This is one post in a series, describing challenges we need to overcome to make free software ubiquitous on the desktop.
We’re increasingly living in an always-connected world, with multiple ways to speak with one another at any given time. I might SMS or call a friend, reach them on IRC or SIP-phone, send them email or – once in a blue moon – a handwritten note. Knowing how best to talk with someone at any given time is the challenge – if you’re like me you try the fast-and-light stuff first – a ping on IRC or Jabber – then bring out the heavy guns like email.
“Presence” is all about turning that haphazard process into a systematic framework – making sure that you (well, more accurately your laptop and your cell phone) know how you should reach out and touch the person you want to communicate with. It’s about an integrated addressbook – no more distinctions between IM and email – and a constant interaction at the system level to keep others aware of your status.
On the reverse side, of course, none of us wants to be SO accessible that our stream of consciousness is perpetually turbulent. Just as spam has come to be a hostile attack on my inbox, I fully expect to have to defend against hostile attacks on my concentration on IRC, SMS and other comms channels. So I imagine we’ll have a nice little arms race in the “presence” department, as the good guys work to make it easier for us to talk to one another at any given instant, and the bad guys try and offer us body modification pills.
This is an opportunity for the free software desktop to outshine the proprietary guys, because it’s going to be an area of enormous innovation. The core pieces are falling into place – look at Galago and Telepathy – what’s needed is innovation in the ways we use that framework. I believe that free software communities can innovate faster than proprietary companies. This is a good place to prove our mettle.