Away Messages

Away Messages --- JoshuaKerievsky 06 Dec 2001

... not only must our communications software be ?TimeSensitiveAndLocationSensitive, it must also know how to intelligently inform folks when we're not around. AwayMessages that are intelligent are never re-sent to the same individual or group---GroupDiscussions.

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It is incredibly annoying to send a message to a group list and have some number of emails send to you from folks you've never heard of telling you how they're not in their office, but they'll be back on such and such a date. Who cares!

Yet most email programs areare perfectly content to send an Away Message to anyone and everyone, with no limit on how many to send. So if you write 3 emails and send each of them to one email list, you can get 3 Away Messages from the same individual who is surely enjoying himself on some vacation.

People want to send Away Messages so that when friends or loved ones or colleagues send them emails, they can be polite about not returning those emails. So the intention for using Away Messages is good. But the execution is awful---since email programs simply don't differentiate between those who we care to inform or don't care to inform.


Provide an Away Message Assistant that walks users through the process of setting up intelligent Away Messages. Make this Assistant understand when not to send an Away Message and how to send different Away Messages to different people and groups.

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Integrate Away Messages with chat programs---?QuickChat so that someone may can receive a meaningful Away Message when we step away from a chat.

Implement rich, expressive Away Messages using IntelligentFormLetters and make it possible to set Away Messages from anywhere---UniversalAccess.

Gone Fishin' (was Away Messages) --- ?RonGoldman 12 Dec 2001

. . . an aspect of TheContextOfOurLives is that we are not always available to others. Our machines should know when we are present---AwarenessOfPresence---and also when we are not there---?TimeSensitiveAndLocationSensitive or we do not want to be disturbed---InterruptionGradient.

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Sometimes we are away from our machines for periods of time and out of touch with those that may be trying to reach us.

As social animals people need to maintain their connections with other individuals. When we cannot reach someone we want to know where they are, what they are doing, if there is another way to reach them and when we might be able to contact them. When we are away we want our friends to know so and not think that we are ignoring their messages.

Nowadays most Americans have an answering machine connected to their phone. When they are out or don't want to answer the phone, their answering machine let's callers know they have reached the correct number and that no one is available to talk to them. When people try to reach us using other technology such as email or chat, our software should be able to let them know that we are away.

At the old Stanford AI Lab people used the finger program to check if other people were there. Finger reported back if they were logged in and if so, when they had last typed on their keyboard. If they were not logged in finger reported when they had last used the computer and then printed their "plan" message that often told when they were likely to be around and if they were away on a trip.

Many email programs have a feature that people can enable when they go on vacation. When set, any incoming email causes a note to be sent saying they are away. Unfortunately most email clients are rather stupid and always send the message even when it is not appropriate. More intelligent programs keep track of who they have sent a message to, and so anyone sending several messages to the absent person will only receive one notification of their being away.

These away messages are inappropriate when they do not take into account who has sent them. We don't want the same away message to go to our close friends, to our colleagues and to complete strangers---let alone to those sending us spam! Our machines can easily distinguish among people trying to reach us and provide them the appropriate information, if any.

When away messages are sent in reply to notes sent to a mailing list it is also usually inappropriate. People posting to a mailing list generally do not care about any specific individual on the list; they are talking to the group as a whole. For some small lists, such as a small work group, that are more personal, an away message might be appropriate.


Make our machines able to intelligently act for us when we are away. Have them send appropriate information to those trying to reach us.

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Let a person indicate who is important to them---InnerCircle---and what sort of message they should be sent.

Mark all messages with some type of meta information so that an email program can distinguish between messages sent by an individual, by a mailing list (and which one), and by a bulk mailing (spam). In that way our machine intermediaries can act appropriately---PeopleTalkToPeopleMachinesTalkToMachines.

Email clients can obtain information from calendar programs to know when and where a person has gone---GoodIntegrationWithOtherTools.

Away Messages --- RichardGabriel 5 Jan 2002

. . . textual electronic communications takes place within TheContextOfOurLives, because NoManIsAnIsland. We wish to take heed of when there is cross-entity communication-machines to people and people to machines (PeopleTalkToPeopleMachinesTalkToMachines). We want to ensure a TimelyResponse when people try to get in touch with us. The situation may be complicated because we also engage in ?QuickChat, for which we desire our software to have an AwarenessOfPresence, and in Workgroups (GroupDiscussions) where the rules of politeness and presence are different from ordinary electronic communications . . .

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We want to be responsive to people trying to communicate with us, but sometimes we are unable to respond quickly-either because we are not near a communication device, are too busy, or simply have stepped away. To be polite, we want our machines to respond to messages in such situations in order to inform correspondents that we are temporarily unable to answer rather than letting our silence appear as rudeness.

On the other hand, we may be subscribed to mailings lists as part of a workgroup in which vacation messages are as unwelcome as spam. Here, rather than appearing polite and considerate by having our machines respond to messages, we will appear rude or even stupid. With commonly used email clients, people are currently forced to set up a complicated set of mail filters, typically by hand, in order to filter out vacation messages, and setting up such messages to recognize such only messages from mailing lists is too difficult if not impossible.

When we are engaged in a chat, we might step away from the computer-to get a cup of coffee, inspect the plumbing, or unexpectedly wash the cat-and would like the computer to notice our general inactivity and respond to an instant message with a stepped-away message.


Arrange for your textual electronic communications system to easily set up intelligent away messages---messages that go to the people you want and not to mailing lists or others for whom such messages might not be welcome.

Away messages should work with chat sessions or instant messaging as well, perhaps as a quick check off that says the respondent is temporarily occupied and perhaps by the machine noticing that the respondent is inactive after some period. This wouldn't be like a vacation message, since the expected delay in response is more likely to be minutes than days or longer.

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Implement rich, expressive Away Messages using IntelligentFormLetters and make it possible to set up Away Messages from anywhere---UniversalAccess.


Last edited March 29, 2004
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