I want a computer interface that is built around the idea of actual faces on every file and file folder.

It occurred to me the other day that everything I do has some sort of human associated with it. Some stuff might be for my editor, other stuff for my startup partners, and so on. Everything I do is ultimately for the benefit of at least one human, even if the human is me.

Humans are wired to spot faces quickly. If you open a folder with fifty faces, you can spot the one you are looking for in a second. With our current computer interfaces I have to read all of the file names, or sort by date of creation. It's doable, but not natural.

The most natural way to sort files in a folder is by "target person," as in who will be the audience or beneficiary of the file. The second filter would be by date last opened. So if I want to find the document my lawyer sent my last month, I pick his face from the crowd on my desktop, click on it, and view the documents in the order they were last accessed.

This sort of idea wasn't practical before Facebook, LinkedIN, and smartphones with cameras. In the past, you wouldn't have access to photos of people to create your filing system. Now you can find a picture of most folks with a Google search, or a Facebook or LinkedIN search. And your family and friends are probably on your smartphone already.

I don't know about you, but I often lose files on my computer because I can't remember the file name or the folder I put stuff in. If the application I used to create it has opened too many "recent" files, I have trouble finding my target file that way either. My hypothesis is that humans are so wired for social living that we would remember what "face" we filed something under more easily than we would remember a file name or folder.

In some cases you might need to use fictional faces. Let's say you pick Shrek as the face for your "miscellaneous" files. Even though the association of Shrek with random files makes no logical sense, I think you would still easily remember what face goes with which files, much the same way you can tell me what kind of car each of your friends drive. We easily remember what objects are associated with different personalities.

Taking it one step further, I imagine my desktop looking like a model of the solar system, except instead of planets you would see floating faces representing various files and folders. Let's say there are a dozen-or-so face-planets around a sun, and the sun represents you. You can rotate the face-planets around the sun by swiping your screen in any direction. As the face-planets rotate, the ones in the back come to the front and vice versa. You might arrange your personal face-planet solar system by time of day, so the work-related files are nearest you in their natural orbit during the day. At night, from home, on a different computer, you see the same face-planet solar system but by the time you get home, your personal files (face-planets) are nearest you.

The idea is that you would sit down, think of the file you need, immediately associate it with a face, and know instinctively where the planet would be in your interface. Swipe once and it starts spinning until you tap to stop it. Then tap the face-planet to open.

I got this idea from my dog, Snickers. She has herding genes and we can see that she keeps a mental model of who is in which rooms of our house at all times. There's a lot of coming and going with a busy family, but by her actions we can tell she knows where everyone is at all times. If two people leave by car, but one returns, she always looks for the second person. She is hardwired to think of her world in terms of the humans in it and where they are. I think you and I do the same thing.

I am always acutely aware of the location of my loved ones, although obviously I am sometimes wrong. They have a tendency to move without telling me. But I automatically keep a mental map, accurate or not, of the physical location of everyone I care about. I think that natural brain wiring can be used to keep track of files too. That's all I'm saying.

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+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 12, 2013
Perhaps if we used plastic surgery to make our faces look like files and folders?

.. umm .. i'm not sure how this helps, but i *am* sure it's a good idea!
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
May 12, 2013
Scott, I'm going to be honest... this idea sucks. Microsoft introduced a new Operating system and it sucks too. Besides, if you really want to put faces for the icons... you can already do that... and have been able to since Win3.1.

Also, the concept you are referring to is essentially the concept behind the Mac OS... and it too sucks ballz. The idea that everything is just a reference to the actual file, and therefore you can have multiple references that all look different all refer back to the same file is maddening logic. Work in customer services helping people with a Mac try to figure out how to get to the actual file and you'll see the problem real quick.

