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The Great Presence Jellybean Challenge

We've all done this. You are sitting in front of your PC working on a project and realize that you need some important information from a coworker. Let's call that coworker Deborah Olson. You click over to Microsoft Lync, find Deborah in your contacts list, and see that her presence jellybean shows her to be available.

What do you do next? Do you pick up the phone and call Deborah? No, you send her an instant message that looks similar to the following:

"Hi, Deborah. Are you busy? May I call you?"

So, what exactly did Deborah's presence jellybean tell you? Clearly, not enough. Even though it indicated that she was available, her presence icon isn't the green light (pardon the pun) that it should be. It didn't say, "I am here and waiting to take your call." Alas, availability is nearly always second guessed as "I need to ask just to make sure available really means available."

The sad thing is that this isn't limited to presence statuses set to available. I have seen the exact same scenario play out when my presence status is set to away or busy. It can even show that I am out of the office on vacation and people will still IM me asking for help with something. In fact, the only time presence is strictly honored is when it reads unavailable and off-line. You can't IM me if my IM client isn't up and running.

I recently heard Greg Weber (director in the office of the CTO at Avaya) call presence "stupid." While I am not quite ready to go that far, I will say that it is sadly misunderstood and all too often, improperly used.

Before Presence
Who remembers busy lamps on telephones? In the old days, I would have configured a busy lamp on my telephone for Deborah. It would light up when she was on the phone and go dim when she was off the phone. However, unlike presence, that was all I knew about Deborah. I didn't know when she walked away from her desk, was on her cell phone, was out of the office, or performing any number of non-telephone related activities. A busy lamp told me if she was talking on her desk telephone and nothing else.

Now, I don't want you to think that I am ready to jettison modern day presence and return to busy lamp fields. That's not true in any way, shape, or form. Still, it has become clear to me that presence isn't enough. It's not enough that presence can be set manually (e.g. me clicking on busy) or automatically (e.g. Microsoft Exchange setting me to busy based on a calendar event). I will continue to receive those "Are you there?" IMs in all cases and for all status messages.

The Presence Jellybean Challenge
Normally, before I sit down and write an article for No Jitter, I map out exactly what I want to say. I know how I want to begin, how I plan on driving to my conclusions, and what points I want to make along the way. That doesn't mean that I don't allow myself to explore a tangent or expand the scope of my thesis. It does mean that I make every attempt to be clear in what I want to say and sure of the validity of my arguments.

That is not the case with this article. I knew how I wanted to frame my thoughts, but I have no 12-step program to solve what I see as the presence problem. I am not even sure if there is an answer.

However, I do have a challenge that I want to put to the readers of No Jitter. I want to know what you would do to make presence more relevant and less "stupid."

For instance, should we incorporate video into presence? Do you want an on-demand video stream of your coworkers to see exactly what "available" really means? Wow, wouldn't that be scary?

Perhaps presence should inform you of what applications your contacts are currently using? Should "available and looking at Facebook" or "busy and watching cat videos on YouTube" be part of the next generation of status messages? I bet that would drastically lower your network bandwidth usage.

Do you want different status messages for different people? For example, your manager sees you as available while people from sales see you as busy...or vice versa?

Help me out. Let's work together to come up with Presence Phase II and solve the "Are you there and may I call you?" problem once and for all. Presence is a good thing, but it needs to smarten itself up. Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

Hear more from Andrew at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2015, March 16-19, at the session, Interoperability: Has Anything Actually Worked? Register with code NJSPEAKER to get $300 off Entire Event or Tue – Thu pass.

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