Genii Weblog

Question about SameTime and "intelligent" presence awareness

Fri 6 Oct 2006, 09:56 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
I was reading the responses to a post titled "IM, what is it good for? on Om Malik's blog about shutting down instant messaging to get work done, and asking people how they manage presence without inviting interruption.  One comment by Imran Ali struck me:
There’s some work to be done by IM operators here too- upgrades tend to give us more smileys and other facile features when many of us actually need more sophisticated presence tools.

How about, mechanisms that expose presence to different people in different ways? For example, between 8am and 6pm, I want to be ‘invisible’ to my friends and family; at weekends, I wanna be invisible to coworkers etc.

Our buddy lists are sparawling social networks and yet the tools offered to manage them are crude and autistic. I beleve it’s an area ripe for innovation :)
I personally don't use instant messaging much, but it is clear that IBM has spent a lot of time dealing with instant messaging as it relates to business.  So, the question is, how does SameTime facilitate this sort of "intelligent" presence awareness?  What other features does it have that help make instant messaging more compatible with a workplace use?

Copyright 2006 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:

500.1. Roberto Boccadoro
(10/06/2006 08:09 AM)

I believe that the point of Imran is completely wrong. IM is a tool, just like e-mail or phone. Would you ask AT&T (or whichever company you use) to set up such a mechanism for your mobile ? Unreachable by family and friends from 8 to 6 ?

It all depends on the use you do of IM, and education is paramount. Here in IBM we have several years of experience and people has learned the rules (well, almost all the people :-) ). I always start a chat asking "Ben, do you have a minute ?" for example. The answer may be no, and that is OK for me.

You can simply not start IM or go in Do Not Disturb mode, this is equivalent to shutting off your mobile. There are ways not to be interrupted, but it depends on the user, I would not want (and would not ask to) the software to manage it.


500.2. Ben Poole
(10/06/2006 08:13 AM)

I use IM quite a lot, mainly in the workplace. I've heard this argument for more sophisticated presence tools before, and I think it's barking up the wrong tree. My ST client at work has a few settings thus:

Do not disturb

I am away

I am available

I am in a meeting

... and that's plenty. Myriad preferences for setting "availability schedules" depending on the "target audience" are just nuts -- I don't know anyone who would actually set up and use such things. WAY too much work; keep it simple!

And let's face it, if a person really finds the odd flashing IM window COMPELS them to respond there and then no matter what, then they need to get a grip and turn the thing off!

500.3. Ben Langhinrichs
(10/06/2006 08:30 AM)

So, I guess the answer is that proper status setting (e.g., I am away, I am available, I am head down crunching code) and reasonable etiquette are the answers. By the way, I didn't agree much with the idea of showing yourself as unavailable at certain times of day to certain people when Imran said it, but there are specific people I would like to give different messages to. Are targeted away messages available with SameTime? That would seem useful to me.

500.4. Roberto Boccadoro
(10/06/2006 08:39 AM)


as of now the status message is only one. If you are "away for lunch", then you are at lunch for the whole world. Not sure if what you would like is doable, honestly I doubt it.

500.5. Ben Langhinrichs
(10/06/2006 08:49 AM)

Well, it seems to me like a major oversight. There are even phone systems now that will let you leave different messages for different people. Obviously, you IM "knows" who is looking at it. Why shouldn't it tell your Mom "I'll be at work until 6pm, but then I'll be over for your great apple pie" and tell your boss "Working on the Smythe project" and tell everyone else "Busy, only contact me in emergencies". That would seem to be a minimum requirement for a useful away message.

As another example, if I am at Lotusphere, I may want to leave a room number to my wife, a mobile phone number to a few select friends, and a general message to the rest of tyhe madding hordes. Presence awareness is hardly equal opportunity - different people need to know different things about my presence, by group or individual, and this seems like it should be an obvious and relatively easy modification once the system knows who is looking for you.

500.6. Rob McDonagh
(10/06/2006 08:49 AM)

I think he has a point. Currently, I have different IM platforms for work and home, so that's how I segment the availability. But if I COULD use a single platform, I would really like to be able to define it the way he suggests. I don't really want friends and family IM-ing me during work time - they can use email.

I think IM is very similar to the telephone as a communications mechanism, and the same management challenges apply to it.

I also think there is a logical extension of the services we're seeing recently that allow you to combine all your phone numbers so people can reach you wherever you happen to be. As soon as we expand the availability, we will want to have some control over it. I don't really want my friends or family calling me when I'm at work. Unfortunately, I have to allow work to call me outside of office hours.

Or consider this situation: school-age children often have cell phones so that their parents can communicate with them - it has become a safety issue; schools don't want them in the building, to eliminate distractions; parents want them to be able to use them in case of an emergency. What if the phone service could be configured to only allow dialing (and receiving calls from) a certain subset of numbers (say, your parents only) during a certain time window (the school day)? Wouldn't that be useful? Now apply the same logic to IM, which can also be used on mobile devices like cell phones. Or to SMS messaging.

