[sugar] E-mail, XMPP, and non-Sugar identities
Benjamin M. Schwartz
Wed Apr 30 17:57:57 EDT 2008
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There are perhaps a billion or more people in the world who have e-mail
access (SMTP). We would like students with XOs to be able to communicate
with these people in an easy, sensible way. For this reason, there has
been a great deal of interest in e-mail clients for the XO.
Sugar is designed to provide a pervasive identity management system that
allows users to handle a visual object representing a particular person in
a coherent way across the entire system. Designs are in place for how to
chat with a particular friend, or send that person a file, or join a
collaborative activity with that friend.
The system, as currently designed, fails entirely when faced with users
who are not running Sugar. One option is to simply close the system, and
demand that any "buddy" in the sugar interface must also be running Sugar.
~ This is not a bad option, but it causes e-mail and other IM services to
become distinctly second-class. I can communicate with someone over
e-mail, but only if I remember their e-mail address, or keep it in an
address book managed by the e-mail activity, not by Sugar.
It seems that many people would prefer if non-Sugar users could be
integrated into the interface. For example, it has been suggested that
Sugar should provide a mechanism for enabling text chat with non-Sugar
Jabber users. Clearly, they cannot participate in arbitrary Sugar
activities, but perhaps they can send text or files, and stream audio or
video. I believe that the Telepathy developers have thought a great deal
about integrating with standard Jabber when possible.
Although interoperability with standard Jabber is nice, Jabber represents
a small number of users compared to AIM or MSN messenger, which are in
turn small compared to e-mail. Thus, it seems to me that to make
interoperation with non-sugar systems truly useful, we should be able to
create buddy objects that represent e-mail addresses, and then communicate
text and data with those buddies.
My question is: what reasonable technical designs are there, if any, for
implementing such pan-protocol buddy support?
It seems to me that supporting a wide variety of protocols in Sugar itself
would be a disaster. The obvious approach, to me, is to use an XMPP
gateway, which provides a virtual Jabber user representing a user on
another network. Such gateways are well-established for AIM, MSN, and
Yahoo messenger, as well as SIP and SMS, so Jabber integration could
potentially provide other protocols for free. However, I cannot determine
the state of Jabber proxies for SMTP e-mail. I cannot tell if there yet
exists a codebase for a server that would provide a Jabber identity
representing an SMTP e-mail address.
As a matter of details, there is a tricky problem with e-mail. It is
different from traditional IM protocols, because it is always on, even if
the user isn't "present". E-mail stores messages and waits for the user
to pick them up, and Telepathy's website says "it's less suited for
store-and-forward applications like email". Yet this offline-messaging
behavior is extremely useful in a school setting. It's even supported by
Jabber. I think Sugar needs a design, especially a technical design, for
integrating this capability. I don't know how to do it.
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