I’m working on my Enterprise Virtual Worlds presentation and was filling in some detail on communication in game-oriented virtual worlds that I would like to share here as well.
Enterprises are wise to look to gaming from time to time due to trends in:
- Outside-in technology: how consumer technologies such as blogs and wikis increasingly find their way into enterprises
- Emergent gameplay: the use of gaming technology in ways the original designer hadn’t intended
- User experience lessons: UE improvements tend to filter from the competitive gaming market to generalized applications. Gaming is an optional activity, so UE has to be at a high level when you want the users to pay you to use their systems rather than the other way around.
Communication is interesting to explore since the number of communication channels that enterprises use (and every information worker must now attend to) has increased a great deal over the past five years to include instant messaging, presence, websites, and blogs. Getting enterprises used to the idea of “channels” and how to manage and select between them has taken some time and some pain.
I was quite impressed when all the methods of communication in World of Warcraft (which was released in November of 2003) are laid out. WoW communication is strikingly similar (and maybe more efficient) than enterprise communication technology in many areas.
- Channels: Players can subscribe to communication channels such as /trade to receive ongoing chat on the channel, or unsubscribe. Another example is in EVE Online, which has a “newbie” channel that can put new players in touch with others taking their first steps, but can be turned off once the player is more confident.
- Chat modes (IM): The variety of built-in IM modes goes beyond most enterprise IM implementations which rely on groups. They are: /say (vacinity), /party (your group only), /guild (your broader community), /yell (all in larger region), /whisper (one person)
- Presence: Friends can be selected and you are made aware when they come online/offline, and location is displayed (a feature still on the cutting edge in the enterprise)
- Mail: Consists of normal mail, packages, and COD packages. The inbox is visited at WoW Postal Service facilities, which has the pleasant effect of isolating the player trying to accomplish objectives from the stream of email since they only check it periodically when they visit town. Also, since email costs money to send (a few copper pieces), there is practically no spam
- Emotes: There are over 100 emotes such as /wave, /thank, /cheer, /dance, etc. It is amazing how fluid the use of emotes gets in the real game, such that they do not feel like a conscious effort to be funny, but rather a natural way of expressing oneself in group situations.
Ken Camp published an interesting thought piece on “The Personality of Presence” that, among other topics, raises the question “What type of person (interrupt style) benefits most from presence?”. That’s a good and useful question, but I found it interesting that he came to the opposite conclusion I would:
To embrace presence, you must embrace the chaos that is interruption management. If you are not immersed in the flow for a myriad of diverse inputs (interruptions), if your day is based on planning aforethought and structure, presence is not likely a good thing. It removes personal control and places it in the hands of the interrupt.
For those of us who live by interruption and rarely adhere to a strict schedule, the idea of presences adds value, whereas for the structured world, presence is an anathema to order.
So he says interrupt-based workers would like presence more. My first instinct was the opposite.
I think people who are more scheduled and systematic would benefit more from presence because they wouldn’t want interruptions, would like an attention shield inserted into communication channels that tells message senders when they are busy, and they generally embrace rules and order. And the opposite type of people, those who embrace chaos and like to feel part of the flow or like a spider sensing movement anywhere in its web are more able to handle being interrupted and multi-tasking.
His view is not wrong – I think it shows a difference in how presence is viewed. A glance at my Enterprise Attention Management conceptual architecture shows we’re talking about different pieces. From a UC point of view presence is about intelligent routing (“Routing and channel switching” in the Attention Response Engine on the conceptual architecture diagram). From a desktop point of view presence is about attention shielding (“Rules and Scoring”).
The good news for presence is that I think the answer to this question is that both types of people can benefit. People that love being part of the flow of information (or riding the surf of it depending on how much you get) will like the location abilities of presence (time, place, and device on the conceptual architecture) to make sure they don’t miss a minute. People that are most effective when focusing on one task at a time and want to push synchronous attempts to contact them back to asynchronous methods when they can be handled at leisure will like the abilities of presence to block messages, push them to async mechanisms, or politely make others aware they are busy. Everyone wins!
I just got back from vacation and was pleasantly surprised that the email backlog waiting for me was less than I expected. Still, I’m only halfway through it, but I thought it would be worse. When I look at the email pattern, it seems there was a flurry of emails the day after I left, and then it died down from there. And today the email spigot has been turned back on and I’m getting quite a few.
Could be chance. But I think this is a pretty typical pattern, although I’ll leave it to this blog’s readers to tell me if I’m wrong. It demonstrates the broad definition of one’s presence indicators and the difficulty of creating a unified presence indicator. When I think of presence indicators, the first thing that jumps to mind is the green or red circle on my IM tool.
My IM presence indicator certainly let people know I was out, but that’s not the only way they knew. There is also my Outlook out of office message, my out of office voicemail message, my response rate to emails or phone calls (in case the out of office slipped the sender’s notice), my calendar blocking for vacation, and word of mouth (like telling client services I would be out for a week and to forward messages to my research director). If I was in an office my physical presence (or lack thereof) would come into play as well.
