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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Skype For Android Update Brings No User Presence

Apparently the latest update of Skype for Android from few weeks ago removed the user's presence status, so no more online, do not disturb, etc. for your contacts. Either a bug or a feature, not clear yet, but it is reported or discussed across the web (redit, microsoft, etc.).

Being one of the first RTC apps that worked cross plaform (Linux, Windows, Mac OS), I got couple of old relatives used to it and they relied a lot on presence status to start chatting. This change had an impact, as they didn't contact each other for a while, until they starting questioning what happens.

I am still using it from time to time as a channel for first discussions on a potential business prospect, if nothing else is convenient, but there I don't rely on presence status at all, anyhow, the desktop version still presents user's status.



Anyhow, the reason for blogging about is to debate the usefulness vs. complexity of presence services. The telephony and VoIP is probably one of the biggest consumers for presence, mainly related to so called BLF (busy lamp fields), very common in the PBX world. Maybe an easy to implement in old PBX models, where each phone had a unique extension (number) associated with, the implementation complexity escalated in the VoIP/IP telephony world with the possibility of a user to have many devices for the same account.

Moreover, the rise of multi-tenant cloud-based PBX systems, the presence service became an issue of scalability as well. Behind presence service is a greedy data consumer, for each state change, there is a bunch of notifications going on behind:

  • either one from device to the server, then from server to many watchers (the contacts) - presence server model
  • or many from device to each of the watchers - end-to-end presence model
I think the main reason for shrinking presence services is the monetisation, or better said, the lack of it. If there would be enough financial benefits, the RTC providers will invest in it. Besides users not willing to pay for it (or not being used to pay for it), the free RTC networks out there cannot do much with data collected on this scope -- it is no much commercial value to know how many times you went from online to idle to do-not-disturb and back within a day. Texting on the other hand is where you share your needs or thoughts, the provider learns quickly you asked a friend for suggestions on a new gadget, so your next web browsing session has the adds waiting right there.

There is another reason that presence might be disabled on mobile apps -- background traffic to update the status, which affects both battery life and data usage. This issue could be eventually overcome by doing presence requests only when the contact is displayed, so I don't see it as the main reason for not offering presence.

The free messaging services space is so crowded that the cost of operations is crucial. Many services started with no real time presence (e.g., WhatsApp). Others are following now, more or less we see a movement like in the low cost airlines model - get rid of what is not making money directly, offer only the minimal!

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