BuddySpace 2.8 Full Description
BuddySpace is an instant messenger with four novel twists: (1) it allows optional maps for geographical & office-plan visualizations in addition to standard 'buddy lists'; (2) it is built on open source Jabber, which makes it interoperable with ICQ, MSN, Yahoo and others; (3) it is implemented in Java, so it is cross-platform; (4) it is built by a UK research lab, so it is 100% free with full sources readiily available. But BuddySpace is about more than just 'messaging', as we explain below.
One of the key factors that led to the widespread popularity of Instant Messaging applications from 1997 onwards (including ICQ, AOL, Yahoo!, MSN, Odigo, and Jabber messengers) was the concept of pushed presence: the automatic notification of the appearance of friends and colleagues online. However, Instant Messaging (IM) is just one of many possible presence-related and presence-dependent applications. For example, presence-enabled applications can facilitate safety-tracking of children by mobile phone, support for emergency services, blind-date radar, group teleconference management, multiplayer games, and anything involving the collaboration of individuals separated in space and time. Why phone a contact only to receive an engaged tone or pre-recorded message, when the telephone network already knows what state your contact is in, and could indicate this directly on your contact list? All of these concepts embody varying degrees of what we refer to as enhanced presence management.
The concept of presence has matured in recent years to move away from the simple notion of 'online/offline/away', towards a rich blend of attributes that can be used to characterise an individual's physical and/or spatial location, work trajectory, time frame of reference, mental mood, goals, and even intentions! Our challenge is how best to characterise presence, how to make it easy to manage and easy to visualise, and how to remain consistent with the user's own expectations, work habits, and existing patterns of Instant Messaging and other communication tool usage.
What Problem Does BuddySpace Address?
* Collaborative knowledge work often relies on opportunistic interactions; for remote collaborators, such interactions need to be kept simple, meaningful, relevant, and manageable.
* Popular Instant Messaging tools (ICQ, AIM, MSN, Yahoo!) are effective in their niche but fail to address meaningful knowledge exchange and coherent workgroup practice, e.g. the ability quickly to find the right source of key knowledge according to stored interest and geographical profiles.
* Knowledge workers are largely unfamiliar with (or even uncomfortable with) the unique opportunities afforded by high-impact, low-effort, low-bandwidth, large-scale communication capabilities.
* Presence awareness requires more than knowing 'online/offline/away/busy' status: some grounding in geographical reality and an enriched presence-signalling capability could pay huge dividends.
* Collaborative knowledge work of course involves people-people interaction, but there is more: knowing the status of devices, locations, and documents can be just as important.
Towards a Solution
BuddySpace aims to provide enhanced capabilities for users to manage and visualise the presence of colleagues and friends in collaborative working, gaming, messaging, and other contexts. Of particular interest is the role of graphical metaphors for presence, including maps, logical layouts such as building schematics and project timelines and abstract artistic layouts such as graffiti walls. We are also studying the semantics of presence, in order to move beyond simple flags such as 'online' and 'busy' to include rich contextual and spatio-temporal information more approprite to one's focus of activity. The snapshots below (click to enlarge), and the brief overview which follows, highlight our approach.
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