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synchronizing to multiple data sources

One of the most important questions remaining for spaces is the definition of how multiple sync sources are managed. In the current version (alpha 1.8) it is possible to synchronize a single space to an RSS feed. The mechanism is extensible: the context menu for a space includes an option "Space sync settings" that lets the user "attach" an RSS feed to the space. For a while I've intended IMAP to use a similar mechanism. Aside from the IMAP Folder Selection dialog, available when configuring an IMAP account (which creates a corresponding local space for each folder), there would be the possibility to sync a space with by using the context menu, attached to a particular IMAP account. So far so good.

The problem is that IMAP constantly synchronizes content to the server. Therefore, when moving content in and out of a space that is synchronizing with IMAP, it is useful that the user is aware of what is being done, preferably in a non-intrusive way.

A similar problem applies to synchronization with mobile devices. An eminently useful feature would be to synchronize a particular space with a particular mobile device, so if you have a personal mobile phone, you can synchronize your "Personal" space to it (and thus the contacts, calendar items, etc, that belong to it) and then synchronize the "Work" space to your PDA, which you use for the office. However, again, there must be some visual feedback that this will happen. So how to do it? The solution I am currently working on is shown on the screenshot below.


The idea is that sync sources can be displayed next to a space with an icon: mobile device, IMAP server, LDAP, RSS, whatever. To reduce load, each sync setting can be hidden, with appropriate defaults. For example, IMAP synchronization would appear, because it implies sending data to a server (potentially bad, since, for example, we might be sending content to a server that is not secure, or that belongs to the company), while RSS would not, since it is read-only (a space with RSS sync settings that allow weblog postings are another matter). A mobile device sync icon would also appear by default, because, again, the content is being synchronized "out" of the program, and so it makes sense for the user to be aware of that. Certainly power-users might prefer not to see all those icons, or be aware only of a few. Users that don't need IMAP would never have to deal with those options.

Also, note that the icon has the added advantage that it provides quick access to the configuration: when the mouse is over it a pull down is shown (see the screenshot). Access to the configuration would still be available through the context menu for a space.

As far as IMAP is concerned, there is another nice side-effect: transparent IMAP configuration. A big headache in IMAP systems is how to manage the server. With this interface if a space is created locally, and then attached to an IMAP account, a corresponding IMAP folder would be created in the next IMAP sync, carrying along its contents.

I hope this description was clear enough. I'd like to hear your comments, or questions.


Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on March 29 2003 at 12:36 PM

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