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?