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"New Presence" and the Voice 2.0 Manifesto

Presence will drive a fundamental change in the way that communications networks are used today. Today, callers have no way of knowing whether the party being called is available, or busy, or would consider the call an intrusion.

The Voice 2.0 Manifesto, October 2005

Today, we live in two extremes.  It’s not uncommon for some of us to be talking on the phone, while being pinged on Skype, with multiple IM sessions running.  In the middle of it all, the mobile phone will start ringing.  Or, the converse is true and we shut down all communications for some peace and quiet.

Life isn’t black and white.  It’s shades of grey.  We need solutions for managing those shades, rather than the black and white solutions we have in today’s first generation presence systems.  The solution is an evolution of today’s crude presence technologies into an architecture which I’ve described as New Presence

Today’s Presence is an Unfulfilled Promise

The Voice 2.0 Manifesto is “all about me” — my applications, my identity, my availability. Users are in control.  Developers bring new value directly to users with innovative applications that exploit the platform assets of identity, presence, and call control.  It’s not about the network anymore.  It’s about connecting people, and enabling conversations to occur.

Short, Williams and Christie’s 1976 work “The Social Psychology of Communications” argues that the social impact of a communication medium depends on the social presence it allows communicators to have.

When the Voice 2.0 Manifesto was written, it identified presence as  the enabler of conversation, allowing parties to easily determine each others willingness to engage, and by which technology. Presence, today, remains an unfulfilled promise despite the numbers of writers touting it as the future of communications for the better part of three decades now

Cultural and technical barriers are the root of the problem.  Intrusive, inflexible, and widely derided by the very people they’re intended to help, first generation presence systems are frequently turned off by users.  Managers view the systems with suspicion, rightly asking whether the intrusion of presence is a productivity drain, rather than a productivity boost.  Users react negatively to the idea that their coworkers, partners, suppliers and customers can not only see where they are, but what they’re doing. 

The solution is user driven presence — the New Presence model. 

Presence geeks will notice the absence of discussion around standards like XMPP, SIP/SIMPLE, and IMS in this piece.  My assumption is that we’re going to get to a standard, and rather than debate the niki-norks of a particular protocol, this piece is about a vision for what presence might be when those details are completed.

The New Presence Model

New Presence is a user-centric view of presence.  Instead of merely reflecting the crude, device specific “availability awareness” of today, New Presence systems understand our context, relationships, wants and desires.  The New Presence model reflects the integrated conversation web we live in today.

The New Presence model has three building blocks: relationships, context, profile.  Each of these is a core component in a model which is fundamentally richer, and more user-driven than any presence model previously.

We all have many relationships in our lives.  Friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, business partners, affinity groups, political affiliations… these are but a few of the different relationships we have.  New Presence spans all of the different relationship repositories we have — personal address books, buddy lists, corporate directories, social networks, CRM and ERP systems, affinity groups, and more — to construct a complete taxonomy of all the relationships we have, not just relationships specific to a particular walled garden.  New Presence understands all the roles we play in our lives; worker, friend, parent, sibling, volunteer, and many others.

Most presence systems to-date have focused on a single piece of context information — “availability awareness”, or free/busy on a single device.  The context model of New Presence is a vastly richer model, extending today’s free/busy model to include time, time of day, location, social networking information, scheduled events (now and in the future), and many many more sources of contextual information.  As we live our lives, we leave electronic trails of information everywhere, all of which can be used to deduce context. At every moment, New Presence knows the fundamentals of what we do, where, with whom, and the relationship we have with those individuals, and how we might want to interact with others. 

And lastly a system of profile management is an integral part of the New Presence model.  Profiles include identity and role management systems, the ability to specify behavior and rules for different contexts and relationships, and the ability to subscribe to different presence based services and applications which may be offered by various service providers.  With these tools, users will selectively reveal their availability to others based on relationship and context, rather than today’s blanket free/busy model. The completeness of the New Presence profile model will naturally lead to it becoming the default way by which we assert identity in the future, and every presentity will have the ability to securely assert the identity of its owner.

