Getting Presence Right

Andy at VoIP Watch has a “must read” post on the role of, and lack of business models for, voice in portals. He goes into how Yahoo, AT&T, AOL and, yes, even Microsoft are struggling with how to derive a business model that works using voice and presence.

Enabling phone service with presence is one of the first steps towards creating higher levels of utility, and in turn higher volume levels of communications. What’s funny is the IM players know all about presence, but one has to wonder who is Present and Accounted for when the decisions on how to make money are being discussed by those portal players. Surely no cash is being rung up that matters.

Just this past weekend we heard about the demise of a blue ribbon funded VoIP service, Tello; Om’s initial report lead to a report of a second closing at GloPhone. But today it is not simply about having VoIP and IM technology; it’s about the socialization of the service. Who’s on “my” network? How many are on? What’s their availability for taking a phone call? How easy is it to start, expand and extend a conversation? How can I manage my publicly displayed availability? It’s all about getting presence right.

The IM 1.0 players, usually operating as portals, have still not learned how to deliver true presence We can never rely fully on the terms “Online, Away, Out To Lunch, Busy, Not Available, etc” as a true indicator of your real time availability. “Offline” often just means your not connected to the Internet. And, in my case, because of firewall, NAT and my own PC setup checking Outlook every 5 minutes, my Skype and Windows Live Messenger indications never go away from Online when I don’t hit the keyboard for 10 minutes. What true presence needs is a service that truly indicates availability in real time, whether online or offline. There is no value in a service that provides a high level of false positives information.

Over the past few weeks I have been a beta tester for iotum’s Talk Now, an initial “New Presence” service that is getting closer to providing true real time availability. This experience has provided more insight into what is needed for a value-added true presence service. But let’s get back to the basics:

  • True real time availability requires that your status be known whether your PC is online or offline.
  • Real time availability information must be implemented such that you can take back control of all your real time communications.
  • Effective Presence systems must inherently bring increased productivity
    • Availability information systems would lead to minimal use of “asynchronous” intermediaries such as voice mail.
    • Availability information must be integrated into a platform where short informal “synchronous” interactive conversations can be totally ad hoc and impulsive => instantaneous text chat.

New Presence talks about intelligent presence which understands your social relationships (family, friends, community, work colleagues, suppliers, customers, etc.), your calendar (upcoming meetings, travel schedule), your location (home, office, mobile), your communications history and your profile. New Presence continuously computes your availability in real time based on these criteria as well as the day and time of day. But this is simply the beginning. You need to have flexibility to adapt; you need an override capability; you need short, but efficient, conversations to exchange information that could quickly alter your availability. Talk Now combines computed availability with the override flexibility. But you also need an text messaging environment to facilitate those short conversations.

The Blackberry provides an ideal platform for this complete solution. The combination of Blackberry’s inherent always-on mobility, Talk Now and Blackberry Messenger (instant PIN to PIN messaging) has proven potential to become a powerful real time New Presence service. (Note that the link above only works in MSIE 6.0 or later or in an Firefox tab that uses the IETab Firefox extension.)

I have been using this combination while at CeBit 2007 to establish availability with both colleagues at the show as well as key contacts back home. With Talk Now’s. three levels of availability (available, interruptible and not available) I can avoid leaving voice mails (and the associated the cost of a fruitless call when my cell phone charges go through the roof while “roaming” in Europe). With its “Notify Me” feature I can notify key contacts of a desire to talk, along with a brief conversation subject. With Blackberry Messenger’s real time messaging I can interactively and instantaneously keep up to date on contacts’ changes in location or needs.

At the same time I have shown this combination to several of my contacts at the show; it’s a simple sell — they get it quickly and see its value. The marketing can become viral – an important factor in today’s service cluttered world.

If you and your team of work colleagues have a Blackberry 8700, 8800 and/or Pearl (8100) (or have Blackberry 4.1or later installed) I would recommend that you sign up now for the alpha program. If you do not have Blackberry Messenger on your carrier’s service, get it from the Blackberry site. iotum needs your feedback to refine the service and to work out finer details across a wide range of practical cases. It does require a wide range of work experiences to build up the context engine and call handling rules requirements.

In the end it is only by getting presence right with this level of service, intelligence and credibility that any presence service can provide value-add and become a revenue generator. It’s Voice 2.0 and New Presence in action.

(Note: such a service does not eliminate the need for presence services on the PC with, say, Skype. However, the two must work in complement with each other to provide a fully viable and credible service. More on that subject to follow but trialing the Talk Now service on Blackberry will provide some context for using a similar service on Skype — especially when it comes to keeping in touch via any future Skype mobile platform.)

(Note: Blackberry Messenger’s instant messaging service is unique to the Blackberry in that messages are sent directly to the other party(ies) over the wireless network and do not go out via the Internet with its inherent latencies.Also while the 15-month-old web page linked above to the Blackberry download mentions that Cingular does not support Blackberry Messenger, I have confirmed Cingular subscribers are using it successfully.)

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.
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