand out in our minds.

On the laptops the policies are a bit more strict, but the principle remains the same. With a finite amount of memory, some means of managing what's remembered, or kept, and what's forgotten, or erased must exist. An intelligent algorithm will assist children in identifying "forgotten" entries. Taking into account how old an entry is, how many times she's viewed it, how recently she's worked on it, how many hours she's worked on it, how many people she's worked on it with, its tags, and even more forms of automatically generated metadata, the Journal can suggest to her those entries which it feels can be erased. She will then have the opportunity to review those items prior to their erasure, if she wishes, and can keep any she still feels attached to.

In a time where gigabytes have become cheap, many of us still manage to fill our hard drives. Excepting the cases of multimedia collections of audio or video files, much of that space is consumed by files we either don't remember we ever made, or will never open again. On the laptops, where space is precious, so too will be the objects and entries that remain in the journal years down the road. The temporary, the experimental, the duplicate, and the unwanted files will naturally fall off the bottom, maintaining a browsable history of those that remain important to the children.

Journal Entries


Implicit journal entries will be the most common. These appear as the result of many kinds of a child's interactions with her machine, but most commonly when engaging in an activity. Other implicit entries might appear when she takes a photo, or receives a note from a friend, or downloads a file from the Web. In all of these cases, the journal entry itself has a basic format which conveys important information about the event which created it. Most importantly, the associated Object - the photo, the message, the drawing, the story - becomes embedded within the entry. It also includes key metadata, such as its name, when it was made, and who collaborated on it.

The journal entry also provides some means to interact with it. For instance, each entry has a description field where a child can tag it with meaningful related words which will make searching for it in the future a breeze. This field will automatically receive any tags that the activity itself associates with the entry. In addition to this tag field, several buttons will allow direct manipulation of the Object, making it possible to resume the activity, place the Object on the clipboard, send it to a friend, print it, or erase it, among others.


In addition to implicit ones, children have the opportunity to create several special kinds of entries on their own. The first of these, the Note, has the simplest form. Taking a cue from a traditional journal, a Note entry simply provides a large text entry field. This freeform entry allows the children to write down short descriptions of their day to day experiences, just as one would within a real journal. Providing this layer of personalized entries further emphasizes the idea that the Journal really does provide more than a filesystem, as an actual record of events and interactions of the children with the laptop and with their peers.

In practice, children may also use this feature as a means of jotting down a note to themselves - a reminder. In these instances, a simple control within the entry will turn the note into a "to-do" note. As a to-do entry, it will have a checkbox indicating its completion status. By filtering the Journal to show only these entries, it doubles as a basic to-do list, providing another useful tool for learning organizational skills.


Clippings serve a slightly different purpose in the journal. Similar in spirit to notes, a child can create a clipping from anywhere, or from within any activity on their laptop. As an extension of the copy to clipboard idea, clippings copy a selection - some text from a chat session with a friend, an image from a web page, etc. - directly to the journal for safekeeping. This provides a quick and easy way to keep a quick record of anything that you might want to keep around for future reference: a phone number, a link, a password, etc.


Taking the temporal aspect of the Journal one step further, Events act like "future" journal entries. By specifying a name for the event, a brief description, and a time, these Journal entries serve as a basic planning system. A control within the entry also enables an audible alert, so that Events can act as alarms. Events also tie in closely with some implicit actions of the laptops. For instance, a child might want to go on a photo safari with her friend after school. While still in class, she sends him an invitation to join a photo capture activity, but schedules a time of 3:00. He then receives an invitation, as usual, but upon accepting it receives an Event entry in the journal, with a reference to the scheduled activity, instead of immediately entering it. When 3:00 arrives, both children receive notifications that their scheduled event is about to start, and join each other both physically outside and virtually in the referenced capture activity.

