Facebook Engineer Behind ‘Presence’ Is Turning The Concept Into A Standalone Company

One of the geeky, cute contraptions of the early Facebook days was a web-enabled beer keg at company headquarters. Whenever an employee swiped their RFID badge on it, a camera would snap a photo of them pouring a beer and post a status update to Facebook. Whenever it ran low on beer, the keg would post pictures of BevMo to Facebook as a desperate refill reminder.

Even though Facebook’s beer keg world domination plans never played out, the technology behind the keg, called Presence, may still show up in the wild. That’s because one of the engineers behind Presence, John Stockdale, is starting a company around the concept. It’s aptly named Presence. Apparently, the naming and IP rights around the technology aren’t issues for Facebook.

A spin-off of Presence doesn’t mean beer kegs powered by ‘The Cloud!’ will suddenly appear everywhere. Presence happens to be a much broader concept than that. There isn’t a product out yet, but Stockdale’s calling it “digital identity for the physical world.”

Here’s what Stockdale posted about the company on Presence’s new page:

We aim to simplify and modernize a whole slew of ordinary interactions that you have with the real world. Many of you will remember Super Secret Door (http://facebook.com/supersecretdoor), a facebook-enabled door that three of us* built during Hackathon 18. It was only a proof of concept, but it’s one of many ideas that Presence as a platform will enable.

Using our platform, your home will know who is trying to access it. A hypothetical lock application allows you to specify access rules for your door and garage (…car, ski-house, bike, etc.), on an individual or group basis. You and your roommates have 24/7 access. Your housekeeper has access between 2pm and 6pm on Tuesdays. When you’re out of town, your kickball group can get into your garage over the weekend to pick up and drop off the bases and gear. Any unauthorized access results in an email notification explaining who attempted access and when.

By giving the places and things we interact with the capability to understand who is interacting with them, and in what manner, we can enable a whole new generation of real-world user experiences.

It might be easy to slot Presence into the whole slew of “Internet of Things” companies that connect physical objects like thermostats (Nest) or souped-up pedometers (Fitbit, Nike Fuelband) to the web. But Stockdale thinks many of the companies from the previous generation are more about elevating the status of objects in people’s lives instead of merely allowing the material things we own to enhance our interactions with other people.

“This is about making your interactions with spaces and objects more similar to your interaction with people and friends,” he says. Stockdale isn’t very explicit about what kinds of technology he’ll end up using. It might not even be RFID or NFC, which is what was used for Google Wallet. It should be more ambient.

Presence actually made a more public debut back in 2010 at Facebook’s f8 developer conference. It powered a bunch of different stations at the venue where attendees could “check-in” or have their photos taken by swiping their badges. It raised speculation that Facebook was going to pursue more ambitious concepts around “location” involving RFID, but that didn’t end up being the case in the short-term. However, Facebook recently acquired a mobile loyalty startup called TagTile earlier this month. That company gave away free hardware to merchants, who would let their customers collect and redeem loyalty points, coupons and other rewards through mobile apps.