thunderbird, gloda, exptoolbar, protovis, paninaro, oh oh oh


Thunderbird.  With the global database, gloda.  Using the exptoolbar extension.  Using the protovis javascript visualization library.  For reals!  Not a prank!  Just grab the most recent XPI or grab the repo.  And be using a nightly (beta 2 might work?)

What you are looking at:

  • The exptoolbar search results page, augmented with a visualization.
  • Each conversation with search results gets its own wedge.
    • Wedges can be distinguished because of the alternating background colors.
    • Conversations that you sent a message to will have a red shading to them.  The examples may be somewhat misleading because the account where a lot of my sent mail ends up is not part of the profile used to create the screenshots.
  • Each message is placed in its conversation wedge…
    • The radius is based on the ‘age’ of the message using a log-ish scale.  Interpolation is actually linear at each level (one day, one week, one month, three months, one year, 5 years, ‘forever’.)
    • The angular placement within the wedge is based on the author of the message.  Across all wedges the placement is the same.  This helps ‘bursty’ parts of conversations (which are extremely likely) be made more obvious, while also helping to provide some understanding of conversation dynamics.
  • Message shapes are determined by whether the message is starred (diamond), sent by a ‘popular’ contact (circle), or an unpopular one (cross).  The use of popularity is a temporary measure because current gloda in trunk does not cache address-book lookups, and they are expensive.  Once the new gloda search code lands with those changes, we can rely on the existence of an address book entry.  (Starring a contact using the new message reader adds them to your address book.)
  • Message opacity is determined by whether the message is a ‘hit’ or not.  All messages in a conversation are eventually retrieved, though initially we only have the hits.
  • Message color is determined by applied tags (using the closest tango color for the first tag), or whether the message is starred (closest tango color to yellow, where I think I had removed the yellow tango colors for some unknown reason, so we get green I guess).  It’s grey if the message has no tag or star.
  • The subject of the conversation is displayed in the wedge.


Things that are happy:

Things that are sad (aka caveats):

  • It would probably be better if the visualization was not radar-inspired.  Besides the perceptual reasons, the subjects are harder to read than they would be in an equivalent linear-styled visualization.
  • The visualization is not interactive.  protovis officially has no interaction support yet, but if you look in the (only available minified?) source, it’s almost there.  It might be entirely there, but it didn’t work for me immediately after a quick reading of the (indented) source.
  • There is some low probability failure that occurs during the visualization updating as gloda backfills the message collections.  If it happens on the last update, you can end up with a half-built visualization.  Re-running the search will generally resolve the issue.
  • The visualization does a pretty solid job of taking up all the screen real estate and has no way to be disabled, so you have to scroll past it every time.

Future work:

  • Interactivity.
  • Perhaps showing the gravatars for the people involved in a conversation at the outer rim of the wedge, positioning them based on the author positioning we determined.
  • Perhaps lose the radar motif.
  • Your thoughts / patches!

Thunderbird and gloda go to meme-town

Sure, a word cloud of your blog posts is cool… but what if you could take any search of your e-mail, and turn that into a word cloud?  And then, if you click on one of those words, your search constraints would be revised to use the word you clicked on (and you’d get a useful search result, not another word cloud)?  And what if that layout algorithm were not as good as wordle?  The future is now, people!  (At least if you install like 5 extra extensions out of mercurial.)

The screenshot above is from Thunderbird trunk with a hacked exptoolbar extension (generalized, committed changes happening soon), visophyte-js, and the new glodacloud extension.  It is a proof-of-easy-gloda-extensions as suggested by David Ascher.

The layout algorithm is what we in the business of making up terminology call a recursive sub-optimal tic-tac-toe subdivision thinger.  We under-use a neat (and somewhat slow) hack to find the bounds of the words through use of canvas.mozPathText and canvas.isPointInPath to sample a grid to know where the text is and isn’t.  It’s under-used because all we use it for right now is to find the actual height above the baseline that the text stretches to (because metrics only gives us the width).  We are lazy and don’t check below the baseline at all, and totally squander our chance to be cool and put small words in the gaps in larger words.  But given the amount of time spent, I’m very happy.

Oh, and of course it uses JS and Canvas.

I’ll be wanting that latte machine now…

in context

credits where credits due:

  • thread arcs a la the nice people at the IBM CUE group
  • the search view prototype is implemented by David Ascher.  the positioning of the visualization is on me as a quick hack, though.
  • the search view prototype is designed by Bryan Clark, and he has even better stuff on the way

The actual implementation is a first step of adapting knowledge from my python “visophyte” library to a JS implementation using canvas.  I am trying a more batch-oriented style of processing this time that uses explicit attributes for value-passing between logic blocks.  This is in comparison to the python implementation which is more functional in nature.  We’ll see how it turns out.

Thunderbird full-text search prototype a la SQLite FTS3

Full-text search using FTS3.

Full-text search with a contact constraint.

The global database sqlite file resulting from indexing all of is about 13M for something like 4500 messages.  We’re providing FTS3 with the bodies (but not attachments!) of all the newsgroup messages and the subjects of the messages which initiate new threads.  For real usage, we will need to also index the subjects of each message.

Note that the message bodies have not been processed at all by the Thunderbird/gloda code before handing them off to FTS3.  So quoted messages get indexed even though it’s a lot of excess data.  We’re relying on FTS3 to do all stop-words, etc.  FTS3’s Porter stemming/tokenization is in use.

Thunderbird contact auto-completion… with bubbles!

Autocompletion screenshot

Type type type type.  Autocomplete contact…

Completed contact becomes a bubble!  Bubble becomes a constraint, showing us only the messages involving the given contact.  (The idea is that you could then click on/select/whatever the bubble and change the constraint to be only to/from/cc/whatever if you are so inclined.)

Type type type, autocomplete, new constraint!  Now we’re looking at all the messages involving the two given contacts.  (Some of the messages with just one constraint were mailing list postings, but not explicitly involving the second contact.  This listing shows only messages where both contacts were directly involved.  We will have the ability to filter-out messages involving lists as desired, which may be desired by default in a case like this.)

What is exciting about this?

  • The contacts are matched using a suffix-tree implementation on a reduced set of contacts (as a first-pass).  In this case, those with sufficient ‘popularity’.  ‘Frecency’ a la ‘places’ is also planned.  And of course, we can hit the database as needed.  The suffix-tree is nice because it allows extremely rapid lookups while also allowing for substring matching.
  • The contact popularity is computed automatically by the gloda indexing process, taking into account both messages you receive and send.  (I think the current address-book code just increments popularity on send?)
  • I think the bubbles are cool.  (Hyperlink-styling would also work, but would not be cool.)
  • Having the text converted into an explicit object representation (bubbles) is better than just doing string filtering (as quicksearch does) because it allows explicit actions on the object given knowledge of the object type.
  • We can convert more than just contacts/identities to explicit objects.  As demonstrated at the summit, we have a plugin that detects bugzilla bug references in messages as well as (American/NANP-style) phone-numbers in messages.  We could detect these and promote them as well, etc.
  • The filtered messages are being delivered by gloda, the global database (backed by SQLite), which means that we aren’t searching just one folder.
  • There are a lot of places that you, the reader, will shortly be able to hack on and contribute to make this even more exciting.  A vicious cycle of exciting-ness will ensue until everyone is dancing in the streets.