I see four kinds of presence at play:
- Explicit presence: Presence indicators in a system called “presence” (e.g., IM)
- Implicit presence: Indicators of your presence in non-presence systems (e.g., out of office e-mail and voicemail)
- Behavioral presence: Actions (or lack thereof) that indicate your presence (e.g., quickly responding to or not responding at all to voicemails)
- Physical presence: Seeing or hearing one’s presence in the real world (I’ll lump hanging a “gone fishin’” tag in the window here too since it’s physical)
So what does this mean for unified presence and its role in attention management?
First, it shows why making one’s availability known is difficult and requires several efforts across explicit and implicit presence indicators.
Second, it shows why a true unified presence system is unlikely. Unifying explicit presence is easiest, implicit presence a bit harder, behavioral presence starts becoming more art than science, and physical presence gets into audio/video sensors that won’t be used in business settings. Presence can be more unified than it is today, but won’t reach the extreme of a single unified presence system.
Third, it’s interesting to note the degree that non-technical factors – behavioral and physical presence – begin to feed into overall attention indicators. People have natural, organic attention management systems that supplement or fill in when the electronic ones are not enough.
Alec Saunders (CEO of iotum) posted out a wonderful visionary piece on presence called “New Presence” and the Voice 2.0 Manifesto. It does a good job of pointing out the potential of presence, the set of data and sensors it needs to have to function, and the need to somehow break up what he calls the “walled gardens” that independent presence systems have today.
I’d like elaborate on some of the comments I posted to his blog entry and to relate his vision of presence to the Rich Presence model I introduced in my telebriefing “Stop Interrupting Me! Effects of Communication on Info-stress and Attention Fatigue” (conceptual model posted up here). Incidentally, I still like my term “rich presence” better as it implied more functional rather than just ‘new and different”.
When the Voice 2.0 Manifesto was written, it identified presence as the enabler of conversation, allowing parties to easily determine each others willingness to engage, and by which technology.
Lord knows I have way too many conversations and would have way more if my spam filter wasn’t working and I didn’t have caller ID.It’s the quality of the conversations that is the issue. I want presence to enable higher quality conversations that are more relevant and important to me. In essence, presence is one of the key enablers of attention management.
Alec posts up a good diagram of all the profile, context, and relationship data involved in his future vision of presence, similar to the “data” and “sensors” on my conceptual architecture but his has some great additional detail.But from his description I am wondering where the brains are in his model.Where does the information get crunched for a particular message coming in? In my conceptual model of an attention management system I define an “attention response engine” with Rich Presence, Rules & Scoring, and Channel Switching & Routing components. Deciding where presence stops and the decision making kicks in has been a matter of debate between myself and Mike Gotta.
Alec has a good listing of new applications that rich presence would enable, but I believe presence must be valuable to end users, not the vendors. If the end users don’t get enough out of it, the vendors will be left high and dry. Per my pushing/pulling definition of “attentional technologies and capabilities”, the issue for end users is: does this quiet my life, pushing back noise and pulling the messages most important to me in my current state forward?
…the simple confusion around protocol standards. Ironically, this ought to be the simplest piece to solve. Standards are simply codified ways to describe information. The tussle between SIP / SIMPLE, and XMPP must be resolved before New Presence can effectively move forward.
I think there are a lot more standards needed than simply resolving SIP/SIMPLE and XMPP. Standards on how roles and relationships are defined, interests, rules and scoring, preferences must all be defined. XMPP is extensible, but that doesn’t mean it defines these extensions.
These are not criticisms, just adjustments to a visionary piece. I think we are both thinking in the same direction. My hope is that a solid enough vision of presence can be created to encourage vendors to actually move forward with something easy to use and, while not perfect, a lot better than we have today.
I am a big fan of the potential of presence. Not the available/busy + idle time indicator you see in your instant messaging tool today, but rich presence that:
- utilizes more data and sensors to make decisions
- offers more granularity about what you are available to accept (my concept of “matrixed presence” which is internally represented by a grid of presence states on one axis and groups on the other)
- breaks open the “black box” of a message to allow content and sender-aware decisions about how to disposition the message
- is part of the information worker’s operating system and leveraged and extended when needed (not just from within IM)
- has a more usable interface for setting of rules and state
I see presence as the key enabling technology for attention management. By “enabling” I mean that it is infrastructure that can sit beneath many other technologies that affect the number of messages and amount of information that is fired at us such as e-mail, collaborative workspaces, IM, SMS, RSS, and a host of other acronyms. Presence is part of what I define as an “attention response engine” consisting of rich presence, a rules and scoring component, and a routing and switching component.
But at this point, it seems the potential of presence simply raises more questions:
- How practical is this? Can technology do this well enough to be, on the whole, beneficial? Will people ever take any effort to manage their presence?
- Isn’t the human side of the equation more of an issue (e-etiquette, bypassing technology channels, gaming the system) which means this will never succeed? Isn’t the problem within ourselves, not our technology?
- Is this still presence we’re talking about or some space age AI system?
- Will vendors ever provide this if they can’t directly make money off it?
- Are real people actually asking for this?
- Doesn’t this invade my privacy? What is the role of separate identities?
- Will I ever trust a computer to make decisions for me on who/what to allow in and who/what to reject?
In researching my overview of attention management (tentatively titled “Techniques to Address Attention Fatigue and Info-Stress in the Too-Much-Information Age” and scheduled for release in January) I’ve examined these issues and think I have come to some, well, enlightenment if not answers. I’ll post up some of my thoughts as I go and appreciate any feedback on what you’d like me to address.