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January 2007 SIP Magazine
Volume 2 / Number 1
SIP Magazine January 2007 Issue

Present and Accounted For

By Joe Hildebrand, Presence Enable



There is a transition underway that is revolutionizing the way people and applications interact and it is summed up in a word: PRESENCE.

No longer merely an indicator of availability, PRESENCE is a universal router of messages and media streams and universal interface to live information.

In our last column we asserted that due to several factors, the wrapping of context around the content we consume now delivers more value than the content itself. Person-to-person presence, as represented in most instant messaging systems, today provides adequate context around some interpersonal communications, i.e. it certainly helps me limit the number of interruptions I receive — when I’m really busy — to only the most important ones. Similarly, by presenting me with the availability of my contacts, it helps me negotiate phone calls.

For most people-centric communications, this is a manual process that ignores the presence of applications and the rich context they have to add. Peering into the future, we look no further than the sophisticated environments we currently find on Wall Street and in the federal government where applications and people collectively use presence to dynamically route messages between people. For instance, bots and agents roam chat rooms looking for new information posted by and for people. These bots and agents feed off keywords, policy, and the identity information stored in directories to determine which people need to see what information immediately, or conversely, what information needs to be kept from which people.

We see related — albeit less sophisticated — applications in consumer IM services too. One example I’m familiar with is the Swiss Phone book tel.search.ch@swissjabber.ch bot available on the XMPP network. This bot, which appears on my contact roster, allows me to do natural language queries of the Swiss phone directory. I have seen similar bots for movie times, World Cup scores, and other useful functions, but if you’ve ever used any of them you’ve already guessed my next point.

Humans and machines don’t speak the same language. We can sometimes understand each other but at least as frequently simply frustrate each other. The fact is that applications require message structure that is not native to human language. Given the right tools, people can readily speak the language of applications today. Those tools include forms and other constructs which allow for crisper semantics to be embedded within messages and media streams. Adding structure to communications allows programmers and ultimately machines to know more about how to handle and deliver them in the right context.

Consider first responders who file incident reports from the scene of an emergency. Instead of providing free-form textual information (which is not machine-friendly) or requiring them to adhere to a machine-readable format, a template for an incident report appears on their screens as a basic form. It asks quick questions that probe for context and directs the answers into a format that can be understood and ultimately best routed by a machine. The result is the ability for information to find recipients based on their presence, which includes their organizational role and identity, and not necessarily based on their relationship with the sender. For example, an officer on the scene of a spill doesn’t need to know anything about a chemical expert, nor need a dispatcher to track one down. Instead, based on the information in the form, a presencebased router can scan directory information and dynamically reach out to and involve experts in developing situations far faster and more accurately than a person could. We also see this in call centers, where customer information is presented in a dynamic form that can be pushed easily between support staff, automatically alerting supervisors to escalating situations based on the information in the form.

This is the next step in the transition, forcing more structured data and better semantics into person-to-person and personto- application messaging. The final step is to enable presencebased application-to-application communications. For instance, a commercial real-time traffic application could have a software agent resident in the first-responder’s network. The agent could subscribe to incident reports as they are published, syndicating only that information which is for public consumption (i.e., a lane closure), while omitting more sensitive information, such as the names of those involved in a crash. Embedded within the agent’s presence profile is business logic that accounts for policy and enforces its compliance. This type of cross-application messaging can be deployed today.

There remain challenges to achieving this future. People and organizations must use forms more consistently and effectively and forms must become a more inviting means of collaboration. There is also much to do in terms of embedding directory information and policy with the syntax that can be easily read by people and machines alike. The good news is that much of the infrastructure we’ve already built for personto- person presence can be rapidly recycled in this transition. How much and how soon is the subject for another column but I’ll give you a hint. It depends upon how adequately today’s architecture accounts for the needs of people and applications to communicate with one another in real-time. How you balance those needs will likely define your strategy as live or dead.

Joe Hildebrand is CTO of Jabber, Inc. (news - alert) For more information, please visit the company online at http://www.jabber.com.



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