File it, pile it.
June 21, 2006 3:00 PM   Subscribe

BumpTop is based on the long standing idea of piles as a desktop use metaphor, this seems to bring it to life at last. Will this sort out your desktop?
posted by marvin (37 comments total)
That's cute and all, but, uh... how the hell do you get anything done? How do you even know what file you're working with, beyond the general filetype?

This seems like an excercise in solving a nonexistant problem to me.
posted by stenseng at 3:06 PM on June 21, 2006

I keep my computer desktop much neater than my actual desktop, and prefer it that way.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:08 PM on June 21, 2006

More geek overthinking.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:08 PM on June 21, 2006

Yeah, interesting and all, but seems quite useless for getting anything done. Maybe if you could actually see the contents of the files instead of just filetype icons it would work, but I'm not sure screen resolutions are up to that yet.
posted by reklaw at 3:12 PM on June 21, 2006

Agree with Thorzdad and stenseng. These guys are putting a lot of effort into being poorly organized, and the whole thing comes across as a big effort to justify having a messy desk.

Filenames were conspicuous by their absence. What difference does it matter how I pile up my PDF icons if I don't know what any of them are?

There is some stuff in there to like—the gestural commands are pretty cool—but most of it makes for a cool demo and that's it.
posted by adamrice at 3:14 PM on June 21, 2006

I thought it was pretty wicked. Wasn't Apple supposed to have something like this in Tiger?
posted by evoo at 3:15 PM on June 21, 2006

how the hell do you get anything done?

You don't. You spend all day making and unmaking tidy piles. Tidy piles. Tidy piles. Tidy piles.

How do you even know what file you're working with, beyond the general filetype?

You mean all the PDF printouts on your desk aren't the same document?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 3:16 PM on June 21, 2006

It becomes useful when the desktop of your desk does, indeed, become an interactive GUI... much like how it was imagined in the movie "The Island".
posted by linux at 3:19 PM on June 21, 2006

I don't think I've opened a file from my desktop since they came out with XP (or whatever version was the first to have the taskbar; 98?). I don't think I've even seen my desktop since then.
posted by Outlawyr at 3:19 PM on June 21, 2006

My desktop is a big temp folder. Once it gets anywhere close to cluttered I just create a folder called "tidy yyyymmdd" and dump enverything in there.

Maybe they could replace the image of a folder with that of a paper bag, and you could throw all your icons in a paper bag. That would be awesome!
posted by furtive at 3:25 PM on June 21, 2006

They should also have a paper shredder tool so you can shred documents and make a big mess on the desktop. Then you could use the broom tool and sweep it up and put in the paper bag.
posted by jefbla at 3:28 PM on June 21, 2006

I saw a live demo of this at DemoCamp in Toronto. It looks very cool in real life.

Though when I saw the FPP I thought it was a joke about hemmoroids...
posted by GuyZero at 3:31 PM on June 21, 2006

I thought this was cool. Personally, I like the idea of being able to fling things around in every Finder window.

The nay-sayers should note that there's no download link; this isn't something that you're expected to use. It's an exercise in UI research, and it beats "Maybe if we make the Start button green" or "Let's make our scroll bars blue and rounded" for inventiveness.

As for the filenames, the creators are promising an FAQ Real Soon Now.
posted by revgeorge at 3:32 PM on June 21, 2006

As an Internet-based expert in everything, I immediately see problems with this interface:

It relies too much on pen pressure to make contextual gestures, which makes it useful only for (at this time, Windows) tablet PCs.

The icons within a pile are generic and too small, imparting almost no genuinely useful at-a-glance information about the content of the files or folders. Retrieving information requires disturbing or thumbing through the pile.

Sized items in a pile seem to be meant as "more important" and thus are heavier in the physics engine. However, moving away from icons to differently sized objects seems to be a requirement for delivering some useful information about a pile's content — this would negate the function of a sizing effect.

