Not really the worst feature ever

In response to Joe's post, yes, it is true that I said "This is the worst feature ever." Unfortunately, my passion often gets the best of me and I am prone to hyperbole. What I really meant was that I think the feature can be a lot better.

Google has a reputation for building clean and simple UI. It often just works a lot better than what came before it. Google search offered an uncluttered UI that provided the most relevant results. Gmail and Google Maps provided a web-based experience that was a giant step forward from existing services. I don't think presence notifications in Google Talk, as they are implemented today, meet the same high bar. I know we can do better.

First, the feature needs to never become annoying to the user. When you have a large Friends list, somebody is always going on and offline. The notifications can become overwhelming. We need intelligent throttling of the presence notifications, especially for people in my list that I don't care about very much.

Second, we have this arbitrary distinction between being "idle" (you stepped away from your computer) and being "unavailable" (you shutdown chat or turned off your computer). It's problematic. Some people leave their computer on 24/7 and are always logged in. Their presence toggles between available and idle and I never get a notification when they become available. On the other side of the spectrum, there are people who are constantly moving their laptops from wireless network to wireless network and I will get notifications for them every time they reconnect. What I am getting at here is that there are flaws in our presence model already and the notification feature as it exists today exacerbates the problem. A prerequisite for a good notification system is having the right presence model. I don’t think we’re there yet.

I think we've made a great first step with this feature, but it's not ready yet. If we put more work into this feature, we can build something that is really thoughtful and differentiated from what is already out there. Unfortunately, there is always a tradeoff between really nailing a feature and launching something earlier that is still useful. I think Joe made the right decision to let users who want this feature turn it on.

Jon Perlow
Software Engineer

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