Notes from Virtual Presence BoF

BOF on Virtual and Persistent Presence held on 24 May 2000 at the LNEC Congress Centre, Lisbon, Portugal

Valentino Cavalli - Issue 1


Bob Aiken, Cisco Systems, Inc. (USA)
Henny Bekker, SURFnet (The Netherlands)
Holger Boenisch, University of Ulm (Germany)
Valentino Cavalli, TERENA
Yuri Demchenko, TERENA
Henk Eertink, Telematica Instituut (The Netherlands)
Jardar Leira, Uninett (Norway)
Klaus Lindberg, CSC/FUNET (Finland)
Kees Neggers, SURFnet (The Netherlands)
Victor Reijs, SURFnet/HEAnet (The Netherlands/Ireland)
Harri Salminen, CSC/FUNET (Finland)
Vesa Savolainen, CSC/FUNET (Finland)
Trond Skjesol, Uninett (Norway)
Stanislaw Starzak, POL-34 (Poland)
Magnus Stromdal, Uninett (Norway)
Peter Valkenburg, SURFnet (The Netherlands)
Egon Verharen, SURFnet (The Netherlands)
Karel Vietsch, TERENA
Peter Villemoes, NORDUnet (Denmark)
Klaas Wierenga, SURFnet (The Netherlands)
Klaus Wolff, Cyland AG/University of Ulm (Germany)

1. Persistent Presence and the Middleware Issues Involved
(notes from Klaas Wierenga)

  • Bob Aiken introduced the agenda of the meeting, and then gave a very quick introduction on PP. He touched on the notion of being always on the net (either in person or represented by proxies, agents, bots or avatars). Electronic Persistent Presence needs to cater for very different circumstances, like having wireless or wireline connections, high or low bandwidth, nomadic and fluid mobile access. The main challenge is however the ability to integrate presence with systems like pagers, cell phones, telephones, video, audio, virtual reality, e-mail, chat and instant messaging. In order to deliver this there are a number of middleware issues that need to be solved like privacy&security, naming&addressing, accounting, connectivity management, QoS, locators, directories, OS support, agent services and peering and routing of various types of networks.

  • Klaas Wierenga explained the growing need for building communities and having presence information in the SURFnet/GigaPort community. He did this by giving some examples of very popular new tools in this community (and the Internet as a whole) like ICQ, Gooey and Active Worlds, these in addition to existing tools like e-mail, news, bulletin boards and SMS. The main problem, as he explained, is however that all these tools are not interoperable and they don't use any open standards. Therefore there is a need for a standards based approach. GigaPort wants to contribute to this.

  • Henk Eertink started with the view the Telematica Instituut holds about presence. It is information about who you (or it) are, what you are doing and which environment you currently are. He made a distinction between presence and awareness. Where presence is the extent to which information about a person and his current location, activities etc. is available to other users and awareness is the extent to which other people are aware of this information. Then Henk told a bit about the GigaCSCW project they carry out in which they do research on both conferencing and messaging applications. They conduct research on the joint usage of common resources, integration of existing proprietary instant messaging and presence solutions, adaptive services (for changing network conditions, different terminals etc.), location-aware services and customised mobile services.

2. CoBrow
(notes from Klaas Wierenga)

Klaus Wolff explained the architecture of the COBROW system for instant messaging and persistent presence. The basic concept is that there are virtual presence servers that hold information about users and there whereabouts and communicate 'neighbours' i.e. other users visiting web pages close to the one a particular user is visiting to this user. The user may then choose to communicate with these neighbours. Multiple virtual presence servers can be federated to cover a large part of the web and thus provide a scalable solution. This information of the whereabouts of users can be combined with presence information the user chooses to share and thus making it possible to provide information how and where to reach other users.

3. The IETF's IMPP Working Group

Klaus Wolff presented the status of the activity of the IETF working group on Virtual Presence - Instant Messaging and Persistent Presence (VP-IMPP). The group aims at developing an architecture for simple instant messaging and presence awareness/notification. He also said there were a number of discussions about various protocol options, and a few IETF Internet Drafts have been produced.

Klaus said the IETF had put the IMPP working group to sleep because there was slow progress. In fact the group was waiting for new ideas and new people to join. The area directors made the working group step back and re-think. By June 15 a new proposal for the IMPP working group should be submitted to the area directors. The group will make an attempt to re-charter. If they will not succeed they might also decide to create an IMPP forum outside the IETF. Companies like Microsoft and Lotus/IBM are particularly involved in the IMPP group, as well as other independent developers.

4. GigaPort's Plans for Persistent Presence

Klaas Wierenga said the GigaPort project is managed by the Telematica Instituut (GigaPort Application) and by SURFnet (GigaPort Networks). Telfort, partnering with Cisco Systems, had been selected to supply the national research infrastructure for the GigaPort Network. Cisco had an interest in IMPP developments and had put SURFnet people in contact with the CoBrow project team.

Klaas mentioned that in the SURFnet constituency community there are many requirements related to IMPP including being mobile/offline, instant messaging (many people are currently using ICQ) and virtual presence in the Web.

Klaas reported a SURFnet plan to carry out some Alpha testing of the IMPP in the GigaPort project to support synchronous communication, and asked if there was some other NRN which would be interested in collaborating. Stanislaw said IMPP is interesting for Poland, but they need to consider what is highest priority first.

In Norway they have projects which might be interested in collaborating on IMPP. Uninett is providing services everywhere based on a student card to students in the university campus. However, they have privacy concerns in making the information available to people outside the university.

Egon observed that there are possible different ways to collaborate. This can be done either by joining the IETF IMPP working group or by getting involved in a different group. A third possibility would be to collaborate outside the IETF on a different basis.

5. The Use of Persistent Presence in Applications

Henk Eertink said the Telematica Instituut is particularly interested in application-related aspects of the IMPP protocol, like, for instance, the possibility to select the most appropriate media when contacting somebody (collaboration) and the support for mobility. These would be realised by an architecture were agents talking via IMPP can detect the status of the end user and perform the appropriate action, like sending an SMS message, accessing a voice mailbox, e-mail, etc. or alternatively returning back information about a status of not availability.

People observed that some functionality allowed by IMPP could be implemented already by integrating existing applications like LDAP, calendars, web front-ends, maybe connected to video conferencing facilities. There was a wide discussion about the possibility of using LDAP. However it was remarked that LDAP is not a good protocol to talk to an agent. In particular the application protocol should give the end users capability to control the status, and the agent capability to recognise other people when it meets them again.


Overall, the participation was not very intense. It was feared that people do not see the need yet for this kind of applications. In fact for many people the issue seemed to be completely new. There was no action agreed about collaboration activity after the BOF, however a number of suggestions had been made for further meetings: a specific session in a next TERENA meeting; a tutorial/educational session at the next TERENA conference or at the next NORDUnet conference.

Notwithstanding the lack of collaboration plans, the main players announced some future activities. Klaus said he will submit his Internet Draft to the IETF, and SURFnet said they would like to start integrating existing software into a presence server able to talk to different information sources and having gateways to existing applications like LDAP, ICQ, dns, etc.