The Power of Metadata

Despite the flatness of the Journal, finding past entries shouldn't prove difficult thanks to a tagging structure built from the ground up for the laptops. By associating relevant descriptive words with each journal entry, searching for an entry becomes as easy as describing it. These descriptions will manifest in two ways, tagging and metadata. The former provide a straightforward manner for the children to describe and organize their stuff, while the latter provides a more technical means by which activities can associate relevant data and tags with all Journal entries they create.


Tagging will become a fundamental process for all types of data and activities on the laptops. Fortunately, children have a natural inclination to describe their world and the things they see and do. This actually aids kids in learning, as they will enjoy describing the drawing they've made, the stories they've written, or the composition they produced, and can learn new vocabulary in doing so. Of course, the kid-like desire to describe things doesn't detract from the usefulness of this tag-based system as they grow older.

As such an integral part of the system, the tagging interface will be exposed in various places. Of course, as mentioned, each journal entry will have a field for tags. Likewise, each open activity instance will have a tag field adjacent to its name field, so that the act of naming a particular activity or Object becomes associated with describing it in their minds. Additionally, activities could offer specific places within the interface for tagging to occur, such as in the description field for a photo the child just took.


Metadata adds an additional level of sophistication to the tagging model. Rather than thinking of this as data about data, consider it a means of tagging tags. Metadata on the laptops will be an extension of the basic tagging model where the tag itself consists of a key:value pair. Or, you could simply consider a tag to be a metadata pair with a null key. Whichever way you look at it, this categorization of tags has powerful implications when it comes to organizing and categorizing data.

The Journal itself assigns a variety of useful metadata tags to entries as they appear. These include the time of the entry, it's sharing scope, who participated in the activity, it size, and more. The Journal will also keep track of other useful metadata, such as the number of times a child views a particular entry, the number of revisions an entry has gone through, etc. Likewise, activities will deal primarily with metadata rather than simple tags. This allows activities to define specific parameters, or keys, that make sense for the Objects they produce, and then assign values to those dynamically. In a music composition activity, for instance, potential keys might be beats per minute, the key the composition is written in, the length of the track, and the composer, among others. See the sorting section to fully understand the usefulness of this metadata within the Journal.

Of course, since tags and metadata both follow a very basic format, children can assign their own metadata associations with Journal entries once they have enough experience simply by typing key:value pairs into the description field.

Powerful Search, Filter & Sort


The search field provides the most direct means of locating a particular Journal entry. In order to find anything on their laptop, a child need merely describe it, since the tags she's associated with it already appear within its description field. Her searches also apply to the metadata associated with the entry by either the Journal or the activity that created it, making it even easier to find things.

For simplicity, the search field will employ OR logic to all terms entered, which ensures the least amount of confusion when used by children who don't yet understand boolean logic. As such, a search for "orange cat" will return a list of everything orange and also every cat. Of course, any entries tagged with both orange and with cat will match more strongly, and will automatically filter to the top of the results. However, in keeping with a primary goal of the laptops, this won't eliminate the possibility for more complex boolean searches. Full support for AND, OR, NOT, and parenthetical grouping of terms will be built into the search engine, providing advanced functionality for those who desire to enter more complex queries.

adaptive fuzzy result matching helps as they are learning to spell. Possibility for thesaurus based match, or even translation based...?


Support for basic filtering also exists within the journal. The search and filter functionality appear together in the toolbar, since searching could also be interpreted as filtering by tags. Additionally, their appearance together allows an easy method for the children to visually construct their query in a sentence-like format.

Basic filters: date, activity, people

Special filters: starred, about to be removed, backed up, in progress, notes, to-dos, events, etc...


Whereas searching and filtering provide a means of defining what entries get shown, sorting determines how those entries are organized...

Implicit Versioning System

Automatic, incremental saves...

Viewing revision history...

Automatic Backup and Restore

Automatic backups to server...

Full restore (temporal)...

Partial restore(by object)...

Temporary restore...

The Journal as a Progress Indicator

Two stages for entries...