It’s Inevitable.  The “Walled Garden” Will Crumble

Today’s first generation implementations of presence are crude.  Device and domain specific, they are capable of identifying whether a given user is physically present at a particular device, but not much else.  Moreover, the current “walled garden” strategy being pursued by carriers and the large Internet portal players makes it exceedingly difficult to share information across multiple presence clouds and ignores the fact that we humans actually live heterogeneous lives.  Why can’t AOL users talk to MSN users?  Why is that users can access Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, and Blackberry Messenger on the latest Blackberry devices, but only from three separate applications?  Why not run one?  Why not have a single identity that can span all networks? 

Users live lives outside the artificially constructed walled gardens of the network operators, and so must their presence.  Therefore, New Presence assumes a user-centric model of presence rathe
r than a network-centric model. New Presence by its nature must be an off-carrier platform as it is dependent on the ability of users to assert identity, catalog relationships, and gather contextual information across multiple networks. 

Whether federated, or centralized, New Presence platforms will span multiple networks and carriers.  Because of the inherent value of these systems, users will bring them into the networks on open platforms, rendering the walled gardens porous, and eventually valueless.

Applications: the Value Creators

The Voice 2.0 model is application focused.  Applications will be where the value is created.  New Presence enables many kinds of applications, such as:

  • Call Management Applications.  Informed by New Presence, call management systems will be more intelligent and capable than ever before.  Whether filtering incoming calls, or brokering future conversations between subscribers, New Presence will add the element of relationship and willingness to all calling scenarios. 
  • Opt-in Advertising Systems.  Google pioneered the use of context-driven advertising on the web.  New Presence systems are “communications search engines”. Inherently understanding context, relationship, and profile information, they could be used to drive advertising based revenue models. 
  • Enterprise Applications.  Sales force automation, CRM, accounting, email, payroll, customer service  and many other applications will be dramatically enhanced by the deep understanding of relationships and presence offered by New Presence.  In the New Presence world,
  • Mashup Driven Web Applications.  Software vendors have the goal of embedding presence everywhere.  Wouldn’t it be nice, they ask, to know who the last five readers of a web site were?  Without New Presence, and its consequent policy and privacy guarantees, this vision will never come to pass.  New Presence gives users control over how their presence information is consumed, and by whom.  Using the XML lingua franca of the web, New Presence systems will supply that information to real estate listing services (so that browsers can find the nearest available agent, for instance), customer service systems, social networking sites, gaming systems, matchmaker services and more.  This hybrid model will permit people to freely share as much or as little information about themselves as they wish, secure in the knowledge that it cannot be abused. 

Looking Forward

Like Voice 2.0, New Presence presents a user-driven view of the world.  In the New Presence world, it’s all about me, my identity, my relationships, and my willingness to engage in conversation. 

Perhaps the two biggest barriers to New Presence today are:

  1. the simple confusion around protocol standards.  Ironically, this ought to be the simplest piece to solve.  Standards are simply codified ways to describe information.  The tussle between SIP / SIMPLE, and XMPP must be resolved before New Presence can effectively move forward.  Much of the rest of the technology required already exists. 
  2. the will of the carriers and portal players, who still cling to the wilful delusion that they can capture every aspect of the users communication world.  In reality, the vast majority of us lead heterogeneous lives, and no service provider will ever change that.

Once the simple technical barriers are overcome, the intersection of the web and wireless networks will make it possible to bring New Presence capabilities to everyone, and the harried executive with phones and IM applications ringing all around will become a thing of the past.

The future of conversation belongs to open presence systems, and to New Presence systems, specifically.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to

  • Martin Geddes, for his spider-web diagrams and work describing the potential value to be created outside of the conversation whgich inspired many of these ideas. 
  • Jean-Louis Seguineau, for his intellectual and academically stimulating blog about presence on the web today.
  • Jeff Pulver, without whom the VoIP revolution would be a lot less interesting and successful than it has been.
  • Yossi Vardi, who had the vision to fund ICQ in the 1990’s and in doing so, created today’s world of instant messaging and presence.
  • Andy Abramson and Howard Thaw, who encouraged me to put these thoughts down and publish them for the world to see.

