Anyone who has ever used an instant-messaging program has seen the basic idea of presence. That little status bar that says “available,” “away,” “out to lunch” or “cursing the Mets” is your presence–the computer’s understanding of how and under what means you are available.
Today, that information is stored on the computer, but is mostly acted on by other people. Perhaps you see that someone’s status is busy, so you send them an e-mail asking them to call rather than pestering them with an IM. Or, you see that someone is available on their mobile, so you know they are out of the office and send an SMS.
But Bill Gates has been urging folks inside Microsoft to make far more use of that information. Computers should be able to take actions on their own based on a user’s presence. Essentially, he says, the computer as an “intelligent agent,” basically the personal assistant that most of us just wish we had. If the computer can determine, based on a user’s calendar, that she only has an hour at the desk, it can prioritize a collection of tasks, e-mail and voice mail that appear to be most urgent based on what it knows to be her priorities.
What if instead presence could be enriched with such things as location information and also be made application and device independent?