Tagging and metadata seem to be the way forward for finding things quickly. Apple is slowly working out the knowledge from its BeOS engineers into the Spotlight component in its OS X product, but Microsoft is still years away from releasing a working version of WinFS. It would interesting to see if tags and piles could work together in some smart, hands-off fashion.
posted by Mr. Six at 3:36 PM on June 21, 2006

Agree with others it seems pretty stupid not to have the document titles or filenames to differentiate them.
That said, the section near the end (4:46) with "arbitrarily sized objects" with clearly identifiable photos and web pages looked pretty cool; it might actually be a slick usage model with a high-resolution display.

furtive, I do exactly the same thing, though I call the folder 'crap' instead of 'tidy'. Once the icons start to spill from one monitor to the other, it's crap-folder time! and there are too many crap folders. yes, I'm lazy
posted by SpookyFish at 3:44 PM on June 21, 2006

Oh, admit it. If Steve Jobs busted this out during a keynote speech you'd all be drooling.

This clearly isn't ready for a production environment, and if the creators don't add any more to the 'meaningfully cluttered desktop' paradigm (or at least show the user some filenames...) it's not going anywhere. But exercise a bit of imagination and some neat possibilities come to mind:

- When executing a search of a traditional directory structure, the best you can get is a list, because a directory only displays as open (showing the entire contents) or closed (showing only the directory name). Sorting through these for what you want can be tedious. Here, though...matching documents could glow, more or less brightly or differently colored depending on relevance, creation date, etc.
- Imagine you have a thousand photos, and you want to pick out the 20 best and 20 next-best for a portfolio. With this system you would zip through the pile, and just toss nice ones in the general direction of the best or next-best pile, and just as rapidly resort those as neccesary. You could get the same result with folders, of course, but this is a lot closer to how you would intuitively deal with a big stack of hardcopy photos...
- Just use your imagination, folks. Come on.

Anyway, not enough that I'd drop OSX (or even XP) for BumpTop, but I wouldn't be surprised if the creators were working for Apple (or bought out by MS) real soon.
posted by a young man in spats at 3:53 PM on June 21, 2006

I think many of the issues being raised here are nits. As demonstrated at the end of the video, it is perfectly possible to represent content in the icons. You have to watch the video all the way through to see the coolest stuff (icons with content, sizing, document "weight", folding over corners etc.)

There has been a fair amount of research (some of it sponsored by Apple) about the ways people organize information. Some people have clean desks. This isn't for them. Other people have insanely messy desks (and credenzas, and monitor-tops, and floors. . . ) covered with piles of documents. Those piles, it turns out, contain enormous amounts of information. Things like "what document is on top of the pile" and "how close is the pile to me" and "what is the orientation of the document in the pile" turn out to be very important signifiers to people who organize themselves in this way. The idea of "pile" is very similar to the idea of "filing cabinet" its just that the meta-data stored in "pile" is less conventionally easy to obtain.

Apple's research showed (IIRC) that people who organize this way don't necessarily know they are doing it, but it works for them. Not surprisingly those people can sometimes be among the most creative thinkers. (Yes, I am such a person, my office is a disaster. No, I don't think that means I'm creative or special or anything. Just because some messy people are creative geniuses that doesn't mean all messy people are. Some of us are just lazy.)

Anyway, for those people, a system like this is enormously helpful. Windowed GUIs have forced me to organize my electronic documents into a filing cabinet metaphor, but I'm not especially comfortable with that so it ends up that I have all my documents stuffed into "My Documents". On my mac, that's not so bad because there is very good, very fast indexing and internal searching. On my PC it's a bigger problem, in part because such searching requires an add-on and in part because my PC network includes many more documents by many more authors. Organizing my electronic desktop the way I "organize" my real one would be great. Yes, my computer can force me to be more "organized" but why should it? Why shouldn't it work the way I work?
posted by The Bellman at 3:55 PM on June 21, 2006