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Lal December 19, 2006, 9:04 pm

    Alec,

    Right On. Agree that Presence today is 2 binary. It HAS 2 incorporate other contexts and filters 2 make it more useful. We've xed the 1st hurdle and presence (mainly in the IM world) is now a given and excepted.

    There are few appls that are going further with it (iotum starting 2 do a 'little'); but requires a lot more "daring" startups 2 push the boat out a bit.

    There are some technical issues regd stds etc. but agree that these will be overcome and normally some aggregator or intermediatory option that covers most of the systems.

    I believe the boundarys will constantly get pushed over the next year or so but until we can interop with the large utilities/telcos we're just more knocking on the doors (that they continue 2 igonore but 4 how long?)

  • Alec December 20, 2006, 3:04 am

    Agree with you Lal. I think it will take daring startup or two.

  • Peter Brockmann December 21, 2006, 5:36 am

    Alec did it again.

    Nice job on this. Certainly food for thought. Presence as we know it, is largely unfulfilled partly because it's ubiquity is largely incomplete (my phone is available for ringing, but my AIM id doesn't know that) as you've pointed out. Even more so, I'm not convinced that it will get any more sophisticated than it already is.

    That's because, in over 100 years of operation, the phone still rings when somebody (sometimes a machine) calls me. IM still goes bloop when somebody IM's me. I get to decide whether to respond or not. If the industry was working on something to help Howard know that I'd welcome a call from Howard in the next hour – that's useful to me and my business.

    IM id's are largely personal and not often shared on business cards. Even if they are, it still feels uncomfortable IM'ing with somebody that you've only just met. This is just like when cellphones first came out and people started putting them on the business cards. It felt uncomfortable to call the person on the mobile because it was so expensive (for them), audio quality was so poor and it wasn't an emergency.

  • Alec December 21, 2006, 10:55 am

    That’s the big challenge Peter — what’s enough? What’s the killer app for presence? Simply watching presence isn’t enough. There’s got to be some new capability that presence enables before it takes off.

  • Matt Lambert December 22, 2006, 12:06 pm

    Although I would thank you for a valuable piece of work, I can't help but agree with Craig's comments, in that I can't imagine this world of new or rich presence being the answer to my information overload.

    On many days I am too busy communicating to plan my communications properly, which is what I feel may be the implication when considering relationships, context and profile – all of which change both from moment to moment and certainly over time.

    I have many customers, and their 'relevance to me' changes according to too many factors to mention.

    On whatever level you like, the most important decision making tool will be the user. What us users need is more information about the communication before it occurs, and unfeasible amount of information at our fingertips when it does, and possibly, my wife may be right and I do need to plan more effectively. If I (and my comms tools) was that efficient, perhaps I could speak to everyone that wanted to speak to me – wouldn't that be good!

  • Craig Roth December 22, 2006, 11:25 am

    Thank you for an extremely valuable piece. You’ve put forth a compelling vision statement for moving presence beyond where it is today (available/away) and toward its capability (making our lives more manageable). I have personally used the term “rich presence” instead of “new” since “new” simply implies different (not the old one) whereas “rich” implies more functionality.

    Your statement about shades of gray is right on the mark. The industry needs to create something that is technologically feasible in a federated way and palatable to users that don’t want to learn or manage a presence engine.

    Presence is not just the enabler of conversation (per your Voice 2.0 manifesto), but the enabler of higher quality conversations that are most relevant and important to me. In essence, presence is one of the key enablers of attention management.

    I’m wondering where the brains are in the New Presence model. Where does all the information in your “Integrated conversation web” diagram get crunched for a particular message coming in? In my conceptual model of an attention management system (you can get the slides from my Burton Group teleconference on attention management earlier in December or the model from my blog posting today at knowledgeforward.wordpress.com) I define an “attention response engine” with Rich Presence, Rules & Scoring, and Channel Switching & Routing components. Deciding where presence stops and the decision making kicks in has been a matter of debate between myself and Mike Gotta. From your description, it seems that rules and behavior for contexts is being handled within the presence engine and maybe even the profile management part specifically. I strongly agree with the importance of role in presence as it acts as a shortcut to decision making.