Lastly, the logic of a computer is perfect. Humans should learn how to adapt to the logic and therefore make everyone just a hair smarter than dumb down the system by letting idiots dictate the reality.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 10, 2013
Naming your lawyer folder "lawyer" and then typing "law" when you want to find it is going to be a lot faster than scanning a crowd for a particular face, even if it were as easy to do as you think (and it's not).
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
May 10, 2013
Would Snickers still care if it were a family of Robots?
May 10, 2013
I sit at my comp to get away from people. :-)
I wouldn't want their faces staring back at me from every icon.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 10, 2013
FYI: To put Icons on Folders in Mac

Get Info (Cmd-I) on a file of the picture
Select the Icon in the upper left
Copy it (Cmd-C)
Get Info on the target folder
Select the Icon in the upper left
Do a Paste (Cmd-V)

(There may be an easier way - anyone?)

May 10, 2013
Is this a joke?

If not, it has to make your top 5 stupid ideas list. Right up there with the basket for holding unused hangers in your closet :-)
May 10, 2013
Dan Hill has been doing some interesting work here and has two books - About Face (the secrets of emotionally effective advertising) and Emotionomics (Leveraging emotions for business success).

Facial recognition by machine is getting clever and is reaching the stage where as a person walks by a shop, a camera can recognise their face and send a targeted offer to their phone, or show up their order history to a shop worker (this is a good/difficult customer who spends lots/very little). This also links back to your crime post - with potential trouble makers identified on sight.

The hierarchical stuff could be done very simply today on a computer/tablet/phone. When someone emails/tweets you, it could have a picture of them and a sidebar of all previous documents sent to/by them, twitter conversations etc.

It could also link to a service like Google Now to remind you of appointments and link in everyone coming to the meeting - no more awkward moments of someone you don't recognise and you could browse their LinkedIn profile etc. in advance so you can really connect with them and know what skills and experiences they bring to the meeting. It could go even further, looking at the connections of these people and linking into people you already know who know them, or prompting you to ask for introductions to people they know and you would like to.

It could go even further, with speech recognition understanding what is being said and bringing up relevant data (they said this in a letter to you on X date and you responded).

We are being held back by old-fashioned paper based thinking on connections. We haven't really scratched the surface on what is possible yet.
May 10, 2013
I doubt Microsoft even considered how the brain works, when they designed the Office file system - they just wanted to replicate the paper filing systems we were used to (filing cabinets, filing trays and folders).

I've kludged the system using Gmail. I simply look up the person on Gmail and look through what I've sent them. My file is usually in there somewhere. It means I'm often dowloading files which are already on my system but at least I have them - and the version I sent, not the one I modified later.

Phantom's comment about radial filing of ideas rings true - and clicking on a picture of my car could bring up insurance docs etc. - though it isn't THAT different from going to my Car folder.

This radial filing is the basis of mind mapping - from a central idea, you put the big ideas, then each links to smaller ideas. Anyone who has tried it, however, will realise how difficult and complex it is at times to decide which are the truly important ideas - and this is subjective and will change according to the question asked.

I'm reminded also of the old "Memory Man" trick, they used to try to sell us where to remember something you have to associate it with something else. Linking numbers with battle dates was one, linking people with something outrageous (Peter the Pervert) was another.

While I think it is a great idea, and is probably well advanced at Google Labs, the problem is what happens when it doesn't work. If you can't remember the face, for example. At least with language, Google often came up with something close and you could work around according to the information you do know. But how do you describe someone's face if you can't find it?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
May 10, 2013
"I don't know about you, but I often lose files on my computer because I can't remember the file name or the folder I put stuff in."

Desktop search.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 10, 2013
Right click on the folder->Properties->Customize.
Then you can choose an image to show between the cover and bottom of the folder icon or you can replace the whole icon with something else.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
May 10, 2013
Ooooh, there's another StartUp right there!

I think it's a brilliant idea (faces as folders), especially the Solar system with face-planets revolving!

Get to it quickly and probably Google, Apple, Microsoft or FB will buy it for a billion dollars.

