PICONS FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
27 Dec 1995
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1. What are picons?
2. Where can I get the picons databases and how are they licensed?
3. What is the structure of the picons databases?
4. What are the constraints on individual picons?
5. How are picons looked up in the databases?
6. What software and services are available that use picons?
7. What software is available to help create picons?
8. How can I submit picons to the databases?
9. Is there a mailing list about picons?
10. Who has contributed to picons?
1. WHAT ARE PICONS?
"picons" is short for "personal icons". They're small, constrained
images used to represent users and domains on the net, organized into
databases so that the appropriate image for a given e-mail address can
be found. Besides users and domains, there are picons databases for
Usenet newsgroups and weather forecasts. The picons are in either
monochrome XBM format or color XPM and GIF formats.
These databases have been compiled in hopes of helping make cyberspace
a more personable place. With them, software and services can be
developed to identify persons on the net by face (or, at least, by
institution logo) instead of by a cryptic e-mail address. Although
this software is still more potential than actual, much already exists
(see 6.). The picons databases themselves, of course, are only a first
step toward this goal.
The picons databases have been built from the submissions of hundreds
of contributors across the net, and, as such, their accuracy and
appropriateness has not been extensively verified. Contributions and
corrections are welcome and encouraged (see 8.).
The picons databases that currently are available are:
* domains, logos for Internet domains
* misc, picons for common accounts and miscellany
* news, icons for Usenet newsgroups
* unknown, default picons for very high-level Internet domains
* usenix, face images of Usenix conference attendees
* users, picons for individual accounts (often face images)
* weather, icons for displaying weather forecasts
The picons databases have previously been referred to as "faces"
collections or databases, because they were originally compiled for
use with the "faces" software. Since they're now used for more than
this and include more than actual face images, they're referred to as
the picons databases to make the distinction and to avoid overloading
the term "faces".
2. WHERE CAN I GET THE PICONS DATABASES AND HOW ARE THEY LICENSED?
The picons databases are available via WWW in the Picons Archive at
<URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/picons/ftp/index.html> or via FTP in
ftp.cs.indiana.edu:/pub/faces/picons/. This archive also includes
sources for picons application scripts and icon utilities and a set of
demo window dumps of some picons applications. A picons database
search facility is also available via WWW here.
The databases are also mirrored in the UUNET archives in
ftp.uu.net:/published/usenix/faces/bundled/picons/, where they're
available via FTP or UUCP. Or they can be retrieved via e-mail -- send
mail to mails...@cs.indiana.edu with "help" in the body to get
The databases are updated in these archives each day they change so
the most current version is always available. Since many of the
databases are constantly growing, you may want to update your local
copy of them periodically.
Most of the databases have a license that places some conditions on
their use and distribution. Generally, this is just to ensure that the
volunteer efforts put into the databases are recognized and protected.
Otherwise, they're essentially freely usable, but see the LICENSE
section of the README file in the top directory of each database for
3. WHAT IS THE STRUCTURE OF THE PICONS DATABASES?
Each database is structured as a directory tree. Each directory deeper
into a database more specifically references a picon. The databases
for users and domains are organized by reversed Internet domainname
components followed by the username. For example, my XPM picon is
located in the "users" database under my most general e-mail address,
kinz...@indiana.edu, in the file
The picon files themselves are always named face.xbm, face.xpm or
face.gif. If a face.xpm file exists, then an equivalent face.gif file
will also exist, and vice versa. If the picon applies to the domain as
a whole and no user in particular, the username "unknown" is used.
These picons are typically in the "domains" or "unknown" databases,
If the picon applies to a specific user in any domain (usually
standard system accounts), the domain "MISC" is used. These picons are
typically in the "misc" or "unknown" databases, for example
Note that, with the exception of the special MISC domain, all parts of
the path are in lower-case.
The "news" database is organized by Usenet newsgroup name components
with an "unknown" username. For example, the XPM picon for
rec.humor.oracle is in
Experimentation is being done with alternate bases for picons
databases. See the libfaces sources in the Faces Archive (see 6.).
4. WHAT ARE THE CONSTRAINTS ON INDIVIDUAL PICONS?
Each final directory in a database may contain one or both of a
face.xbm file and a face.xpm/face.gif file set. Picons in all formats
are constrained to be 48 by 48 pixels in size. (An exception is the
weather database which has picons 64 by 64 pixels). Furthermore, XPM
picons are in the version 3 format of XPM and must use only colors in
one of two limited subsets of common colors. This restriction
minimizes the competition for colormap space for many users and
usually allows applications displaying picons to do so with the
standard colormap. GIF picons are equivalent to their XPM counterparts
with the XPM "none" color converted to "grey75" (rgb:BF/BF/BF) and
marked as transparent.
