Eye On Presence Technology
Once the plaything of teenagers sending instant messages to each other, presence technology is fast becoming the driving force behind enterprise messaging systems of the future.
Presence is defined as knowing that a person is online, and on a connected device with a certain device profile. Each part of that definition is critical to fully understanding presence and how it is changing, and will continue to change, the face of business communications.
The technology has already had a major impact on personal relationships, whether among teens gossiping about the latest buzz in school, or separated family members staying in close contact through instant messaging services. However, presence has been largely misunderstood and ignored by the business community.
Knowing that a person is online identifies that there is a way to communicate with that person. However, how can you communicate with this individual? Will you be successful by sending SMS messages from your cell phone? By e-mailing them? By calling them on the phone?
Today, the burden of correctly answering those questions falls on the individual initiating contact and sending the message, but in the very near future, software will become generally available in the form of presence information that will make that decision on behalf of the message receiver. And the capability will be tightly linked with the ability of the receiver to handle the incoming information and to automatically communicate that presence information to the rest of the world.
Presence In The Real World
Perhaps the most intriguing part of all this innovation around presence management is what can be accomplished once presence is fully implemented. One company, , has made great strides in understanding and leveraging the intangible benefit of presence management. IntelliCare provides access to a team of nurses via the phone on behalf of health plans and hospitals.
The IntelliCare team of nurses that are on in any one shift is spread across the United States. However, because each nurse has additional specializations, all nurses on a shift must rely on each other to assist with calls.
IntelliCare has developed an application on top of the Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing product that allows the corporate office to track the status of nurses on a particular shift. However, according to IntelliCare CIO Jeff Forbes, the more important benefit is that the nurses use presence and instant messaging to communicate with each other and form a dynamic team.
This is a key value proposition that other organizations can learn from IntelliCare; providing presence and instant messaging to your organization will help form better interpersonal relationships. Additionally, it's better to own and control this medium than to force your organization to use public versions of these services.
AOL Instant Messenger, Antepo, Skype, Microsoft Live Communication (LCS) Server, Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing, and other products provide facilities for presence management today. They differ in how they deliver this functionality and the audience for which this function is made available. But they are all similar in that presence is only conveyed to those on the same network.
However, in order to realize the full potential of presence it will have to be relayed in a consistent manner, regardless of the network that the individual may be connected to. Doing this is going to require new products based on standards, and efforts to make that happen are underway now.
There are two major standards for presence technology, XMPP and SIP. XMPP, developed by the , was approved in 2004 by the Internet Engineering Task Force () as an industry standard protocol, and is used in private enterprise instant messaging systems. Boeing recently selected XMPP to provide chat and presence services for the U.S. Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) initiative.
SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol, and is a signaling protocol used to establish sessions in an IP-based network. The SIP protocol is stewarded by the IETF and is being broadly extended and enhanced to support the requirements of secure instant messaging and presence management. Another leading standard being stewarded by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards () called the Liberty Alliance Project has recently released a specification for a presence management Web service within the context of the Liberty Alliance, a federated identity management solution.
Products from IBM/Lotus and Microsoft already adhere to parts of the SIP standard; however, neither company has implemented the unified naming scheme that is defined by the IETF. It is this naming scheme that will empower different instant messaging network products to communicate with each other and route messages to each other in the future.
The IETF naming scheme is very similar to the most popular digital moniker ever created: the e-mail address, generally formatted as username@domain. With the transition of this naming scheme into the world of presence and instant messaging, such monikers may soon become an individual's digital moniker for all forms of communications. As a result, in the near future you may call, e-mail, fax, or instant message John by addressing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Need For Security And Privacy
More than ever, this change requires us to develop means of protecting the digital moniker. Spam and spim today are frustrating users and driving them to find alternate means of digital communication that are outside the common and agreed-upon means. It requires users to take painstaking measures to gain admittance to an individual's blocked mailing list or to implement digital message signing in order to get a message to a particular recipient. The problem is so severe that it may ultimately require a new communications infrastructure, designed from the start with systems to prevent such problems, to replace e-mail as the primary digital communications medium.
Presence is taking business in a new direction: fostering the development of virtual teams and enhancing their interpersonal relationships, increasing our productivity by helping us find the right person at the right time, and ensuring that information can be delivered to us regardless of the electronic medium we have to receive it on. But maybe Adam Bosworth has the right idea when he states in , "I need some periods in my life where I am unreachable."