    While it’s interesting to think about the kind of applications that New Presence would enable, the focus must be kept on the value to the end users, not the vendors. If the end users don’t get enough out of it, the vendors will be left high and dry. The issue for end users is: does this quiet my life, pushing back noise and pulling the messages most important to me in my current state forward? The manifesto states “it’s all about me” and that’s true. Accordingly, there has to be more said about the value to all the “me”s out there and less about the value to vendors (the Applications section).

    One last comment – there are a lot more standards needed than simply resolving SIP/SIMPLE and XMPP. Standards on how roles and relationships are defined, interests, rules and scoring, preferences must all be defined. XMPP is extensible, but that doesn’t mean it defines these extensions.

  • Alec December 22, 2006, 1:48 pm

    Craig and Matt, I am a strong believer in both of your assertions that value has to be focused on the end user, and not on the vendor. My belief is that these end user focused uses will not be driven by network operators, or equipment vendors, but rather by the users themselves. Moreover, the simplistic presence applications of today will not be enough, as you contend, Matt.

    Stay tuned. There's more yet to come on this topic :)

  • Kevin December 22, 2006, 7:51 pm

    This is a great post with insightful comments.

    Seems to me that the thing that’s missing from the conversation is the discussion about our wetware limitations. These tools need to be aware of our real world social networks. In this hyper-access world not everyone can be allowed to ping us, and that intelligence needs to be built-in. It’s not enough for us to make these decisions on the fly, because having to make those decision is an interruption in itself. “Who is pinging me, ah, I’m not acknowledging…” They should never be allowed to get that close to force a decision.

    High mental bandwidth communications need to be reserved for a select few, and I want my communications systems deciding that for me.

  • Rene Ylanan December 26, 2006, 11:36 pm

    First, I think your work is stellar – please keep it up!

    Second, I wanted to respond to this post of yours to let you know about a certain Lee Dryburgh who runs http://www.connectioncommons.org which deals heavily with digital identity solutions. To quote from Mr. Dryburgh's site, they are in to…

    Emerging digital identity technologies including:
    OpenID (which now includes SXIP, LID, and Yadis, plus support for XRI & i-names)
    XRI and XDI (includes i-names and i-numbers)
    SAML
    Liberty Alliance
    CardSpace and WS-*
    Higgins (it is an API, not a protocol like the other five)

    The two of you may have more than a few things to chat about!

    Rene Ylanan

  • Rene Ylanan December 26, 2006, 11:42 pm

    First, I think your work is outstanding – PLEASE keep it up!

    Next, I wanted to respond to this post to let you know about the work of Lee Dryburgh over at http://www.connectioncommons.org, dealing heavily with digital identity solutions. To quote from Mr. Dryburgh's site, connectioncommons looks into…

    Emerging digital identity technologies including:
    OpenID (which now includes SXIP, LID, and Yadis, plus support for XRI & i-names)
    XRI and XDI (includes i-names and i-numbers)
    SAML
    Liberty Alliance
    CardSpace and WS-*
    Higgins (it is an API, not a protocol like the other five)

    The two of you may have more than a few things to chat about!

    More power!

    Rene Ylanan

  • anonymous February 25, 2007, 6:58 pm

    Alec

    Wonderful article. Very thought provoking and well written.

    One application area that is missing in this discussion is – outbound notifications

    Context information is key to know when a business can send a outbound notification – be it voice, email or SMS. E.g. If i get information on a sale on Sunday night at 6pm – I would not care – since all stores are closed.

    However, If i got the SMS or an outbound message on my cell phone at 6:30pm on Wednesday for a 2 hour special – I would be inclined to take an exit to the mall and show up at the sale event on my way home.

    There are many more examples.

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