Dev

WebRTC is almost here, and it will change the web

Image Credit: Molodec/Shutterstock

Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is a new HTML5 standard framework that enables the sharing of video, audio, and data directly between web browsers. These capabilities open the door to a new wave of advanced web applications.

If all goes according to plan, over 50% of all web browsers will support this capability in the next three to four months.

This is the most significant step forward in web browser connectivity since 2004, when Google launched Gmail and AJAX was coined. The Asynchronous Javascript and XML (AJAX) approach enabled developers to update the components of a page without the need for full page reloads. This enabled a huge number of new interaction capabilities and was a significant step forward in bringing “native” style applications to the web.

Above: Graphic by Jimmy Lee / jimmylee.info

While HTML5 has already brought many new capabilities to the web, it is WebRTC that will spark the most innovation. The ability to directly connect to other web browser opens a new world of possibilities for web developers, enabling new types of applications in telecommunications, gaming, and any other field involving direct user-to-user interaction.

Today, direct communication between browsers is possible only with third-party plugin software and significant proprietary server infrastructure.

Through an open standards approach, WebRTC integrates browser-to-browser communications directly into the fabric of the Internet. This opens many new possibilities such as:

  • Rich image and video apps on mobile browsers (e.g. Instagram or Skype in the browser)
  • Citizen journalists could stream breaking news directly from their phones to news outlets
  • Web sites could add live support and feedback through one line of code
  • Effortless file distribution (e.g. Napster) without software.

Sharing live audio, video, and data will be as simple as viewing a web page.

Developers will be able to add these features with relative ease. As we’ve seen in the past, when development becomes simpler, there’s tremendous growth in entrepreneurial experimentation. We should expect a plethora of new audio and video applications from startups and students who only have a basic understanding of peer-to-peer technologies.

WebRTC will also provide new challenges for government censorship and controlling regimes; the peer-to-peer streams will be very difficult to monitor and shut down. We saw the power of social media during the Arab Spring movement last year; imagine it amplified by secure, real-time transmissions of audio and video.

WebRTC will cause major disruption to the billion dollar markets of video conferencing and Internet telephony. You will no longer need Skype on your desktop or smartphone, nor will you need a complex Webex or a Telepresence system. Skype, Cisco, and Polycom will all see their conferencing technology commoditized.

All of this disruption is predicated on the ease of implementing WebRTC and the inherent low cost of peer-to-peer communications. Key to its proliferation will be web developer adoption. This seems likely as the open standards working group and associated browser vendors are making the API as simple and powerful as possible.

The Internet is about to undergo a new wave of innovation. We’re moving to a world of seamless communication, directly between peers and across all devices. As with previous shifts, this will result in a wave of new applications that will change the way we live, work, and play; get excited about the possibilities.

Arend Naylor is cofounder and CTO of Meetings.io, a video meetings startup in San Francisco. Meetings.io is excited to be developing with the WebRTC framework. Check out the WebRTC meetup group or join the webp2p.org community.

[Top image credit: Molodec/Shutterstock]

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