The Idea of Availability

By | December 7, 2004

I can’t remember who I was talking about this to but, stuck at the airport Starbucks again I thought I’d blog my thoughts while they’re not too addled by caffeine.

I have Skype, I have Packet8, I have GPRS, I have landlines, I have Instant Messaging. So why is IM the smartest of the bunch? Because it knows when I’m available, and it tells anyone I want the same information. If I’m not online, then I’m not available on IM, so there’s not much point in reaching me. Telephones don’t have this feature: Users have no way of telling whether the person they’re calling is available (or where they are, or any of that kind of information). Why not?

Of course it’s not just a question of being online, but being ‘available’ in the sense of wanting to accept calls.
Skype also has this feature because it doubles as a chat program, but that illustrates the complexities of these different tools. Do I want to accept calls from people I’m happy to IM with? (Say it’s 6 am where I am, do I really want to talk business with someone in their afternoon timezone, or do I always want to chat to my niece in the middle of the day?

Tricky questions, but I’d like to hear from folk who are working on this concept of communication. How do we offer both the caller and the called great leverage over communications without further invading privacy, or introducing new layers of social mores?

First off I’d like to see VoIP allow, if it doesn’t already, services that enable users of the same service to see whether other users are near their phone (if they permit this information to be available). Maybe this kind of thing already exists?

[Posted with hblogger 2.0]

5 thoughts on “The Idea of Availability

  1. Lukas van der Kroft

    First of all my business Eutectics designs and manufactures USB telephones, perpheral devices which greatly enhance the user interface of the PC for voice applications.

    This integration of presence and instant messaging has been available for some time. MS Windows Messenger 5.0 is an example of a widely available application which can be configured to use any of a number of (SIP based) VoIP services so that you may receive or make calls from any other phone OR from any of your buddies on your list.

    You are correct in suggesting a learning curve for the use of these modes of communication. Just like early on in the telephone days one would not let the phone ring without answering whenever possible, when the PC rings and people believe you are available one feels obligated to answer. This feeling will quickly dissapear and it will just become yet another very effective way of connecting to people which will evolve with experience gained with it.

  2. Alexander R Barwick

    One could open more than one account to be visible to different persons at different times.
    Skype has “call me” buttons:
    They can be added to a website or an e-mail signature. But for a “presence” indicator one needs Jyve.

    Jyve has a “presence” indicator powered by Qzoxy which can be found here:
    Jyve also has an “abstraction” layer:
    “By having Jyve contacts, you have an added layer that separates your Jyve friends and contacts from you close personal friends and family that you may have in your local Skype contacts.”
    Details can be found here:


    If you prefer using a SIP compliant interface there is the excellent pulver communicator/FWD:
    Apart from being a multi-protocol instant messenger it also provides you with VoIP.
    * pc-to-pc: free
    * pc-to-other SIP (including Vonage): free
    * pc-to- Regular landline: soon [possible at mom but awkward]
    * Regular landline-to-pc: use ->
    * Video: with pulver buddies
    * You can invite any of your MSN-Yahoo-AIM-ICQ buddies [they must have Internet Explorer] to a VoIP voice chat by sending them a “Call-me” link 🙂

    It shows the “VoIP” status of your pulver/FWD buddies and IM status of your MSN-Yahoo-AIM-ICQ buddies. You can also add FWDTalk buttons [provides both “presence” indicator + call functionality] to a website or e-mail signature:

    You can see how this operates on the blog that I am constructing:


  3. Michael

    PhoneGaim does this – it’s a meta IM client which also does voice. You can of course do IM, but you can see if someone is online and can take a voice call as well. PhoneGaim is open source code.

    See: for lots of screen shots.

  4. Patrizia

    I really fail to see the problem and the need.
    It’s enough to dial a number (that is possible in VoIP),if the called has a VoIP phone, he can see the number of the caller on the display (if he is available of course) and can decide to take the call or not, and if he is not available, the phone can register the number who called, or as an alternative have an answering machine.

    As simple as that.


  5. Jeremy Wagstaff

    Some folk are not quite getting what I’m driving at here. ‘Availability’ applies to both ends: ‘Is the person I want to reach available?’ as well as ‘Do I want to be available to this person trying to reach me?’ The latter, I agree, is pretty easy, and commonplace. The former, I believe, is not. I can use MSGTAG or SMS delivery notification to see if someone is reading their mail/has their cellphone switched on, but both these are not really configurable by the recipient/target.

    I think all this needs more work, and more thought. But thanks to everyone for adding their comments; all interesting stuff.


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