One Step Beyond the Buddylist

September 22, 2004

in Chat & IM, Skype Journal, VoIP

I sometimes get a little disenchanted as I see yet another article on “presence” as a killer app that starts with buddylists and little icons. (See below.) I don’t see much discussion on methods and means to enhance presence and make it even more useful. I’m not using the term “presence” broadly here. This is a brief note that says it is time to start thinking about how presence indicators and information can be integrated in the emerging messaging systems.

At the simplest level the opportunity exists to create new categories of presence. “SkypeMe” on Skype just an example (you can search Skypers for those with “SkypeMe” now active. Current presence status lists just aren’t very imaginative ( They also tend to be single state. Online, away, Not Available, DnD, etc.). The context of sharing presence is also limited to buddies. However there are many opportunities for sharing presence that will come available. For example sharing presence info with an information service. That might trigger news updates, and synch me with people who have similar interests in a story. Also sharing presence information with a vetting service or reputation service may filter and eliminate unwanted interruptions.

The explosion of interest in presence is also driven by communication companies trying to solve every call forwarding / call location issue ever dreamed up. This feels like a dead end. By contrast there is an opportunity to use IM and presence as a better routing tool. Routing information via IM whether RSS updates, travel advisories, calendar reminders all make sense to me. However, sometimes I’m not available for those services. Thus presence is broadened by extending it beyond the “buddylist” metaphor to enable different forms of access management.

Then there is another kind of presence. The ‘I was there’ kind of presence. News events, corporate meetings, gatherings, where presence information may be useful to others for follow-up. A variation would be a document that you wrote being read or reviewed by someone else. In an organization knowing the author is available may be important even if you are not on their buddy list. When we leave presence trails “Stuart was here” on websites or otherwise there can be great benefits. I can imagine problems too! Just an example like spray paint on a rock. In these cases the presence information should have some form of expiry / renewal capability. For example I may participate in an online forum, I forget about it, I may not want to continue broadcasting my presence there. However leaving presence information on another person’s blog with a comment may encourge more follow-ups and more interesting dialogues. However, that same info could expire and disappear after a few days, or be controlled in a different fashion.

Similarly, when I want something fixed, or information from a call center, why do I have to go through that long wait. Why can’t I just leave my presence information in a way that gets dealt with when convenient for me. Once its answered my presence data, disappears from the call center. This same methodology could work for call-back requests. Eg I put in a Skype text message a call back request. They may provide different presence information even if my global presence is set to not available.

The killer app is presence. IM users see evidence of it every day in their buddy lists as a little icon that shows someone is online. But down the road, experts say, presence will separate itself from IM and evolve into a network service tapped by applications and corporate communication services, including telephony

Presence applications poised for takeoff

When one just scratches the surface one begins to see that the traditional IM offerings (MSN, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ) have failed to leverage the opportunities that are hidden in presence . Enabling the connection of “Presence” data to new services, and tying it to call response and connection capabilities and services requires an approach that is more open than these IM offerings have created todate. Concurrently they are also hampered by their own structure and design. As they run centralized presence servers as part of their application broadcasting presence information costs them money. So far they’ve not seen fit to spin off their “presence operations into separate businesses as the article above implies. However, even then they won’t create a presence market. A presence market will exist when an API exists that enables a multiplicity of vendors to start selling different types of presence services. Skype with limited resources, no effective central server, seems perfectly positioned to midwife next generation presence.

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