VON: IM The State Of Presence

    September 12, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Instant messaging technology received a panel’s attention during pulvermedia’s Fall 2006 VON conference, as reps from the heavy Internet hitters discussed presence and its place at the core of IM with voice communications.

VON: IM - The State Of Presence
Instant Messaging Solidifies Role In Every Day Life

WebProNews publisher Rich Ord and managing editor Mike McDonald are in Boston for this week’s VON. We will report on their observations throughout the conference.

Pulvermedia Content VP Carl Ford moderated the evening discussion at Fall 2006 VON that featured members of Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, AOL, and Skype talking about presence. As a concept, presence means knowing that an individual is available and online regardless of their physical location.

While that has great appeal for businesses that want to keep track of valuable staffers, it may not have as much appeal to consumers. Ford said his daughter thinks integrating voice with IM is stupid. “Should voice really be integrated with instant messaging?” he asked.

Mike Jazayeri, product manager for Google Talk, said, “”It’s natural to let another layer of communication integrate with instant messaging. It may not work in the classroom but it has its place.”

Jeff Bonforte, director of voice product management for Yahoo, saw another role for the combination of IM and voice. “The role of voice could play is transactional…. it could help finish transactions,” he said.

“We don’t want to push your daughter to use voice,” said Dan Casey of Microsoft, where he is director of Windows Live VoIP and Messenger product management. “We just want to make simple tools available for those who want them.”

Presence will have to take other factors into account, according to Nitzan Shaer, director of mobile devices for Skype. He noted how many people tend to have multiple identities and roles online.

Because of this, presence will be much richer both on and offline in the future. Some people are embracing that now, in a way, as Shaer said Skype has users who leave their microphone and webcams on continuously. They are always present.

Casey’s take on presence reflected on a context-centric model. He cited a need to get the right message to the right person, wherever they are. It’s a considerable technical challenge with the vast number of ways people can be present online, on myriad networks and systems.

That becomes more complicated in Casey’s opinion because IM is a “schizo” combination of communication platform and social networking application. Yet people have taken to it by the millions. Casey said Microsoft sees 25 million people interacting in a video session each month.

The humble webcam is a powerful instrument as the various services consider presence and its future development and implementation. “”The sexiest thing for many people around the globe is the ability to see and talk to their family and friends,” said Bonforte.

He perceives the webcam as underestimated when people discuss voice and IM. Bonforte said 100 million people use webcams and their old protocols. It becomes more compelling when camera phones can interface with webcam users.

AOL’s Ragui Kamel senior VP and general manager for Voice Services, called webcams the “talking head” model, with limited appeal beyond certain niches like gaming.

“Our research shows that video telephony is not something that most people are particularly interested in,” said Kamel.

Despite the features available to people today, presence will be the one that eventually proves the most compelling. It has concerns to address, though. As shown in the recent Facebook kerfuffle, a number of people do not want everything they do to be duly recorded and reported to anyone who is watching.

Bonforte acknowledged that and predicted that expanded presence would be accompanied by Facebook-like privacy settings. These would make a user visible to certain other users in different ways, based on their identities and roles as Shaer suggests.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.