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March 01, 2007

Mobile Presence: The Essential Attributes

Posted in: User Insights

My mobile lets me reach others and be reached anywhere I go. But I’m not satisfied. I want to know whether the people I’m trying to reach are reachable. I want to let people know when I’m not reachable, and what form of communication I prefer when they’re trying to reach me.

Mobile presence is coming to a phone near you. The following is my quick list of 10 go-to attributes for an effective mobile presence system:

1. Presence should not be interruptive.

My last post was on Twitter. ‘Nuff said.

2. Users must set/maintain their own presence information.

Maintaining one’s presence status is a subset of maintaining one’s mobile identity. Unless we’re willing to allow the ads of the future to call out to us by name (cue Minority Report) then we can’t allow the phone to automatically set our presence based on phone activity.

Like instant messaging, mobile presence should allow the user to control which groups of people are allowed to see their presence information. More on this later.

3. Setting presence should be quick, simple, and easy.

Access to setting presence needs to be in a high traffic area of the phone. The idle screen provides an ideal opportunity, and could be designed to be accessible within a few keypresses - but could is this also be an opportunity for a hardware rocker key?

4. Presence should accommodate for a contact’s different phones.

Mobile address books are designed to manage multiple phone numbers for your contacts. So when displaying presence, the UI should allow for a different status for each phone number on record.

Imagine a wired phone (office phone, home phone) with green and red buttons on it, which a user could quickly tap to indicate whether they are present or not. If a call comes in when the phone number is shown as unavailable, it would not be a surprise when it goes right to voicemail.

5. Presence should allow users to display different statuses to different groups.

It’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which you might need to display different status messages to user groups in your contacts list. You want to tell your friends “Skiing in Tahoe - Call me!” while you want your boss to see “Home sick in bed - Voicemail please.”

6. Mobile presence should include communication preference.

With the diverse ways we can communicate today, there should be a quick way to define how you wish to be reached. Here’s a rough syntax:

[name] [context/status msg] [communication preference]

Jared is at a movie. SMS OK
Jared is in a meeting. Do Not Disturb
Jared is in a meeting. Voice calls OK

7. Presence should include a universal visual/icon system for quick reference.

The syntax above may be a little verbose, but an accompanying color and icon system could effectlvely boil it down for quick reference. Green and red are easy go-to colors, but another color will likely be needed when presence information is blocked or not available. In either case, there’s also an opportunity for a series of visual icons that can lend additional information about the contact’s physical or social context.

8. Presence should allow connections to other mobile services.

Mobile presence can get especially useful when you start to see connections into other phone services such as Location Based Services. I might like to tell my phone to set my presence toward certain work groups to “Unavailable - Voicemail please” when I’m home.

9. Presence information should be seen anywhere a contact is referenced in the mobile UI.

We access our contacts through many touchpoints. Whether via the Contacts list or Messaging Inboxes, every reference to a contact should include a quick reference to their availability.

10. Presence should be maintained by a non-carrier third party.

How many users in your address book are on other carriers? Should it matter? If presence information were maintained by a third party instead of separate carriers using their own closed, propietary system, all carriers could plug into an open standard and users everywhere would benefit.

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