Pidgin usability look on the web

Matthew Paul Thomas mpt at
Tue Aug 26 08:52:44 EDT 2008

Hash: SHA1

Richard Laager wrote on 25/08/08 17:25:
>> As with contact info, Pidgin’s “Buddies” > “View User Log…” menu item
>> showed me not the log of the person I had selected,
> What else in the Buddies (note plural)

(How is it helpful for "Buddies" to be plural? That "View User Log…" is
singular, and lets me see the log for only one person, is part of what
makes it extremely inefficient for some purposes. If it really worked on
"buddies", it would be much better!)

>                                        menu acts on the selected buddy?

None of them, but this is unusual for what seems to be no good reason.
Other prominent Ubuntu applications dealing with collections -- such as
Nautilus, Evolution's address book, Firefox's (and Epiphany's) Bookmarks
and History windows, Rhythmbox, and F-Spot -- have commands in their
first menus that operate on the selected item.

I would expect "New Instant Message" and "Get User Info" to operate on
the selected buddy too.

> The right-click context menu's "View Log" option acts on that buddy.

So to a small extent this is Ubuntu's fault, because Ubuntu does not yet
by default set up a keyboard combo to simulate right-click for trackpads
without multiple buttons.

Even so, except in extreme circumstances, a context menu should not be
the only -- or even the primary -- method of doing anything. It didn't
even occur to me that buddies would have a context menu.

>> nor a list of contacts for whom any conversations had been logged
> The dialog text entry box will autocomplete names based on the logs
> that exist. Perhaps this would be more obvious if you actually had logs.

As you said in your followup, "It'll autocomplete based on the union
of buddies in your buddy list OR users with logs". So it will happily
deceive you by autocompleting the name of someone who has no logged
conversations at all.

> What sort of UI were you looking for here?

A window from which you could access any conversation you'd had that
Pidgin had logged or imported. If a buddy was selected in the buddy
list, and you had at least one logged conversation with that buddy, the
log window would default to showing your most recent conversation with
that buddy. (Otherwise, it would default to showing your most recent
logged conversation, regardless of who it was with.)

Ideally you would be able to filter the list of conversations by
participant(s), and/or time period, and/or search term, similar to how
you can in Evolution and Thunderbird.

>         A) Some giant list of names? If so, how is that superior to
>         using the buddy list and using the context menu?

First, as I've described, it would be more obvious. The menu item's
already right *there* where I expected to find it, it's just doing an
amnesiac subset of what I expected it to do.

Second, it would require less interaction. You would no longer have to
open and close individual windows, for each person whose conversations
you were looking at, before you were done. If the buddy list showed only
online buddies (as it does by default), you would no longer need to
access "Buddies" > "Show" > "Offline Buddies" once to find the buddy you
were interested in, and once more after you were finished. And even in
the trivial case where you wanted to view the logs of someone who
happened to be online at the time, the log window would be more compact
and (by default) much taller than the buddy list window, and therefore
would require less scrolling through the list of names.

>         B) Some giant list of conversations? This is pretty expensive to
>         generate, as you'd have to walk a large directory tree.

It's at least thousands of times cheaper for a computer to do it than
for a human to do it.

>                                                                 It only
>         seems useful if you said, "I remember talking about this with
>         someone yesterday, but I don't remember who..." I don't know how
>         common that use case is, but it's never happened to me.

Real-world example: I messaged someone a link to a photo of a /Kung Fu
Panda/ movie poster sometime last week. I don't remember who I messaged
it to, and I don't remember exactly what day it was. I'd like to find
the link again. What I'd like to do: open the logs window and search for

>> Once I’d entered someone’s name, Pidgin would then unfailingly report
>> that “No logs were found”, because “Instant messages will only be
>> logged if the "Log all instant messages" preference is enabled”, and
>> that preference was disabled by default.
> The preference is disabled by default for privacy reasons.

I can understand that that would make sense on an OS that encourages a
single user account, or at a kiosk or Internet cafe where many people
use the same computer without having individual accounts. But Ubuntu
both encourages individuals to have separate accounts, and (as of
Intrepid) will have a guest account that better caters for the kiosk case.

Even so, Web browsers collect history by default, so it's surprising for
Pidgin to take the opposite approach.

>> Pidgin could have detected within a few hundredths of a second that it
>> did not have any logs stored, but it presented the “View User Log”
>> scavenger hunt as an available menu item anyway ().
> What would you have Pidgin do in this case? It sounds like you want it
> to grey out the menu item. Then you'd say, "The View User Log... option
> was greyed out and I couldn't figure out how to turn it on." ;) This
> way, it'll tell you why it doesn't work.

Ideally, the menu item would open the unified logs window I described,
featuring a centered explanation that there were no logged conversations
yet, and (perhaps regardless of whether there were logs or not) offering
a button to open the Logging tab of the Preferences window. That way you
wouldn't need to dismiss the error alert right then; you could leave the
logs window open as long as you liked, and the explanation would be
replaced by logs if they appeared later.

Failing that, the menu item could show the alert explaining that there
were no logged conversations yet *without* putting you through the
charade of entering a name first.

And at the very, very least, the autocomplete menu could autocomplete
names from your buddy list regardless of whether they had logged
conversations yet, *but* disable the "OK" button for those who didn't,
offering an inline explanation above. That would at least save you two
clicks/keypresses in opening and closing the error alert.

- --
Matthew Paul Thomas
Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (GNU/Linux)
Comment: Using GnuPG with Mozilla -


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