An important, controversial issue!

Steven Garrity stevelist at
Tue Apr 24 20:36:53 EDT 2007

I'm not sure it's possible to distinguish between concepts like "away" 
and "extended away" in a 16pixel icon. Even knowing what the presence 
types are called, I'm not sure the distinction between 'away' and 
'extended away' is obvious.

A superficial first impression of what each of these statuses means:

OFFLINE - the person isn't connected to the internet (or isn't running 
their IM client, or their computer is off)

AVAILABLE - the person is there and available to chat

UNAVAILABLE - the person is there, but has (manually, I assume) 
indicated that they are not available for chat

AWAY - the computer/client is connected, but the person isn't there

EXTENDED AWAY - the computer/client is connected, but the person isn't 
there and hasn't been there for a "long time"?

This reminds me a bit of what I vainly hope will one day be referred to 
as one of Garrity's Laws:

   If you can't easily determine an obvious visual metaphor
   for an item, it probably shouldn't have an icon at all.

I guess I'm asking what the difference between AWAY and EXTENDED AWAY 
actually is. Is Away sometimes set automatically be a lack of activity 
on the computer? Is Extended Away the same, or always manual? How does 
this map to each of the protocols statuses?

More questions than answers, but that's not always bad,
Steven Garrity

Sean Egan wrote:
> Pidgin currently understands 5 primitive presence types from our
> buddies: offline, available, unavailable (or busy), away, and extended
> away. They're all represented by what everyone agrees are very
> excellent new Tango-styled icons. They're really well done.
> What not everyone agrees on is how appropriate the metaphors used by
> these icons are to the statuses they represent. I've heard no
> objection to offline, available, or unavailable. "extended away,"
> itself isn't hotly contested, except for how it relates to this highly
> important, controversial issue: the away icon.
> In previous, Gaim builds, the "away" status was represented as a
> yellow notepad note, like a
> post-it: This icon
> originally came from our AIM roots, where it was used to represent an
> away message. Within Gaim, it has come to represent a note you might
> leave on your door or desk when you leave for a while.
> Importantly, this is the icon that has represented "away" in Gaim for
> as long as it's existed.
> The current "away" icon in Pidgin is
> or, larger:
> This comes from MSN and Yahoo!, primarily, which use a "clock" to
> represent their 'away' status. My claim is that this is a suitable
> icon as it might remind one of the clock signs on storefronts that say
> "We'll be back in 15 minutes!" like this guy:
> whereas
> extended away would be like a storefront sign that says "Closed for
> the Winter," and thus a note.
> Our current "extended away" icon is based on Gaim's old "away" icon:
> I have been adamant in my defense of the clock icon, but other
> developers are of the belief that a clock indicates "idle," rather
> than "away," and is thus confusing to existing Gaim users (most
> importantly themselves) who are not used to seeing a clock mean
> anything at all. They think we should find something else to represent
> away, although there's certainly no consensus of what a good "Away"
> icon would be.
> I certainly do see the connection between "idle" and "clock," and if
> this is going to confuse a significant bunch of people (or an
> insignificant bunch of significant people), we should find a better
> icon.
> So, this isn't a poll or anything, but a solicitation of opinion. Does
> "clock" mean "away" to you? Does it mean something else? Does it mean
> nothing at all? If a clock isn't the best icon for "away," what is?
> What's "extended away"?
> -s.
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