Presence for your presents

Presence has long been touted as the solution to managing communication interruptions, but what will it take to make it real?

You've probably got the paper and boxes cleaned up by now. Did you get that new gadget you've wanted? A new phone? A Zune? A new MacBook? Regardless of what it was, chances are that its stated purpose was to make you better connected. Is that really want you want? Consider this from Alec Saunders:

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.

I was at a Christmas lunch with my wife and some friends on the 23rd and between four of us, our phones rang a combined 13 times in 90 minutes. Some of that interruption as welcome--my kids checking in, for example. Some of it was not.

There's been some small debate on the 'Net lately about the ability of "presence" to solve this problem. In the same piece, Alec Saunders talks about the unfulfilled promise of presence to solve the problem and proposes "user-centric" presence:

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 key to user-centric presence is breaking down the walls of the walled gardens that product vendors try to keep us in. That new mobile phone you got for Christmas is a perfect example. Unless you've installed Opera Web browser, your online experience from your phone will be mostly about buying ringtones and wallpaper.

This is a similar vision to that of Doc Searls' Vendor Relationship Management project. Simply put, VRM is the reciprocal of CRM or Customer Relationship Management, providing customers with the tools they need to break down the garden walls. VRM, however, goes way beyond mere presence.

PhoneBoy nails the problem when he says:

The problem I have isn't a presence problem, it's an identity problem. I have too many identities! I know a larger subset of people that have that problem rather than a "presence management" problem. And I think I have a solution: a single identity for all networks.

Doc clearly understands that as well. If you can make user-centric identity happen, then you have a chance at VRM, and better, user-managed presence data will come about as a product.

There's a real business need for a subset of presence data: location. At last year's Digital ID World, Phil Becker (who writes the DIDW blog here at ZDNet), said that where "location" was a crutch that computer security leaned on in the past, in the future it will be a critical part of the identity data returned about a user. Location will be used to provide context for transactions and drive policy-based decisions.

But whether that business need is strong enough to drive presence all by itself or not remains a question. Rather, I think we're going to have to see better identity infrastructures first.