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What Is a Presence Service?

By Kenneth W. Michael Wills
Updated May 16, 2024
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Considered an important primary function, presence service is a platform built into communication technologies that allows users to input availability information, storing that input and relaying it on a network. Premium presence services offer users a variety of capabilities to broadcast availability, current activities, locations and preferred methods of contacts. Most commonly identified on instant messaging platforms, the technology enables users to communicate when convenient, already knowing the preferred method of communication and availability of other parties. The service also extends into the business environment, where communication applications can take advantage of the user’s presence to relay critical information about users on the corporate network, which has prompted both criticism and acclaim.

Effective presence services will incorporate a wide range of options and contribute to accomplishing a diversity of communication-related tasks. Typically, such as service will support many kinds of devices and use a central system to manage individual and organizational policies, most often on a server. Although it is most recognized on instant messaging services, presence service can also extend to voice calls or just about any other form of communication. Presence service can facilitate conference calls, video conferencing and unified messaging services as well.

Servers, however, are not always a requirement. Organizations can also implement presence service as a direct communication link between users. This is useful for small networks that do not have a lot of users or in cases when users initiate direct connections, such as through a telephone line. In such a case the presence service manifests in the form of a busy signal or a recording that states that the party is not available if he or she cannot get to the phone.

Presences service can help business process centers and customer service departments run more efficiently. With such capabilities, organizations can eliminate time wastage associated with activities known as "phone tag" or "email tag," in which parties exchange attempts to contact one another without ever making direct contact. Reliable presence services will allow employees to quickly gauge when other users are available and react accordingly. To illustrate, if a department manager needs to arrange a quick meeting, he or she can check the network to find out which employees are available and how to reach them. Thereafter, the manager can request only those available to attend, while not interrupting those who are busy.

Although there are many benefits accorded to presence service, there is some criticism as well. Privacy is a major concern for users on networks that make use of such technology. For example, if an employee has the day off and organizational policy dictates it, the system might provide his or her home telephone number and indicate his or her status. Scenarios such at this make it easier for other employees to initiate contact to discuss work activities, possibly disrupting private occasions.

The proliferation of networking and reliance on real-time information and communication is why presence service is considered my many people to be a mainstay, built into the foundation of many communication technologies. As of 2011, experts expected this trend to continue. Changes might take place in response to social concerns such as privacy, but this was considered likely to affect organizational policies rather than the technology itself.

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