Thanks for agreeing to try out Soylent.

In order to run the Soylent user test, you need Java JRE v. 1.4 or better. Preferably, you also have Java Web Start. If you do, just click here; if that fails, read on.

Run Soylent (webstart)

Get WebStart!

If your browser talks ActiveX--that is, if you are using IExplore--try clicking here.
If you are using a OS X box, Web Start comes pre-installed. Start the application here.
Otherwise, you'll need to download the Java JRE and WebStart from the slick Java page.

Java cares about your security. The "signed certificate" messages warn you that this application will write a small amount of information to your disk (a properties file that stores the name of your database) and will access the network in order to both read from the mail system and to write to the database. Java will advise you not to click "yes."

Click "yes" anyway.


What mail sources can I read from?

Soylent currently supports very few mail protocols: it can read your mail only from an IMAP store or a POP server. (Unfortunately, Soylent does not read Outlook Express or Outlook stores, and no longer reads Lotus Notes; if you know of a JavaMail reader for Outlook, I'd be very happy to integrate it. I've had to remove JavaMail support for MH and MBOX, as I found the MBOX painfully unreliable, and haven't tested the MH as much as I need to.)

Where is my email being stored? What are you doing with it?

In this version, all email will be stored on DRZAIUS, Paul Dourish's machine. I apologize for this lack of privacy; I'm currently working on fixing it. Until then, please realize that I am saving only the sender, the reciever, and the date of each message, and that I am not publicizing this heavily. I will shortly have a version that runs off a local database.

How long will this take?

The first few stages--downloading the JAR files, setting up the database and mail server--should take about three minutes. Then the system will need to churn, reading through your email store. It seems to run several hundred messages per minute; expect the whole process to run about half an hour. Last, there is a quick step of setting up "aliases", which should take about five minutes.

These processes need to be done only once. From then on, you can see your email visualizations directly by starting the tool.

Why does it say "I think it's stuck"? Is it stuck?

"I think it's stuck" is a button that the system offers for you to press. Pressing the button cancels the current operation and moves on. It's fairly hard for the code to detect when it's not working any more, but sometimes the mail server freezes up and just ... sits ... there for a while. If the system has already started working--that is, it claims that it's already read something--but then pauses for several minutes, you should probably press the button and move on.

Why does it beep?

While that screen is proceeding, you may occasionally hear a beep from your computer. This is known to happen for users with JDK 1.4.0--but not with JDK 1.4.2. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix. I apologize, and suggest that you turn off your speakers for the duration of the process.

Why is it slow?

When you press the "next" button, the system needs to check for a network connection. This can take a few moments.

What are the little grey empty boxes?

A few of the wizard transitions take a little while; they'll usually pop up a little box that will promptly proceed to not actually say anything or do anything, but will remind you that the system is working. (For the technically minuded: These are places where I'm running slow operations on the AWT thread. I'm currently working on removing them.)

What are the visualizations? What should I look at?

Try clicking on "Association Net" and dragging the various nodes around. Pare out unneeded nodes with the "min tie strength" slider and watch occsional connections fade away. Press the "colorize" button and see different components be colored individually. And skim over the illustrated guide (PDF) and the booklet (PDF) to get a sense for what's going on.

Please give it a shot; if it works--or doesn't work--for you, I'd very much like to know.

October 28, 2003