And here is a fascinating piece by Malcom Gladwell speaking (as usual) authoritatively but without any citations whatsoever on the issues of piles and paper sorting in workflow generally. He discusses the Apple research. Apple appears to have patented the idea of piles as a GUI element.
posted by The Bellman at 4:07 PM on June 21, 2006

I work quite a bit from my desktop, only because I find it easier in Windows to find directories with projects I'm currently working on. I usually group things in squares of directories (this is on a PC, on a Mac I just use Quicksilver and access everything in a few strokes). What I've been wanting lately is some visual indication that a group of folders is for a particular project. I want to be able to draw a border on my desktop, drop a bunch of folders into it, put a little label on it and be able to move them around from monitor to monitor as a group if need be (yeah, I could do this in a window, but that's not what I want. I just want to lasso and label a bunch of files / directories). This piles metaphor is pretty close to that. It doesn't solve deeper file organization problems, but it would allow me to keep the work I'm focused on readily available.

The Bellman's last paragraph above describes my own"organization" technique as well.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:15 PM on June 21, 2006

If they'd named it CrapStax it'd be a lot closer to how I work on my real desktop.
posted by boo_radley at 4:32 PM on June 21, 2006

I saw this on digg - and I'll say the same here. It's interesting, but they need a way to show file name or preview within the object. And remember, this is just a replacement for your desktop screen, not your entire OS.

Personally, I think it would be pretty cool to have my windows hovering in 3d space above a sort of "well" full of my files. The windows could even recede a bit in "real" space as they're pushed to the background.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:40 PM on June 21, 2006

I thought it was nifty. It's one step closer to the type of interface depicted in Minority Report, which I always thought was kinda cool. Still a long way away, no doubt, but the gestures totally reminded me of that.
posted by sharpener at 4:48 PM on June 21, 2006

This is a pretty cool demo. I bet it feels really intuitive with a stylus/tablet set-up (the same sort of motions used in DS games).

To all the haters: yes, just being able to see filetypes is practically useless. This is just a demo. Get over it.
posted by muddgirl at 4:51 PM on June 21, 2006

Why do we even need a desktop metaphore in the first place? We're used to the current 2-d desktop because that's how computers have 'always' worked. It's nothing at all like an actual desk. Making it more like a desk defeats the entire purpose (duh).

And how often do we even need to use the desktop? You need to 1) move files around and 2) start programs. That's it. I think those two things are pretty much taken care of.

New systems for manipulating spesific filetypes like images or mp3s are what's needed now.
posted by delmoi at 5:14 PM on June 21, 2006

i would use this in a heartbeat..i keep way too much stuff on my desktops at work and at home (and i need a hierarchy to make it more readily available or less so)-- being able to treat it all more like the piles of stuff on my desks would totally help.
posted by amberglow at 5:16 PM on June 21, 2006

I saw this demo at CHI. It's very sexy. But sexy is not always useful. I have my fears that this kind of interaction, even if all the kinks were worked out, is only good for about 5-10% of the tasks a typical user has with typical files and folders. That doesn't make it useless, but it does raise questions about a) what users do b) what they want to do or would do if the interface afforded it and c) what things could they do even if they didn't know they wanted to.

Running a physics enginge on the desktop is only of marginal utility to users, but its of exceeding utility to companies that like people to buy new and better chips every year or two (hint: intel, and by extension, MSFT).
posted by zpousman at 5:18 PM on June 21, 2006

posted by squidlarkin at 5:39 PM on June 21, 2006

A fun excercise in GUI physics, but I can see the lasso menu thingy being exceptionally annoying if you're in a hurry.
posted by Zinger at 5:39 PM on June 21, 2006

Once it gets anywhere close to cluttered I just create a folder called "tidy yyyymmdd" and dump enverything in there.

Me too - only I never bother with the date as if I haven't opened it in 3 months I just delete it.
posted by Sparx at 5:58 PM on June 21, 2006

Bellman, you make a good point: this type of interface is excellent for those type of people you mention, the creative types.

This kind of interface wouldn't be so useful in your standard office environment, methinks.

