The Presence Problem

Steve Smith of Lavalife makes a good point about the surge of new products which extend the use of Skype beyond the desktop. Great for mobility and wider access, bad for one of the key benefits that IM-related programs like Skype bring us: presence. (Presence merely means being able to signal whether you’re online, whether you’re free to talk, or what kind of mood you’re in, letting you determine when you’re reachable and for other to be able to organise themselves accordingly. Something the ordinary old fashioned telephone, or even raw email, can deliver. ) As Steve points out, the move to such gadgets and services like free calling in North America is pointing towards “Skype being a free cellphone, not a Presence/IM/Voice platform”:

I fear that you can’t be both. Both directions are interesting, both are worthwhile. But by trying to be both you degrade the value of the IM/presence network, and thus rob one group of users from the productivity gain they currently enjoy. It’s a bit of a conundrum, and I certainly don’t have the answer, but just watch if the value of your Skype presence indications doesn’t start to drop over the next year.

I’m a huge fan of presence, and I wish folk like Skype, and now Google with GoogleChat, would stress to users how useful it is to be able to signal where you are, whether you’re online and happy to chat, or even, as one Skype buddy has done, to make it clear in the “presence note” when you want people to call you. If more people used these tags then more people would understand how useful they are, and we could all benefit. Then, given the broad usage, such companies would be inspired to find ways to include and expand such features in these second tier products.