#10: Pervasive presence

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

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.


  1. grandpaschipmunk says: (permalink)
    November 15th, 2006 at 1:59 pm

    I’m really sorry to add to the “perpetual turbulence.” It’s just that this seems like the best place to seek people who might provide useful feedback for the painting I’m doing of you. It’s not a great piece, but I like it, except for the fact that I’m stuck. Again, I’m really sorry to spam you with non-related/solicited communication.

    Please help:

  2. gentimjs says: (permalink)
    November 15th, 2006 at 3:29 pm

    I’m not sure this is as good an idea as it may sound … I dont have a cell phone for the simple reason that I dont -want- people to be able to interrupt me and what I am doing 24/7 … While I can always turn the phone/pager off, there is the expectation that people will answer. Simmilarly, if I had a blackberry people would expect instant response to email (while its already rather fast). As a network admin, I dont -want- people where I work to be able to call me (or otherwise contact me with a method for which a quick response is expected) during dinner to ask where the blank floppy disks are….

    While I admit that these capabilities are a very good thing, I simply feel that there will be some inconvenient repuercussions in addition to the convenient ones…

  3. Rob Caskey says: (permalink)
    November 15th, 2006 at 3:57 pm

    > 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.

    We need real trust metrics, I wish someone would run with the groundwork laid by Advogato & create a decentralized trust network for the non-geek :(

  4. Hilaire F. Nollette says: (permalink)
    November 15th, 2006 at 6:35 pm

    Ok, so if ubuntu is so powerful – and it really is, what about generating a version spacifically for the mobile environment…
    I can only assume that with a small enough kernel and the proper progs, you could do just about anything from a handheld moblie divice, say running on the ARM-9 processor. The hardware framework is there, why not develop it into a viable system, phone-email-fax-sms-irc-icq-jabber-voip—one address book, in one box, be-it a very small box, and have it run a very scaled down version of ubuntu…

    Windows (cough, cough) has done it, why can’t we in the ubuntu/open source world…

    I am just the Idea guy at this point, but give me the team and the funds, BINGO…

    metatecque at gmail.com

  5. Nicholas Butler says: (permalink)
    November 15th, 2006 at 6:44 pm

    outside of trust the conversation stoppers for me are always , will this desktop work with my mobile/pda. I know ive blogged about this in the past but we really need to see the other device manufacturers pick up a open standard for interfracing with their data such as IP based connectivity over propriatary channels , condiuts or cables . This particular N Big challenge still has me wondering why all those providers are so keen to be interopable exclusvely to Outlook when it would be just as easy to be interoperable through a network connection and enable Outlook or other apps to see the data and pass the data. Yep trust issues aside if my phone and pc and pda and online webpresence ( google ? ) could share the same Vcard and Ical data id be closer to nirvana . Cheers for posting these .

  6. Sivan says: (permalink)
    November 15th, 2006 at 7:57 pm

    Do I smell a spec proposal/placeholder in disguise ? ;-)

  7. Jeremy says: (permalink)
    November 15th, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    Google has been doing a lot of work in that area.

    Just think of Gmail with its Google Talk and email integration. While viewing an email conversation, you can see a little green dot next to one of the replies, which means the user that sent that particular reply is online. By clicking “Reply to Chat”, you can send an IM in reply to the message, and have it still appear in the context of the email conversation view when it is searched.

  8. ReapingTimeShallCome says: (permalink)
    November 16th, 2006 at 12:11 am

    sabdfl has a posse

  9. Maimon Mons says: (permalink)
    November 16th, 2006 at 10:35 pm

    Besides trust (which is partially solved with whitelisting) is the idea of persistent presence vs. availability. I don’t want to explicitly state when I am available either on my phone or computer. Also, the ability to keep multiple computers logged on at a time and move between them without having to log into my IM client on each to say where I am available.

    Maybe a smart algorithm that uses time of day in addition to time since last keyboard or mouse event to determine if I am available. A smart one that says that I am available never available when I am using openoffice.org writer but may be available when using firefox would be nice.

  10. David Mackey says: (permalink)
    November 17th, 2006 at 3:46 am

    Free software can innovate faster because of its ability to assemble a larger and more diverse crew to handle a project. Presence is a great idea, though I agree, I don’t want to be entirely transparent. I already hate when my cell rings so often.

  11. m--s says: (permalink)
    November 19th, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    I know this is a little off-topic, but could you be so kind to put some commentary on this blog regarding the “bad news” appearing around Ubuntu lately? For example, consider the following link


    I mean mainly the free/non-free aspect, also the unstability of edgy … or maybe you’ve done so already elsewhere, in that case I am sorry, and could you direct me to the correct place?

  12. Lesley Clayton says: (permalink)
    November 20th, 2006 at 12:23 pm

    I find this topic very exciting! It seems like everything is lining up to produce a “women friendly environment.” With so may options available on how to communicate definitely appeals to my female sensibilties. I am now able through these great tools to invest more highly in my relationships all over the place and to keep them tight! This developing environment seems to be aligning itself with women’s innate natural skills – we make connections and develop relationships wherever we go. I agree that these com. channels need to be integrated so that they can be managed and enables seamless connection. If I am on the move I don’t want the hassel of changing my setup. My system must be able to pick up my zone and do the work for me. This pervasive presence – “is a women’s way of being!”

  13. Nathan DBB says: (permalink)
    November 20th, 2006 at 7:50 pm

    We need to sync our different projects together. I mostly feel the need to sync my Nokia with Kontact (or Evolution, I’m willing to switch).

    Syncing pictures is important to people who meet a lot of people all the time (what MS calls “Corridor Warriors” or “Meeting Weenies”).

  14. Damien says: (permalink)
    December 5th, 2006 at 9:00 am

    Hi Mark,

    indeed this is a very interesting topic. Some academic research is ongoing on this matter, especially on the European level (and maybe other but I am not award of that). There is a EC Coordination Action which deal with presence which is called PEACH:


    I don’t know their involvement with Free Software but I know the coordinators of this project (I have organized a workshop with them). Drop me an email if you want to be put in contact with them.