Monday, August 18, 2008

Presence, Translated

It's easy to go around, talking about presence to people who live the net, who know Instant Messengers and Twitter and Facebook status. It's easy to discuss it with my peers, who live this world with me on a day to day basis.

While running with a good friend of mine, telling him about a lecture I was about to give in BGU (Ben Gurion University) about Presence, he asked me what Presence was, which struck me as odd, because the answer didn't come to me so easily - I found that when you try to translate all the buzz words to Hebrew, which also means you can't use any predefined idioms, you have to really fine tune your definitions. I liked the idea a lot.

I usually start on Presence from the Instant Messaging perspective. It's easy, it's known, it's simple, and it is where Digital Presence started, it's not the real beginning, of course, but hey - nothing digital is really new, it's all imitation of life.

Presence started out as a enumerated list of things you could be, or your limited status. Offline, online, later busy, in a meeting, etc. It was a predefined list, set up in both string value and meaning by your service provider. Some decided that in a meeting was a curtsy status, and your friends (or are they?) could still approach you. Others decided that it was your gate, and if you're set as busy, you are busy.

Later on the status turned to free text, in addition to the preset status. You could add anything you'd want and in terms of functionality, it would mean nothing. Those were tiny messages for your friends. "In Tel Aviv", "Studying for my finals" were common uses. Later it expanded to even more useful pieces of information, "Looking to hire Java developers" - amm.. is that still presence?

And why not? Presence is not only a description of my general status now (busy), it's more like "what I am doing now", or even "what I am now", and if you want to go even further "who I am". It sounds a little heavy, but my presence is who I am. What I am now is made from who I've been before, what I'm thinking and feeling now, and my plans for the future. If I think of my next Ironman race, a year from now, is it not my current presence? If doing so makes me busy, not only because I'm writing about it, but also because my mind is elsewhere, is it not the most accurate presence description about me you'll ever get?

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