Maybe you can combine it with the Calendar Tree?
May 9, 2013
For home yes, I could see this working well. I associate people with an activity. For work, I doubt it, the players change too often, I associate work by department not individuals.
May 9, 2013
@Phantom, You hit the nail right on the head about AI.
May 9, 2013
I think you've hit on something that goes deeper than you realize.

A lot of you already know this, but it helps to say it again to make my point. When computer file systems were first set up, programmers thought that doing something familiar would make people more comfortable using computers. So they set up computer filing system to mimic a physical filing cabinet. You had the filing cabinet, and in the filing cabinet you had file folders, and then you had files.

So what you had was a linear system that was hierarchical. Start at a high level and go through multiple sub-levels. Seems logical, doesn't it?

There's only one problem with it: it doesn't match the way our brains work.

Not to bore everyone with computer history, but I will, but just a little. Way back around World War II, the concept of an electronic computer started to become a reality. There were two competing proposals as to how computers could be structured. One school, which included Alan Turing of Enigma Machine fame, thought that computers should be built to handle symbolic processing, and that algorithmic processing could be done as a subset of that. The other school, which won, thought that building symbolic processors would be too difficult and expensive to build. They thought computers were going to be so limited in their processing power and so expensive to build, why go to all that trouble?

That's why symbolic processing, which is what AI is based on, has moved so slowly. Rather than have computers that were built for it, we've had to simulate it on algorithmic computers.

So how does this relate to Scott's post, you ask? Here's how.

AI research determined how the mind actually stores information. Your mind doesn't store it in a linear hierarchy. Your mind stores it in a radial manner around a central core. So you have a central idea, such as "automobile," and then you have spokes coming off that with subsets of information, such as "wheels," "doors," "engine," and so on.

Then, for each subset, you have radials coming off those. "Engine" might have "V4" and "V8" as well as something called "components," which might have "pistons," "crankshaft," "valves," and so on, as radials around it.

Think of how you take notes in class. Hierarchically. A better, more useful way to take them would be radially. Or at least transfer them to a radial set after taking them. They'd be of more use to you that way. You'd be able to study the information more effectively and retain it better.

So what Scott really needs is a symbolic processing computer that would allow him to store things visually the same way his mind works. He could make it mimic his mind, and use its power to do his remembering for him, in effect, when coupled with an AI application and natural language interface. He could tell it, "Hey, I need that document that I wrote about that idea I had for a startup that does 'X'" and the system would bring it up for him.

Such computers do exist, sort of. They're algorithmic processors linked in a neural network. But there isn't any general operating system software that works in the manner I've described. So there's a startup idea for you.

Maybe, when Scott capitalizes on this idea, he'll drop me a few bucks for coming up with it. Hey, he tried it, so why not me?
May 9, 2013
Peter Watts mentioned something similar to this in his novel Blindsight - one of the characters is an augmented vampire, and the captain of a spaceship - and his entire interface for the rest of the ship is a series of human faces. Instead of a dial indicating velocity or acceleration, he would have a human face, and one aspect of it would show velocity, another acceleration - for example, the happier the face looks, the higher the acceleration, and the more curious it looks, the higher the velocity.

The idea being that, as you point out, we're wired to recognize human faces and the large amount of information that they can convey.
May 9, 2013
If you're using Windows you can give any folder any picture/icon you like. You're not doing that so I guess it's just too much trouble/you're too lazy to do it.
May 9, 2013
[I don't know about you, but I often lose files on my computer because I can't remember the file name or the folder I put stuff in.]

So why dont you name your folders along the lines you're talking about here? The system you describe would require at least as much work from the user as doing that.

Aside from that your system makes sense but I think perhaps you went a bit far with it. At about the point where you talked about your desktop looking like the solar system I said to myself '...lets get the first part done and save this for version 2.0'. A guy I know online, in spite of all the negative comments, says theres nothing wrong with Windows 8 and that the whole problem is with folks not educating themselves on it. My take on that is Microsoft gave folks too much to deal with at once, should have gave folks more incremental changes to deal with and they and their partners are paying the price. This design you're talking about reminds me of that.
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