Barlow and I did an audio IChat AV session yesterday. Barlow has some interesting thoughts about this on his blog. When I was in Helsinki, Matt Jones also talked about how he kept Skype on all the time in the background with his partner who was in another country and felt her presence through the ambient sounds. Another person told me about how he listened to his daughter's piano practice on Skype.

My sister calls it "ambient virtual co-presence" in her paper (pdf) about Japanese mobile culture. She talks about this in the context of texting and talking on the mobile phone. She discusses how the value was not always in the content being exchanged, but in the fact that people felt connected when they were constantly exchanging traffic. The "connection" can be IM, voice, text messages or just about anything that allows you to feel someone's presence.

Over a decade ago, Barlow blew my mind with his essay, "Selling Wine Without Bottles: The Economy of Mind on the Global Net" I think the next one is, "It's not the wine, it's the company" or something.

As Barlow points out, when all this stuff becomes literally free, we can do it "always on" instead of being so m-time "hello/goodbye" about phone calls. I do think audio will become a part of presence. My sister focuses on how mobile computing is a seamless part of our real world instead of the traditional "real life/cyberspace" notion of something we are either in our not. I think combining these two things is an area that will really change the way we live our lives for better or for worse.

4 Comments

I agree this is a potential shift in the way we work or play in a distributed world. Just as MSN etc became a change in the way distributed offices work - being able to click a link and ask a question being equivalent to peeking over the cubical wall.

What I'd really like - and haven't seen yet - is an application that allowed me to do this three or more way, so that we could have all our team in the same virtual audio space, and replace the less-than-perfect conference calls we do frequently.

Conventional land line prices also seem to be dropping. We just got unlimited long distance in the US for a fixed price (I think $20/month), and are now suddenly making lots of "casual" long distance calls to relatives and friends. The same type of thing happens: we can sit on the phone for an hour and listen to our nephews and niece play with their XMAS gifts.

Having the capability to host a number of conferences simultaneously makes this even more likely. I've been experimenting with a product that has the capability Mitra is looking for above with zero latency that will run on a PC. Skype is also working on a similar solution. This capability will redefine the virtual office and will advance knowledge sharing practices. These two posts may help http://www.henshall.com/blog/archives/000637.html
and http://www.henshall.com/blog/archives/000657.html

Not having to install a program would also reduce the barrier (especially for non-technos) to acheiving ambient virtual co-presence. The Switchboard lets you acheive a virtual audio, and text space using only your web browser and Java. When conferencing is implemented it'll be a seriously easy way to have a conference call with anyone who has a web browser.

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