JP Morgenthal is founder and managing director of Ethink Systems. He has been a technology leader who has broken new ground in XML, Java, Enterprise Application Integration, Instant Messaging & Presence, Enterprise Information Integration, Enterprise Information Security and Service-Oriented Architectures.
AIM (AOL Instant Messenger): America Online's instant messenger service, which supports text chat, photo sharing, online gaming, and PC to PC voice communications (see ). Other popular public instant messaging services include ICQ, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger.
Buddy List: An instant messaging user's list of IM contacts, whether they be business or personal.
Instant Messaging (IM): A real-time communication system in which individuals exchange text messages and share files through their networked computers. Like the telephone, instant messaging (IM) requires that both parties be logged onto their IM service at the same time. Also known as a "chatting," IM has become very popular for both business and personal use. In business, IM provides a way to contact co-workers any time of the day, providing they are at their computers. Thus, IM is often used as a way to avoid telephone tag, whether the communication continues as text messages or winds up as a traditional phone call.
Jabber: An instant messaging system based on with client software available for all the major operating systems. In order to use Jabber, users must register with a Jabber server either from Jabber.org or some other provider. Access to the AOL, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo! instant messaging services is available with Jabber, providing you have IM accounts with those services and that the appropriate software "Transports" for those services are running on the Jabber server you have chosen. provides open-source support for Jabber, while provides commercial products for the system.
Presence: The state of knowing that another person is currently online and available. The term is generally used with regard to instant messaging applications. In its ultimate implementation, presence means that people can be located no matter where they are so that an instant message, e-mail, or voice message can be delivered to them immediately.
Privacy: The degree to which an individual can determine which personal information is to be shared with whom and for what purpose. Although always a concern when users pass confidential information to vendors by phone, mail or fax, the Internet has brought this issue to the forefront. Web sites often have privacy policies that stipulate exactly what will be done with the information you enter. For more information, visit , , and .
SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions): Enhancements that add instant messaging and presence to the SIP protocol (see below). Developed by the SIMPLE working group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), SIMPLE adds buddy list subscriptions and notifications and instant messaging commands. SIMPLE has two modes. Session mode, which is the more efficient mode, sets up the call and provides a raft of features including conferencing. Page mode uses no call setup and is more like a short messaging service for delivering one-shot messages and announcements. The IETF's Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol (IMPP) working group, from which the SIMPLE group was split off, focuses on helping people build gateways to SIMPLE from other IM systems.
SIP (Session Initiation Protocol): An IP telephony signaling protocol developed by the IETF. Primarily used for voice over IP (VoIP) calls (see below), SIP can also be used for video or any media type; for example, SIP has been used to set up multi-player Quake games. With SIMPLE extensions for IM and presence, SIP is also used for instant messaging (see SIMPLE).
SIP is a text-based protocol that is based on HTTP and MIME, which makes it suitable and very flexible for integrated voice-data applications. SIP is designed for real-time transmission, uses fewer resources and is considerably less complex than . Its addressing scheme uses URLs and is human readable; for example, sip:email@example.com. SIP relies on the session description protocol () for session description and the real-time transport protocol () for actual transport. Windows XP was the first version of Windows to natively support SIP for PC-based phone applications, and numerous vendors make SIP desktop phones.
Spim (Spam Instant Messaging): Unsolicited advertising appearing in instant messages. Spim is even more annoying than spam. Unlike e-mail ads, which collect in the user's mailbox, an instant messaging ad pops up on screen whenever it is sent.
Voice Message: Using voice mail as an alternative to electronic mail, in which voice messages are recorded intentionally, not because the recipient was not available.
VoIP (Voice Over IP): A telephone service that uses the Internet as a global telephone network. Many companies, including Vonage, 8x8, and AT&T (CallVantage), typically offer calling within the country for a fixed fee and a low per-minute charge for international. Broadband Internet access (cable or DSL) is required, and regular house phones plug into an analog telephone adapter () provided by the company or purchased from a third party.
Workgroup: Two or more individuals who share files and databases. Local area networks () designed around workgroups provide electronic sharing of required data. In general, products designed for workgroups support up to 50 people, whereas departmental devices support several hundred, and enterprise devices serve several thousand.
XMPP: Short for Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol, an open, XML-based protocol for server-to-server near-real-time extensible instant messaging and presence. XMPP is a rival protocol to SIMPLE. XMPP also is known as the Jabber protocol because Jabber is based on XMPP. Jabber is not, however, the only instant messaging application that relies on XMPP.
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