The WebRTC project turned five recently, bringing to mind the question: what do you get the five-year-old who wants everything?
After all, this precocious juvenile is already used as the base for more than 950 projects and companies, lays claim to a 70% annual growth rate, transmits more than one billion video and audio minutes per week, and is available on more than four billion devices worldwide.
Indeed, the open-source technology, backed by the World Wide Web Consortium and supported by all the major browsers, has been hailed as the most important new communications technology of the decade.
So what do you get this torrential new talent to mark its wooden anniversary? Perhaps the head of every standalone video conferencing provider.
Video Conferencing Goes Native
What Web Real-time Communication (WebRTC) threatens to visit upon video conferencing services is the same havoc and banishment browser-based video and audio streaming rained down on the old pop-out media players, such as Realplayer.
Now that Youtube is a world unto itself, and every news website on the net has built-in media streaming, it’s taken for granted that we no longer have to switch pages to view videos, or download an app to decode and display the footage.
WebRTC lets you make video calls, and indulge in all the related file sharing, direct from your browser without the usual add-ons, computer or mobile based apps, and plugins. It means never having to download software, undergo updates, or match your intended to their preferred platform. The appeal to users is of the timeless variety–it’s just easier this way.
Sites like Lifesize have teamed the idea with cloud computing to offer video conferencing that’s ready as soon as you get through the sign-up gateway. Of course, you still get to keep all your favorite webcams, huddle room video conferencing technology, and other fun peripherals, but it works with any built-in laptop setup that supports Chrome or Internet Explorer 11 (although WebRTC is also supported by Firefox, Microsoft Edge, and Opera).
In an Internet of Things world, it’s ready-made video conferencing from any device that’ll get you online. Microsoft has already heeded the warning signs and moved to make Skype relevant in a WebRTC world.
Democratizing Video Conferencing
The WebRTC revolution is powered by the actual work it does–creating and disseminating a set of common rules and tools for building software.
This Application Programming Interface (API) provides developers large and small with the building blocks to make products that come fully integrated with the browsers pledging their support to the WebRTC project.
It’s as if giants such as Google have opened a public power socket that lets emerging developers plug straight into the main grid, gaining access to a city of billions.
As such, the project which was birthed five years ago by Google’s open source pledge could actually deliver on the early promise of the internet itself: to create a true democracy in cyberspace.
The way young startups are gobbled up by the big fish such as Apple and Microsoft (Skype itself was of course acquired by Microsoft) means the new world is more of a meritocracy than a democracy, a place where ideas can come from anywhere and land their inventors wealth, if not actual control.
The Next Elon Musk
However, the potential is still there for an unknown inventor to take the WebRTC opportunity and use it to create a whole new way of video conferencing. The segmented nature of video calling providers is one obvious point of conflict to tackle.
A browser-based video conferencing approach could mean having instant access to a direct contact for anyone who has embraced the platform. It could resurrect a common, Yellow Pages-style central directory that hasn’t existed since mobile phones started replacing landlines as the contact of choice. Imagine no more fruitless Skype searches for someone who, in fact, prefers Google Hangouts.
The real revolution may, however, be of the thousand small voices variety, rather than any single boom from the heavens.
Imagine dozens of new apps being added to the general browser-based video conferencing platform every year. One person contributes a facial recognition app that lets you log-on without a keystroke. Another person adds a device to let your webcam operate as a scanner. Yet another finds a way to integrate your browsing history, music choices, and LinkedIn profile to setup video interviews with potential employers or collaborators.
Integrate, integrate, integrate. A community of minds playing in a shared field. It’d be a virtual game of whack-a-mole, with the standalone services unable buy up or mimic the sprouting ideas without major overhauls on a near monthly basis.
And that may well be WebRTC’s fifth birthday wish. To be just too darn nimble for the big boys to keep up with. At the age of five it may all seem cute, but by the age of eight WebRTC may be a killer.