I have been thinking of writing this entry for about a year now, but somehow I never got around to it. Recently, however, Tim O’Reilly pointed to a news item that discusses combining presence detection (the “I’m online” signal in instant messenging) with GPS technology. He remarked, “Definitely a taste of the future here…”
Let’s step back four years…
I was consulting for a number of tech companies in the DC area, when a company called PresenceWorks asked me to join their start-up as a full-time employee (#3). It had some high profile backers, but it was the technology that excited me. The company had developed a presence detection engine which could detect the signals from AIM, MS Messenger, and others. As proof of concept we had setup an online job site where people could find workers who were online and available to work immediately. This allowed people to negotiate a short-term gig in real-time.
And while we were preaching presence to the world, it turns out that most of the world was not ready to hear about it. First to market has been the death knell of my career on more than one occasion.
After leaving the company to pursue a writing career, I continued to consult for PresenceWorks, and my ideas for the technology continued to grow. I was not only pitching the idea of presence and positioning, but also combining that technology with proximity. Although I was saying it years ago, I’ll state it once again. Presence + Positioning + Proximity does not equal the future, because the future is already here. Presence technology is much more efficient than making phone calls, using radio communications, and certainly more cost effective. If you currently use calls to distribute information, you are wasting valuable resources. I want all the corporate execs and government agencies out there to pay attention to the rest of this entry, it will change how you do business forever (call me!).
Let’s look at some examples of what I wanted to see happen with presence years ago, and how it can still be applied today.
Law Enforcement & Emergency Services
Solution 1: The FBI
There is a terror alert in a suburb of Washington DC. How do you mobilize an entire team of agents? You issue presence/gps enabled phones to every agent in the FBI across the country. When the alert comes through, the presence server looks for every “available” (availability is denoted by presence) FBI agent in the area of the alert. Using a combination of presence and proximity, it can automatically notify, by instant message, every available agent. It could send specific instructions to each agent on what the problem is and where to respond. Since the server knows who is available and who is not, it only contacts the viable agents. When additional agents come online, it would be able to notify them as well. The beauty of this solution is that you know where your people are and their current status. You also can tie a presence server to specific data about agents. For example, if you need to find every agent who is qualified as an expert in a certain field, who happens to be in a certain area, just ask your handy presence server.
Solution 2: Emergency Services
A terrorist attack on the city puts it into chaos. The presence server can coordinate Police & Rescue personnel to respond to the attack based on their proximity and availability. Also, the presence server can look for additional rescue personnel as they become available. In fact, it can make intelligent decisions based on specific criteria to notify even off duty personnel based on the level of the emergency. Not every officer or rescue worker is within the range of a radio, but they can be required to carry their phone at all times.
Now let’s expand on this idea. Because of the chaos that ensues and the danger level of the attack, the presence server can send highly specific information to individuals based on proximity and location. For example, perhaps certain roads are closed or traffic is bad. The presence server can send instructions to each individual which would help to route their travel in a more efficient way. Rescue personnel can stay one step ahead of the bottlenecks.
Solution 3: General Alerts/All Points Bulletin
Broadcasting an all points bulletin over the airwaves is not always the best solution, if you are trying to keep that information from the individuals you are looking for. And you certainly don’t always want the news media poking their nose in. In this scenario, the presence server can send very specific data on the alert to all members of law enforcement, (ATF, the FBI, police) to maximize the odds of catching the individual. Since this relies on presence and mobile phones, you can send this data across agencies without the use of the police band radio. And since it only notifies individuals who are “available,” the level of efficiency is amazing. The server only notifies people as they appear.
Solution 1: Trucking
The trucking industry spends millions, if not billions, of dollars each year outfitting their trucks with sophisticated GPS tracking technology that costs a fortune. The same technology can be provided for a fraction of the cost with off-the-shelf mobile phones and a presence/proximity server. I mean, your truckers already have a mobile phone, so why buy more technology?
Let’s say you have a fleet of a thousand trucks. You outfit each trucker with a presence/gps enabled phone. Now your entire fleet is not only trackable through mapping technology, but you can push data to those truckers based on their availability. Traffic or construction issues, the presence server can send the data to the appropriate trucks to help them make the right decisions. All types of messaging can be sent to truckers without the added expense of a phone call. Plus, you can push data to these truckers regardless of their actual location (perhaps they are away from the truck).
Solution 2: Sales
You have a very mobile sales force, in a company with thousands of employees. A lead comes in from a very specific area. The CEO wonders to himself, “Who do we have who is qualified in that area right now?” A simple consultation with the presence server tells you who is currently in that location with the qualifications you need. A click of the mouse and all the relevant information on the lead is sent to the right person. No phone calls made.
Solution 3: Stock Trading (just presence)
Making trades is something that needs to occur in a matter of minutes. To have a client list that requires a call or an email (which can get lost or hung up), is an absolute waste of time and resources. If you have a client list that requires notification of time sensitive information, by setting up a conditional logic list, you can find the contacts in your database who match the requirements and send them all that information based on their availability and it can be tailored to their specifications. And folks…it’s instant.
Solution 1: Amber Alert
People could subscribe to a nationally sponsored, presence enabled Amber Alert. Since the alert uses presence and proximity, it can send out the alert to people as they become available within a certain region. For example, if you are from LA, but you are visiting San Francisco, and an Amber Alert for SF goes out, you would also be notified. If privacy concerns are an issue for you, people could opt out of the proximity and just subscribe to a region.
Solution 2: Personal Proximity
One of the problems I have with Instant Messaging is the inability of the messenger to know where I am and how to resolve issues of location. For example, with the use of Bluetooth, I could specify that when I go out of range of my computer, to switch my active IM to my phone. As I approach my computer, the IM would switch once again.
Solution 3: Objects
Presence and proximity should be tied and embedded into everyday objects. An example of this would be the Roomba robotic vacuum. The vacuum would use standard presence technology combined with proximity detection (through Bluetooth) to report its status to me at all times, regardless of whether or not I’m in the house. I can tell which room it is in, how full it is, the battery status, and even tell it to clean a specific room. It can also tell me when it has a problem.
Remove proximity, and just add presence to any number of objects around the house. Fridge, coffee maker, etc. I would have killed for this last summer when the freezer in the basement crapped out and I lost $400 in food. A simple communication of voltage issues would have told me it was about to die. Of course, even though the compressor caught on fire and died, it could have told me it was no longer working
Which leads me to smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. Why not presence enable them? I know when they need a new battery, I know if my house is burning down. And that same technology can be built into my security system.
You don’t need to use some newly created networking technology to do this. If AOL were smart, they would build this technology off of their already successful AIM platform and beat MS to the punch. Seriously, this is the competitor to the Microsoft SPOT technology they plan to embed in consumer electronics. Firstly, AOL had the leading IM in the world, so they have market penetration. Secondly, it could run over the existing network, only under a different designation (instead of people, objects). And lastly, I already use their presence engine in OS X. Adding a panel of object presence (in addition to people) would be a no brainer.
The Future is Now
All the components for the above already exist. It is just a matter of some smart people to put it together or give me some money and I’ll do it for you. I’ve spent the past four years thinking about how to use presence, it is good to see the rest of the world starting to pay attention.
Make checks payable to…