This does seem like a very "Apple-esque" type interface, but one that Apple would develop for a new product or OS instead of replacing the current MacOS Finder.

Still, I think it's cool and it's a great concept and the demo looks beautiful (sans the irritating narrator, but hey), but I too wonder if this is a bit of geek overthinking if intended for the masses.
posted by tgrundke at 6:22 PM on June 21, 2006

A decent command-line interface beats this any day. You knucklestylus-draggers keep pushing your little pictures around.
posted by cellphone at 7:04 PM on June 21, 2006

Great, just another way for me to lose shit and waste valuable processer cycles.

If Steve Jobs busted this out during a keynote speech you'd all be drooling.

Yeah, with boredom. This whole thing was done 30-40 years ago with MITs original GUI experiments, which was adopted by Xerox PARC, then Apple, Solaris, X and Windows and everyone else.

Granted, the interface modality is neato and rather innovative, but, guh, there is no where near enough control and modality to make up for the fact it just takes up more and more visual real estate, control time, processing power, complexity of informational gesture and more.

That system as described would collapse into uselessness in mere seconds under the filecounts on my system.

The reason why the piles on desktop metaphor works on desktops is because there's physicality and a complete lack of metainformation and tagging. You have to make piles. You don't have a choice, really, unless you're willing to spend a gazillion dollars on all kinds of files and document handling tools, and even then you're still chasing your tail.

Not true with digital files. Digital files (and the GUIs that manipulate them) become less useful and flexible when applied to a physical model. Digital files can be searched for, searched in and tagged.

Compare what a Unix/Linux nut can do with command line to what even an advanced GUI-only user can do. Even totally awesome useragent programs like Quicksilver for OS X are merely attempts to make up for the lost power available to an expert in command line strings and scripts.

And I'm not even an expert. But I know for sure it's a hell of a lot easier to drop to DOS or shell and do a recursive file search across thousands of paths for a specific filetype or name or even a string within the file, copy them, move them, rename them, sort them and even output or edit them than it would be to do it "by hand" in a GUI.
posted by loquacious at 7:45 PM on June 21, 2006

very cool...but this will never work until you have the resolution to actually see everything you want to (OK, someone said this above...props to you). I do allot of work with large drawings (24x17 or 36x24) and have a nice big screen, but i can usually catch things much more easily on the piece of paper then on the computer screen because the paper resolution is ...well...lets say infinite (zoom in head). I'm sure by the time screen hardware can match what our vision can detect this will be super useful...until then it still gets a hit as cool.
posted by NGnerd at 7:58 PM on June 21, 2006

teh title got my attention.
posted by riffola at 8:29 PM on June 21, 2006

We're used to the current 2-d desktop because that's how computers have 'always' worked.

Get off my lawn....
posted by pompomtom at 8:53 PM on June 21, 2006

My desktop is pretty tidy, at least compared to my desk top, the return, the top of the file cabinet and the shelves.
Much more attractive would be a laser-like beam that would vaporize the magazines, papers and catalogs that haven't been opened in several weeks.
posted by Cranberry at 10:57 PM on June 21, 2006

I wasn't going to make a hemorrhoid reference, but then the narrator demonstrated the "exploding piles technique". I now presume that the whole technology has been developed purely in order to allow its demonstrators to use that phrase with a straight face.

I also agree with the haters in this thread; I can't see how this system could scale. I work well with seemingly random "a place for everything, and everything all over the place" filing systems, but there's only so much of that sort of thing that you can store in a normal brain. I suppose if you're using this sort of interface for only your principal project, and not for stuff that you last visited eight months ago, it could work OK.

But I'm still wondering how they'll put names on files. Permanently attached floating names will be illegible when stacked, and the only alternative seems to be Mystery Meat Navigation.

Maybe a whole second screen with a more conventional file display - do gross organisation on one monitor, see exactly what you're looking at on the other! That's no stupider than anybody else's idea - I should file a patent!
posted by dansdata at 5:29 AM on June 22, 2006

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