The Status of Presence
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that presence needs to be richer and more accurate to be truly useful.
If you had to sum up the idea of unified communications in one image, I'd argue that image would be the presence indicator -- that red, yellow, or green "light" that shows up next to people's names on contact lists and other places, depending on whose UC system you use. With as halting and uncertain a rollout as UC has had in many enterprises, the one thing everyone seems to have -- and have an opinion about -- is presence.
So, when Brent Kelly posted a piece on No Jitter called, "The Death of Presence," the comment section lit up. You should check it out.
Basically there are 2 types of comments. First off, people expressing their personal opinions and discussing their own tendencies when it comes to using presence themselves:
- Yes, I lie and set my presence status to red or yellow so people will leave me alone. It's the only way I can get work done.
- I let my presence status reflect my own status, but don't always pay attention to other people's status, and don't necessarily expect them to pay attention to mine.
But many other commenters pick up on a point that Brent makes in his post, which is that presence may also be losing its purchase on users because it doesn't exist in the text-messaging medium that everyone uses most frequently: SMS. The argument is that people are so used to texting their friends and colleagues "blindly" over SMS, that they simply have trained themselves not to care whether the person wants to be contacted or not.
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that presence needs to be richer and more accurate to be truly useful. And another No Jitter post, by Tom Nolle, offers us a glimpse of what that might look like: "Suppose my status/presence is 'Tom is helping Bill shop for cameras.' This level of detail might be made available to friends of either Bill or me, and those who see the status and the goal of our contextual collaboration might then ask to contribute." That scenario actually seems like it'd be more useful in the business world than in the consumer scenario Tom presents -- I don't know if I want a bunch of people kibitzing with me and a friend as we shop for cameras, but if I'm part of a team that's working on a project that's barreling toward a major deadline -- let's say, putting on a conference -- in that case, knowing that a couple of colleagues are working on a particular document that represents a key element of that project, could be useful to me, and I can ping them to ask how close they are to being done, if they solved a particular issue or need help, etc.
The key is automating it: People obviously aren't going to type in some prose about whatever they're working on. The presence system has to be able to see that you're also working in the document and be able to tell that to the people who are authorized to know, and not tell it to the people outside your organization with whom you've federated your basic presence. That seems quite do-able.
Whether we'll actually see such richness in presence, or see demand for it, is an open question. The bottom line for now is that presence has aroused passion in quite a few folks in the industry. Who knew?