500.7. Ben Poole
(10/06/2006 09:34 AM)

With regards defining who gets to see what, ST7.5 has the same thing earlier versions have, that is a privacy list. So, you can be permanently unavailable to a subset of people if you wish. I wonder whether such functionlity is more readily extended in the Eclipse-based Sametime client?

500.8. Imran Ali
(08/10/2006 06:58)

Ooo - great to see so much discussion around my offhand comment! OK, well I concede that my examples of availability aren't perhaps the most compelling (Roberto and Ben...) however, I think richer presence IS desirable.

Example - my 100 or so Live Messenger contacts are divided into friends, family and coworkers - is it such a stretch to offer a feature that lets me switch availability by category, so I'm invisible to family, but available to coworkers?

What's the point of categories, if you can't do anything with them? Also, I'm not suggesting that people have to manage a complex availability schedule. But how about some dead simple features that suggest rules based on your patterns of communication with various contacts?

Anyway - regardless of the use cases - I believe there's a lotta mileage in understanding user behaviour and helping to produce simple tools to make their IM usage more elegant. There's a lot of room for innovation here, but discussion seems to stop at how many smileys an IM network can offer!

If the big consumer IM networks were a little bit more open with APIs - you'd seem some incredible extensions to IM usage.

500.9. Ben Poole
(09/10/2006 08:48)

Imran, I think you hit the nail on the head with your last comment -- all these IM networks are different and very "closed".

With the exception of XMPP, all the protocols differ (SIP notwithstanding). Iinnovation in the IM space will be more forthcoming when (a) interop becomes more the "norm" and; (b) the corporate world fully embraces IM.

500.10. Roberto Boccadoro
(10/09/2006 10:57 AM)

@8 - I agree with Ben about your last point. I'd like to add that you are right when you say "discussion seems to stop at how many smileys an IM network can offer". There is a big difference between the "home" user and the "business" user. Definitley I am too much on the business side, but I feel that the majority of the people that use "IM" are on the "home" side, and for those kind of users eye-candy is still the most important thing. So the buck stops at the icons......

Just a question : how many people have ever thougt about the issues you raise ? My take is 0.01% of the total. Apart from agreeing with you or not, is a interesting issue to debate, but is not the average user kind of worry....


500.11. Ben Langhinrichs
(10/09/2006 11:02 AM)

@10 - I'm just fascinated, as the reason I brought this post up was that I have pretty much always assumed that IM systems would do this, even for home users (I might want my Mom and Dad to think I am at the library, but I want all my friends to know I am at the big Toga party at Cindy Lou's), and they never do. I assumed that SameTime had some solution, adn was going to post back to the original topic once I knew the correct terminology. Perhaps it is a more unusual or esoteric idea than I realized.

500.12. Jerry Glover
(10/09/2006 11:37 AM)

Well, this is easy for me since long ago, I chose to have two accounts for the public IM network (AIM) I use most often; one for work contacts, one for personal contacts. If I'm too busy to be bothered by non-work folks, that account is simply not logged into. Trillian makes it easy to manage with its personas, as well as to have both logged in at the same time if I so desire.

It is a bit surprising that the public networks haven't provide group/category or by contact away msgs/or status management.

500.13. Roberto Boccadoro
(10/10/2006 08:06 AM)

@11 - Ben, Sametime is targeted straight for business use. ST 7.5 is a cool client that has all of the features a "home" user would like (yes, dancing smileys as well), but definitely we sell ST in the enterprise not in the consumer market. So, there is no point, IMHO, in having the feature you request, unless you want to tell your boss you're working and the colleagues to go and find you at Cindy Lou's.

Oooooops, I forgot YOU are the boss in your company... :-)


500.14. Ben Poole
(10/10/2006 13:02)

The biggest benefit for me in using the new Sametime 7.5 client, is that I can now add that obnoxious dancing banana gif to my palette of emoticons.

Liberal use of the banana ensures that only those who REALLY need to IM me, will.


500.15. Alan Bell
(10/13/2006 01:36 AM)

presence is problem with more issues than you might think. A bit like unread marks. With Sametime presence is stored on the server, the client updates the server then the server responds to state queries from everyone else in the community. If you have a rules based presence state then the rules will have to be stored and evaluated server-side. If you have a peer to peer infrastructure, presence would have to be stored on the client, but this presents different scaleability challenges. Now try having multiple clients per person all logged in at the same time. I am usually logged in to skype from at least 2 computers. People could be logged in from a smartphone too. Changing presence state on one client should update all the others perhaps? This is a problem that is easily underestimated.

500.16. Ben Langhinrichs
(10/13/2006 07:06 AM)

Alan - That is very helpful as a perspective. I know how easy it is to suggest changes from the outside and say "It can't be that difficult", which it quite possibly can. I know nothing about the architecture involved, but I guess it is similar to the view indexing issues in Notes where read names and customized views presents so many issues. Thanks for the details.

500.17. Roberto Boccadoro
(10/17/2006 05:51 AM)

Alan - so far you cannot have multiple clients per person logged on at the same time. Only 1 login per user is allowed. When I log on with my phone using ST Mobile, I get disconnected from my PC.