As the name would imply, Sugar’s Journal automatically keeps a log of a user’s activity. Since it’s an operating system-level component, it only only journals activity in a specific application, but it also creates an record of interactions between applications and other users as well.
Before you get paranoid, it’s important to know that this record is intended to serve the user as opposed to an administrator (or some other authority). While it can be used, for example, by a teacher to observe and assess activity of a class, its primary purpose is to provide the user with a chronological record of their activity.
I think this could be an incredibly useful feature outside of the classroom as well. Aside from the obvious timekeeping and accounting applications, having a time-line of what I’ve been working on, in what applications and with which other people would be very useful for documenting projects and remembering how to get back to things I’ve lost. It would also help me understand where I’m spending my time and where it might be most useful to improve my tools, skills or habits.
It would be incredibly interesting to be able to view “slices” of Journals from other peoples projects as well. Aside from being a great learning tool for others, the implementation of the Journal induces almost no drag on the user’s workflow, which I think would result in a lot more information being shared about projects.
I’ve seen similar software for other platforms but for the most part they are geared toward surveillance and do not prioritize their utility toward the user. Additionally, without operating system-level integration the ability for these tools to do the job is limited. It might be possible to implement something like Sugars Journal in an open-source operating system, but it would be hard to achieve the level of seamless integration that is possible when the Journal is a foundational component of the system design.
Regardless of how you feel about the OLPC project, it’s worth taking a close look at Sugar. It might seem like just another “children’s interface” for a computer but there’s a lot of subtle gold in there, and I think there’s a lot that could be applied to personal computers in general.