The first color set is that used in the AIcons collection, version
1.6. See <URL:http://www.cit.gu.edu.au/~anthony/icons/docs/> for more
about the history and rationale of this color set. The colors in the
set are (by hexadecimal RGB triplets and X11 color names)
00 00 00 black EE 82 EE violet
2F 4F 4F dark slate grey FF 00 FF magenta
70 80 90 slate grey A0 20 F0 purple
BE BE BE grey 00 FF FF cyan
DC DC DC gainsboro A0 52 2D sienna
FF FF FF white CD 85 3F peru
00 00 80 navy FF A5 00 orange
00 00 FF blue FF D7 00 gold
1E 90 FF dodger blue FF FF 00 yellow
87 CE EB sky blue D2 B4 8C tan
E6 E6 FA lavender F5 DE B3 wheat
2E 8B 57 sea green FF FA CD lemon chiffon
32 CD 32 lime green B2 22 22 firebrick
00 FF 00 green FF 00 00 red
98 FB 98 pale green FF 63 47 tomato
The second color set is a greyscale set for use with photographic-type
icons when the first color set isn't satisfactory. Its colors by
hexadecimal RGB triplets and X11 color names are
00 00 00 black 87 87 87 grey53
12 12 12 grey7 99 99 99 grey60
21 21 21 grey13 AB AB AB grey67
33 33 33 grey20 BA BA BA grey73
45 45 45 grey27 CC CC CC grey80
54 54 54 grey33 DE DE DE grey87
66 66 66 grey40 ED ED ED grey93
78 78 78 grey47 FF FF FF white
The transparent or "none" color can be used with both color sets. In
fact, its use is encouraged as the background color.
5. HOW ARE PICONS LOOKED UP IN THE DATABASES?
With most applications, databases are searched sequentially according
to an order specified by a search path. The definition of this path
will vary from application to application depending on the nature of
the application and the databases available and desired.
The recommended order of the picons databases for a search path for
Internet e-mail addresses is:
1. your personal database, if any
2. your local site database, if any
5. misc (MISC default picons)
7. unknown ("smoking spy" catch-all default picons)
Any of these databases are optional, of course, and may be excluded
for efficiency or because of lack of usefulness. As special purpose
databases, the news and weather databases are usually used alone or
with just personal and local additions.
Each database is searched for a matching picon from most specific to
least specific. The search typically stops with the first match. Each
database is searched entirely before continuing with the next one. For
example, a lookup for the picon for kinz...@cs.indiana.edu would
proceed with this sequence of checks occuring within each database in
the search path. The picon used would be in the first of these
directories containing a suitable one:
6. WHAT SOFTWARE AND SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE THAT USE PICONS?
There's a number of programs available that use picons to monitor
incoming e-mail or represent an e-mail message. Applications are also
available to monitor print queues, unread news, system mail queues,
weather forecasts, given addresses and newsgroups, and so on.
All such software can be found in the Faces Archive available via WWW
at <URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/ftp/faces/index.html> or via FTP in
The Faces Archive is also mirrored in the UUNET archives in
ftp.uu.net:/published/usenix/faces/bundled/, where they're available
via FTP or UUCP. Or they can be retrieved via e-mail -- send mail to
mails...@cs.indiana.edu with "help" in the body to get started.
The Picons Search engine at
<URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/picons/search.html> searches the
picons databases for requested picon sets and displays the found
picons. As such, it can serve as an icon lookup service for Internet
users and domains and Usenet newsgroups.
The WWW-Finger Gateway with Faces at
<URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/finger/gateway> displays picon
sequences for the users and hosts it fingers.
The Indiana University Computer Science Personnel Directory at
<URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/people/index.html> uses picons of
users in indices of its personnel information pages.
The Bloomington Weather page at
<URL:http://www.cs.indiana.edu/weather/bmg.html> displays a table of
picons to summarize the current weather and forecast. Similar pages
may be set up at other sites for other city's weather.
7. WHAT SOFTWARE IS AVAILABLE TO HELP CREATE PICONS?
There's a cornucopia of software available on all computing platforms
for creating and manipulating images which can be useful towards
creating picons. Images can be created by hand or scanned in with a
scanner. Also, one can scrounge around existing image collections or
browse the World-Wide Web for images that can be converted and scaled
to a picon.
These are some software packages I commonly use for creating picons
under a Unix/X11 environment:
A library needed by most other software with XPM support.
A very broad suite of image filters and tools, particularly
useful for format conversions.
picons bits, ftp.cs.indiana.edu:/pub/faces/picons/
Special supplements to NetPBM for picons.
Great for viewing and managing picons databases and working on
sets of picons.
AIcons support environment, ftp.cs.indiana.edu:/pub/AIcons/
This greatly extends xbmbrowser and other software listed here
as picons support tools.
bitmap, X11 archives
A standard X11 tool for editting XBM bitmaps; the X11R5 and
later versions are recommended.
An X11 tool for editting XPM pixmaps.
A powerful image processing and conversion tool; shareware
versions 3 and later support XPM.
xpaint, X11 contrib archives
A simple paint program for X11.
Handy tools for grabbing an image from your display.
xfontsel, X11 archives
A standard X11 tool for displaying a text string in various
xmag, X11 archives
A standard X11 tool for magnifying a portion of your display.
