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Network World - There is a killer on the loose under the covers of instant messaging, and no, it isn't malicious; it's a killer application that has the potential to revolutionize the way companies collaborate and communicate.
The killer app is presence. IM users see evidence of it every day in their buddy lists as a little icon that shows someone is online. But down the road, experts say, presence will separate itself from IM and evolve into a network service tapped by applications and corporate communication services, including telephony.
"In the future, presence will be the underlying [network] capability, and IM will just be one of the apps that takes advantage of that," says Melanie Turek, an analyst with Nemertes Research. "Presence is the killer app."
Why? Because presence ultimately is seen as a real-time communications, messaging and routing infrastructure that not only supports collaborative applications for user-to-user interaction, but also supports communication between applications and users. It also supports application-to-application integration, whereby presence infrastructure is used to announce which applications are up, what their functions are and what types of protocols they accept.
"In the end, presence is metadata," says Mike Gotta, an analyst with Meta Group. "It can contain information about someone or something."
But before presence explodes on the scene, it faces myriad challenges, including corporate buy-in to its potential and power, management tools to control it and, most importantly, the development of interoperability standards, the same liberator that unshackled e-mail nearly a decade ago.
The challenges are many, but early adopters already see the potential in doing the heavy lifting.
"In the next six to eight months we want to have something in place for a one-stop shop to get the right information to the right people at the right time," says Heidi Rebottaro, project manager for application development for Nektar Therapeutics in San Carlos, Calif. The company develops methods for administering drugs such as an inhalation technology used with a new dry form of insulin.
Rebottaro is using IBM Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing server, which supports presence capabilities within Nektar's portal of collaborative applications and online training courses. "We use presence to find instructors, authors of documents and in chat rooms for team members," Rebottaro says.
But she has thoughts of a presence-based publish-and-subscribe channel that would let applications instantly send new information to end users or to support workflow applications that could seek out available managers to approve purchase orders.
"The infrastructure for presence and awareness is in place," Rebottaro says. "We just need to add that top layer of applications. We just need to find the time to do it."
Vendors are finding time for presence, and its inclusion in popular applications could light a fire.
IBM has integrated presence into Lotus Notes, which has more than 100 million users, and Microsoft has added it to Office, which sits on 90% of corporate desktops, and SharePoint Portal Server using Live Communications Server (LCS) as the back-end infrastructure. Microsoft recently signed a deal with AOL and Yahoo to connect LCS users to public IM networks, a precursor to the connectivity interoperability standards promise.