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Presence Actions & Facets

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The primary principle to bear in mind when designing presence interfaces is to maximize opportunities for your users to declare themselves present for each other, through means for making themselves visible, leaving footprints or other human traces. Practically speaking this breaks down into a few actions that the user or system can take to share this presence information:

  • Publishing presence information
  • Displaying current presence
  • Displaying a timeline of recent presence items
  • Maintaining a history (partial or complete) of past presence declarations
  • Providing users with a way to subscribe to presence updates
  • Providing users with a way to filter presence updates
  • something about location?

There are also a number of different aspects or facets of presence that may be included in an update, including but not necessarily limited to the following:

  • Status, as in Availability
  • Status, as in current Activity
  • Mood
  • Environment
  • Location
  • Device Status (on/off)
  • Other (system-, device-, or user-defined facets)

Availability is the bottom line for online presence. If you’re available, that’s fairly straightforward. It means, ostensibly, that it’s acceptable to contact you (interrupt you) in real time. Unavailability can take several flavors (away, busy, idle).


Perhaps the fundamental bit of presence information is available vs. unavailable.

Richer options for status are possible (beyond simply available or not). Many applications with presence features enable the user to either manually enter a status update (generally, what they’re currently doing) or to have some application or object update their status automatically. Status information can usually be layered on top of availability information.


Beyond indication availability, a presence status update might also indicate what activity the user is currently engaged in.

A mood selector enables the user to indicate how they currently feel (something otherwise rather difficult to discern through cold mechanical interfaces). Beware of trying to supply a complete taxonomy of human emotions. Chances are you’ll overcomplicate things.


A mood vocabulary can be free-form or based on a controlled list (Neopets offers four standard moods (happy, sad, angry, sick).

Identifying your current location either to other people or to applications enables geographical information, such as proximity and physical availability to come into play. (See Chapter Geo...). Location information may be entered manually or detected automatically (using services such as GPS, mobile phone cell towers, or by polling an geographical information broker service such as Yahoo!'s Fire Eagle platform).

Twitter has evolved a folk syntax for location using L: as a prefix, followed by latitude and longitude information or place names, but it doesn’t seem to be widely adopted. Also, Twitter lists the user’s location as part of their profile, implying a more static longstanding answer, although some Twitter applications gather current geo information, usually from the inputting device, and use it to update the user’s location field in their profile, somewhat mixing the modes of a non-archives, no-history-having profile field from that of an ongoing stream of status updates.