8. HOW CAN I SUBMIT PICONS TO THE DATABASES?
Large sets of picons can be packaged and uploaded via FTP to
ftp.cs.indiana.edu:/pub/faces/picons/incoming/. For individual
picons or small sets of picons, it's preferable to submit them (or
their URLs) via e-mail.
To submit a new or revised picon to a database, mail its XBM or XPM
file to one of these addresses
as appropriate. Alternately, you may mail in, alone in the body of the
message, a URL referencing the image file.
In any case, the subject line should contain only the e-mail address
(in u...@dom.ain format) the users picon is for (eg,
"kinz...@indiana.edu"), the domain address or hierarchy the domains
picon is for (eg, "sei.cmu.edu" or "cmu.edu"), or the newsgroup or
newsgroup hierarchy the news picon is for (eg, "comp.unix.shell" or
"comp"). Please submit each picon in a separate mailing.
For picons contributed to the users database, the domain specified in
the subject should be the most general at which the given username is
uniquely applicable, even if such a domain isn't valid as a mailing
address. For example, if "kinzler" is the same user in every subdomain
of "indiana.edu", his picon would be submitted as
"kinz...@indiana.edu" even if that's not a valid mailing address.
The body of mailed files should contain only the picon, preferably
already within the standard picons constraints (see 4.) and preferably
as an XBM or XPM picon unpackaged in plain text. A GIF version of a
picon need not be mailed in if its corresponding XPM version is
submitted. But, if you do mail in a GIF, or other non-ASCII format
image, you'll need to package it somehow for mail transfer. You may
mail in images (or URLs for images) with other sizes, formats and
color sets, but they may not be able to be successfully processed and
added to the databases.
See 7. for pointers to software to aid in creating picons. Any extra
comments about the submitted picons can be mailed separately to
After being processed, submissions are deleted from the FTP picons
incoming directory. They will then appear in the distributed databases
within the next 24 hours.
9. IS THERE A MAILING LIST ABOUT PICONS?
A mailing list is available for announcements and discussion related
to the faces and xfaces software and the picons databases. See 6.
about accessing the Faces Archives for these, as well as archives of
the mailing list.
Mail sent to fa...@cs.indiana.edu is mailed to everyone on the mailing
list. Mail faces-requ...@cs.indiana.edu with your requests to
subscribe to or unsubsribe from the mailing list.
10. WHO HAS CONTRIBUTED TO PICONS?
Steve Kinzler <kinz...@cs.indiana.edu> is the creator and primary
developer of the picons databases, application scripts, and online
services. He began around 1990 after installing faces and finding its
potential limited by the lack of a substantial collection of domain
icons. He's created or adapted a good share of the picons and
reviewed, installed and sometimes tweaked all the rest.
Daniel Glazman <Daniel.Glaz...@der.edf.fr>, Iain Sinclair
<axol...@socs.uts.edu.au>, Dirk Craeynest
<Dirk.Craeyn...@cs.kuleuven.ac.be>, Dougal Scott <dwa...@aaii.oz.au>
and Yuval Kfir <yuval.k...@Indigo.co.il> have contributed a
substantial number of picons themselves and some of the picons have
been adapted from Jeff Poskanzer's <j...@netcom.com> bitmap collection.
Rich Burridge <Richard.Burri...@eng.sun.com> compiled early versions
of a combined users and misc database. Hundreds of others around the
net have contributed some number of picons to the databases. Under the
Usenix FaceSaver project, Dave Yost, Lou Katz, Barb Dijker
<barb.dij...@labyrinth.com> and David C Lawrence <t...@uunet.uu.net>
have compiled and made available thousands of face images of Usenix
conference attendees (available at
ftp.uu.net:/published/usenix/faces/) which form the basis for the
usenix picons database.
Rob Kooper <koo...@cc.gatech.edu> is developing an alternative to
filesystem-based picons databases and implementing the collection of
picons via the World-Wide Web.
These folks are acknowledged for developing applications which use
picons: Rich Burridge <Richard.Burri...@eng.sun.com> (faces), Chris
Liebman <lieb...@zod.clark.net> (xfaces), Daniel Glazman
<Daniel.Glaz...@der.edf.fr> (MEUF), Brent Welch
<Brent.We...@eng.sun.com> (exmh), Marc VanHeyningen
<mvanh...@cs.indiana.edu> (WWW-Finger Gateway with Faces), James
Ashton <James.Ash...@anu.edu.au> (compface), and Axel Belinfante
<Axel.Belinfa...@cs.utwente.nl> (ircfaces). faces, the software
which started it all, was itself inspired by seminal work by Rob Pike
<r...@research.att.com> and David L Presotto
<preso...@research.att.com> with their vismon program for AT&T
Version 8 Unix described in Face the Nation.
And these folks are acknowledged for developing software which has
been especially important in the creation of the picons databases:
Davor Matic (bitmap), Lionel Mallet (pixmap), Anthony Thyssens
<anth...@cit.gu.edu.au> and Ashley Roll <a...@cit.gu.edu.au> (AIcons
& xbmbrowser), and Jeff Poskanzer <j...@netcom.com> and the NetPBM
Plus others I'm sure I've neglected to mention.