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Unified Communications
Presence Enabled: Speaking SIP
UC Mag
Peter Saint-Andre

Standards at Jabber, Inc

Presence Enabled Bottom Up, Inside Out

Perhaps the most familiar approach to unified communications (UC) proceeds from the top down and the outside in: you use an application that unifies all of your communication modes in one interface. Email, instant message (IM), Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), perhaps web conferencing, whiteboarding, or shared editing ' they are all at your fingertips in one convenient location.


This approach is valid for many types of users, such as office workers and some field and mobile employees who can access the appropriate application or portal via a laptop or kiosk. But equally valid is the emerging reality of communication that is unified on the back end, with many different interfaces depending on the device or context of various users.


Consider a first responder system such as the Cap- WIN project in the Washington, D.C. area. A system of this kind brings together representatives from multiple jurisdictions to solve emergencies in real time. But those representatives all might be using different technologies and devices ' radios, telephones, IM, email, textual group chat, and perhaps even SMS on personal cell phones. How to integrate this alphabet soup?


The key is to provide interfaces that match the devices at hand. The core coordination might happen in a "situation room" that is hosted natively in a text conferencing system so that there is an electronic record available for post-event analysis. Based on keyword matching, certain messages that are exchanged in the group chat room might be pushed out to someone whose only access at the time is via SMS. First responders on radios might be able to interact with the chat room via text-to-speech. Based on rich presence ' information about network availability, device priorities, geolocation, and roles ' the system dynamically invites people into the conference at their best communication tool (e.g., "we need someone from the county sheriff 's department who is within two miles of the scene, try radio first then fall back to cell or text").


In this scenario, perhaps only a few desk-bound dispatchers are using a front-end UC application. Everyone else is using a single-mode device that most would consider constrained from the UC perspective. Yet together those multiple devices enable the entire interaction to be unified because the right people can come together at the right time to solve a common problem.


This kind of unified communication has two interesting properties:


1. It is "bottom up" because the unification of communication naturally emerges through the ways in which many disparate people and devices interact, not from the "top down" through the use of one application to bind them all.


2. It is "inside out" because while a few back-end systems and operators might have a holistic view of the communications flow from the "outside in," most participants see only the aspects they care about or can access using constrained devices.


This bottom up, inside out model is becoming the norm on the Internet, as well. Consider a social networking application like Twitter ' a single back-end application with many interfaces. Twitter got its start as a microblogging website, where you could post status updates about your current activities and other people could read that stream. Naturally, to tap into the widespread use of feed readers, Twitter provided RSS feeds for each person. You can also post to your Twitter stream via SMS (each "tweet" is limited to 140 characters for just this reason) or via an IM "bot" on the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP) network. Using third-party services like TwitterFone, you can even post to your stream via voice.


So the emerging reality is that there are no web applications, SMS applications, IM applications, or voice applications ' there are simply "applications," which you can interact with via the web, SMS, IM, and traditional or IP-based voice systems. How you provide information to such an application might be a matter of personal taste, ambient environment, available devices, and network quality. And how such an application pushes information out to you (or queues up information for later delivery) is based on all those factors and more, which means some form of intelligent, presence-based routing as your availability, location, and capabilities change over time. Once again we see the fundamental truth that the bottom up, inside out applications of the real-time Internet increasingly depend on a robust infrastructure for presence.


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