|Introduction & philosophy: presence in a nutshell|
BuddySpace is an instant messenger with four novel twists: (1) it allows optional maps for geographical & office-plan visualizations in addition to standard 'buddy lists'; (2) it is built on open source Jabber, which makes it interoperable with ICQ, MSN, Yahoo and others; (3) it is implemented in Java, so it is cross-platform; (4) it is built by a UK research lab, so it is 100% free with full sources readiily available. But BuddySpace is about more than just 'messaging', as we explain below.
One of the key factors that led to the widespread popularity of Instant
Messaging applications from 1997 onwards (including ICQ, AOL, Yahoo!,
MSN, Odigo, and Jabber messengers) was the concept of pushed presence:
the automatic notification of the appearance of friends and colleagues
online. However, Instant Messaging (IM) is just one of many possible presence-related
and presence-dependent applications. For example, presence-enabled applications
can facilitate safety-tracking of children by mobile phone, support for
emergency services, blind-date radar, group teleconference management,
multiplayer games, and anything involving the collaboration of individuals
separated in space and time. Why phone a contact only to receive an engaged
tone or pre-recorded message, when the telephone network already knows
what state your contact is in, and could indicate this directly on your
contact list? All of these concepts embody varying degrees of what we
refer to as enhanced presence management.
The concept of presence has matured in recent years to move away from the simple notion of 'online/offline/away', towards a rich blend of attributes that can be used to characterise an individual's physical and/or spatial location, work trajectory, time frame of reference, mental mood, goals, and even intentions! Our challenge is how best to characterise presence, how to make it easy to manage and easy to visualise, and how to remain consistent with the user's own expectations, work habits, and existing patterns of Instant Messaging and other communication tool usage.
What Problem Does BuddySpace Address?
Towards a Solution
BuddySpace aims to provide enhanced capabilities for users to manage and visualise the presence of colleagues and friends in collaborative working, gaming, messaging, and other contexts. Of particular interest is the role of graphical metaphors for presence, including maps, logical layouts such as building schematics and project timelines and abstract artistic layouts such as graffiti walls. We are also studying the semantics of presence, in order to move beyond simple flags such as 'online' and 'busy' to include rich contextual and spatio-temporal information more approprite to one's focus of activity. The snapshots below (click to enlarge), and the brief overview which follows, highlight our approach.
BuddySpace generalizes the concept of 'Buddy List' (popularised by Instant Messaging tools such as AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger) to provide multiple views of collaborative workgroups according to users' needs and tastes. Our aim has been to provide a personal 'dashboard' or 'radar screen' so that one can observe the availability and 'interaction state' of colleagues worldwide in a manner that exhibits the following desirable properties:
BuddySpace fulfills all the above criteria, and provides a compelling user interface that can be highly compact, yet provide users with an important 'feel-good' factor, akin to seeing nearby office lights turned on when entering one's office building at night. By studying the semantics of presence, we can also augment the existing impoverished presence states in a principles manner, providing capabilities that are more representative of the way real users work. Forthcoming capabilities will include automatic location updates via mobile devices, and the use of semantic matchmaking via intelligent profile handling, in order to help users quickly find and filter colleagues of particular interest.