For those Microsoft Research staffers who work at the mothership in Redmond, the company's annual TechFest is a festive and busy week of chatting with the people you really meant to spend more time with during the rest of the year. But if you're from out of town -- in from one of Microsoft's five satellite facilities in Beijing, Bangalore, Cambridge-UK, Cambridge-US, or Mountain View -- this may be one of a very few opportunities all year for you to connect with, and very likely show up, your out-of-town colleagues.

Take for instance the UK-based Socio-Digital Systems group, working thousands of miles from the offline conversations that happen on the Redmond campus. Gathered in the "Digital Past to Digital Presence" booth at the recent 'Fest, the gear the UK group had to show didn't make tiny bubbles float in virtual airspace or synchronize several social networks. Actually, its job was to give a place and presence for people's own history in the here and now.

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