Coverflow for People

Address Book Coverflow v1

Ever since Apple bought Coverflow, I thought that it would make an awesome interface for browsing people. In fact, I had previously designed “people in the browser” for Flock to look something like this in the early days:

Friends Feed Reading

Of course, at the time, the design required a few things that we still lack, namely: 1) bigger default personal photos or avatars, 2) ubiquitous universal identifiers for people (this was before OpenID) 3) and free access to public data about people, typically found at the end of those identifiers.

Anyway, CoverFlow for people is something that I think could be a very powerful way of revealing “the ghosts in the machine” — across Leopard — or in interfaces generally. Imagine this kind of view showing up in, Adium, iChat… where your friends, family and the rest get to update their own user pictures on a whim, and set their status and contact preferences in a way that visually makes sense. The new integrated Gtalk features in Gmail seem to be prioritizing your “Top 250”, so this is also something that could be added to the People Coverflow API without much trouble in order for the interface to scale accordingly. Anyone able to hack up a demo of this idea?

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

19 thoughts on “Coverflow for People”

  1. Great idea, Chris. Coverflow would also be an excellent way to browse photos and albums in iPhoto and on the iPhone. Kind of surprised it hasn’t happened already!

  2. This is a fantastic idea. It’s one of those rare times when I wonder why something isn’t already a part of OSX. I’d love to have the feature on my iPhone even more than OSX — it seems tailor-made for it. I could Cover-Flow through my address book and use face recognition instead of names — would work perfectly for people you meet at conferences.

  3. Intuitive and useful. I bet someone can do this! Would look great on the iPhone for calling people.

  4. Chris, I think this is a good idea, but I would amend it slightly. I don’t think it is a good thing for people to be able to change their picture in my Coverflow for People. Why? Two reasons:

    1) It could hurt usability. The purpose of pictures is to aid me in accessing my data. If someone changes their picture on me and I go looking for them, I’m looking for that old picture. Now, I might remember they were between Bob and Susie, and recognize that they changed the picture, but it’s needless hassle. I should be in control.

    2) Imagine if I’m in your Coverflow for People and I change my picture to something hilarious but wildly inappropriate or offensive to you. That could cause some real problems.

    Both of these issues, I think, inform the inclusion of the “Always use this picture” option in iChat. Because I want to be able to recognize you when I need to and because I don’t care if you <4 the new Backstreet Boys album. I don’t want to see your love professed in your buddy icon.

    But, overall I think this is a fantastic idea. Perhaps the system could alert you to changes and ask if you would like to keep them? That might be a nice middle ground.

  5. @Jamie: I agree in principal, but I think something more balanced like Gmail’s “Use default or upload a photo for this person” approach would be better. I completely hear what you’re saying about having an identifiable icon for someone that doesn’t change; OTOH, humans are actually really good at recognizing the same person in different photographs (much better than computers at least). You can imagine people taking photos of themselves with Photobooth, uploading them and having them fill your address book automatically (especially where you might not have any photos). It seems like it would add a nice human/social element to your desktop experience.

    All the same, I do agree that, like iChat, you could have the ability to override or turn off externally-provided photos. I just think it’d be pretty awesome if this idea were possible as it would really bring your address book to life.

  6. Good call, Chris. My last word on the thing is that people suck at playing nice. In looking just at my iChat buddy list, I see the Leopard X icon, a Powerpuff Girl, a flower, and a couple of default icons just from the six people that are online. I don’t trust most people to give me a picture is actually a picture of them and not asinine. But having an option to override should mollify my misgivings. Alliteration FTW~!

  7. Great idea, would bring the iphone and the address book to life!

  8. I tried to hack together something using the CovertFlow example with the leopard developer tools, shame I don’t know enough about Cocoa.

    In theory it would be pretty easy to do, the CovertFlow sample does all of the fancy cover flow drawing, you’d just need to pull out the right directory and grab their details from the address book, maybe it could work as an address book plugin. e.g. another view in next to the two address book icons.

    show groups & members, show selected card, show people flow.

    I don’t think the icon thing would be a problem, if you imagine one side of the icon could be your icon for them, and the other side could be their icon for them. It could flip around when you switch between them.

  9. Right – coverflow is a user interface for navigating any list, not just album covers.

    So it should be brought to the web. How about a CSS display:coverflow style for HTML select elements?

    You can already add background images to HTML option elements – see It’s just a question of displaying them right 🙂

  10. looking at your mock also reminds me of an idea i had: fame / “credits” for web developers. everyone who designed/developed a site could attach photodata (with link to their portfolio or personal url) to the site credits, which could be toggled on or off in browser like the image above, except instead of your contacts, it would be “chris, java programmer; ruth, css; jeremy, front end dev” etc.


    decentralized, disseminated, interest based social networking that happens right in the browser.

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