Presence Awareness

December 8, 2003

in Social Software

PJ Connolly writes that collaboration changes focus in a recent InfoWorld article. The comments back up my assertions in my previous post. I believe the analysis is too light on the implications for voice and cam interactions. Similarly it fails to really define different types of presence awareness. While I searched Google Google I didn’t come up with any obvious quick definitions.

Presence awareness is more than just knowing whether or not another buddy is available to chat. Presence must work with pages, with location, with time, etc. The other aspect of ‘presence’ that is possibly missing here is the amount of data that is being transferred. The large companies may just want to restrict consumers to exchanging rich profiles and connecting us at the level of a telephone number. If that’s the reality, then this future will fail. Systems that increase the flow rather than restrict it will win. Consumers and clients will migrate to the presence tools that most effectively support markets for information exchange and verification. Consumers will employ services to manage their presence and access. In some case that may just be the agent earning a commission on an information exchange.

All of the Big Three ICE vendors IBM/Lotus, Microsoft, and Novell took advantage of new releases of their flagship collaboration products in the last year to push their interpretation of presence awareness, which involves determining whether a user is immediately reachable or is in a less-available status. Based on IM technology, presence awareness is built into or is about to show up in all sorts of applications, from e-mail and portal products, to CRM and HR applications. Although the potential for misuse of presence features will someday collide with traditional notions of privacy, it’s clear that the convenience of presence awareness outweighs the dangers.

Although it may be too much to ask that the competitors make their IM products transparent to one another, these products do hold some promise for a presence awareness détente. IBM and Microsoft have embraced signaling-based IM industry standards such as SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leverage Extensions), and Novell is working on building the XML-based XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) into its IM technology.

Regardless of which protocols win out, it’s likely that in a few years vendors will include gateway features in their IM products that will permit the dispatch of IMs and presence indicators from one vendor’s collaboration platform to another’s as easily as one sends e-mail between systems from different vendors. The only way this will happen, however, is if customers complain loudly enough.

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