Extended Presence

The notion of presence is gaining widespread acceptance in business as an important ingredient in accelerating interaction and action – either in crises or everyday processes.  Presence, in its most widely understood form, only has a handful of states: online; offline; busy; or inactive.  Though they may appear simple, there is an added twist.  Whilst I may be online (and presumably available) to one set of people, I may prefer to appear offline to others.  Presence, or my availability, is relative to others.  Unified communications adds a couple more states: on-hook (on the telephone) or off-hook. But these new states aren’t mutually exclusive with the previous four. The first set describes our status relative to (usually) a desktop PC.  The second indicates our relationship to (usually) a desktop phone.  One could be busy and on the phone.  Or you could be inactive and on the phone or off the phone etc.  And the desktop phone is just one option, since one or more of my mobile phones could be turned off, or on but off hook, or on hook .  A third set of states could describe our location.  And there are several ways of describing that.  It could be a point on a map, the distance and direction from a given point such as an office, or distance and direction relative to another user.  They could be derived from my mobile phone location or my IP address.  Like presence relative to my PC, I choose to whom I reveal my location and when.

One superset of states describes our relationship with the devices we use – our telephones, our desktop devices.  Another describes our spatial characteristics.  A refinement describes in greater detail our activities: our diaries/calendars;  with whom we are meeting; the subject matter; the workplaces or applications we are active in; and who can interrupt those activities.  And there is a set of rules that we exercise to determine what is revealed to whom and when.  An article in the Washington Post refers to an AOL study last year that said that one quarter of all people change their away messages daily. In the same article, it was reported that blocking (i.e. managing presence) provoked a high school fight. 

When examining its various dimensions, taking in all the important variables, such as privacy preferences, presence isn’t a simple subject. Depicting presence isn’t easy either.  Mike Gotta makes a case for a “Windows Presence Platform” that is protocol (and Office Communicator) independent, but federation only adds more paint and complexity to the canvas. It doesn’t make it any easier to understand.

Who is available and where are they?  Who’s asking?

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3 Comments

Filed under Location, Presence, Social Networking, Virtual Teams

3 responses to “Extended Presence

  1. This post is right on target as regards a variety of problems facing systems that attempt to accurately represent presence to users. Given a casual glance, presence does not appear to be a complex concept. Examined in real-world circumstances, however, the standard “online” vs “away” (OvA) model is surprisingly insufficient. In order to develop an effective means of providing robust representations of presence, it is important to develop definitions we can use to describe the various components.

    As you describe in your discussion of unified communications, presence systems often relate our presence relative to a device used to communicate (telephone, pc, etc.). We can infer then, that “Physical” presence, is the physical presence of a user at a known device. Physical presence often implies a locational linkage. For example, if a user is physically present at their PC and that PC is labeled as “work” or “home”, a valid assumption regarding the users location can be made. As you mention, technologies such as GPS may lead to more refined representations of physical presence, into what I call “Geographical” presence. There are many shortcomings to the current state of geopositioning technology in the office environment, but it is a proven concept for mobile computing.

    Unfortunately, presence systems have not been designed to assure accurate representations of physical presence. While it is great that, according to AOL, 1/4 of users change their away message daily, the vast majority of users never change their presence status. In fact, most presence applications default to the “online” condition after a user logs in. This has the detrimental effect of changing physical presence into “Device” presence, representing that the client application is ready to communicate, regardless of actual user status.

    Inappropriate handling of device presence can lead to mistrust of the system and “Are you there?” type messages regardless of the user’s representation.

    Another concept you discuss is the availability of the user. I would contend that availability is a representation of a user’s physical presence combined with their willingness to be interrupted. So if we look at the communication process, the user has to be present to communicate and also willing to communicate. Interruption management is a topic for an entirely separate post, but most users recognize the importance of interruptions to their daily work tasks. Any presence system needs to allow both the interruptor and the interrupted to make value judgements about the importance of interruptions to ensure essential communications are permitted while those of less importance are not initiated.

    Finally, you mention the Windows Presence Platform. Standardized protocols to provide presence are alredy in existence. One example is the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (commonly known as Jabber), which has been evaluated and approved by the IETF. XMPP, although originally designed to support non-proprietary instant messaging, has grown to be a leading presence technology.

    Many of the concepts here require their own greater discussions at some later time. This discussion, however, is a great place to bring these problems out of the darkness and into the light where they can begin to be solved. I look forward to participating further!

  2. Pingback: » Response to posting on Elastictime Blog

  3. Idetrorce

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

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