Rather than showing up on your screen, it shows availability as a physical object in the world. That means that you can move the puppet out of view when you don’t want to be distracted, watch out for it when you’re working on other tasks, and have a background awareness of your friends from the corner of your eye. [availabot site]
The puppet is personalized with custom fabrication technology. A more cost-effective way to do this might be to have a custom image printed on the outside of an inflatable shape. Inflation is associated with human character, spirit, and mood (buoyant, inflated ego, fat-headed, depressed, drooping, etc.). With some cheap internal pneumatics, the object could provide a richer sense of presence.
Availabot is a practical application of the sort of general program that MIT’s fabulous Fab Lab has been promoting. Innovation in information technology over the past decades has been dazzling. But I don’t think it’s possible even to approach the value of the information in the order of matter in our real world. Information technology can create value most effectively by leveraging the value of the real world.
A lot of work on presence seems to be oriented toward services for alpha information geeks in their professional lives. Microsoft’s Business Division is taking the lead for its Unified Communications Strategy. Discussion of that strategy tends to focus on how to best manage information in communication:
It’s the intersection of the fundamentals of presence and business processes that will provide the value that customers are looking for. [Alex Sanders . Log]
That may well be true in business situations. But communication is not just about information transfer, and non-business communications is a huge field of value.
Business executives may have a natural bias to underestimate the value of non-business communication.
About 1877, within a year after Alexander Graham Bell had publicly demonstrated telephony, the president of Western Union Telegraph Company turned down the opportunity to buy all the rights to Bell’s telephone. He is reported to have remarked, “What use could this company make of an electrical toy?” [Sense in Communication]
In the late nineteenth century, the Bell System primarily marketed its telephone to business users. Perhaps 90% of its subscribers were business subscribers. When the Bell System’s patent on the telephone expired in 1894, independent telephone entered the industry and flourished by providing residential telephone services that the Bell System had largely neglected. These independent telephone companies are now at the center of very important and contentious policy questions about universal service funds.