Agility Feat - Custom Software Development

WebRTC is my hammer

Posted By:

Arin Sime

WebRTC is my hammer

If all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. I may be falling victim to this old adage admittedly, but everywhere I look recently I see possible applications of WebRTC technology.

For those not aware, WebRTC is part of the HTML5 standard and it allows you to add in encrypted peer to peer video, audio, and data channels in the browser. This can be done using only javascript code – no browser plugins are necessary.

This opens up a lot of new possibilities for developers. The obvious ones are incorporating video chat directly into your applications; the less obvious applications typically involve taking advantage of the peer to peer data channel in WebRTC.

I realized my “hammer problem” last week as I flipped through my latest issue of CIO magazine. Several of the articles leapt out to me and shouted “WebRTC”!

Keeping the Face in Facebook

Video chat communicationIn this Q&A, Facebook CIO Tim Campos talks about how videoconferencing and collaboration tools help their distributed teams to be more productive, but they run into integration challenges.

While I’m sure they do a lot of their internal networking through Facebook tools itself, they rely on a third party vendor for videoconferencing (Blue Jeans Network). They also use Box for cloud storage of files, Zoho.com for document collaboration (similar to Google Docs), and many other smaller collaboration tools.

What if instead, those things were built directly into Facebook? The video chat part at least is a natural fit, and somebody at Facebook must be looking into it.

The DataChannel of WebRTC could also be used to implement a custom document collaboration tool, or even for creating a Peer-to-Peer data sharing network or as a data transfer mechanism to cloud storage. It may not make sense for them to custom develop those tools when they can buy it off the shelf, but WebRTC does enable them to build the services easier and maybe more tightly integrate it with other enterprise tools.

In fact, that is a pain point as Campos points out … “The fact that these systems are all disparate and not integrated is a productivity challenge in itself.”

Is the value of integrated tools worth the cost of custom development? Facebook apparently thinks so, since Campos continues that “We’re in the process of building it ourselves because there isn’t really an uber collaboration-integration capability out there that you can buy.”


Job Screening by Video

Web Camera on Wireless KeyboardKristen Lamoreaux writes about how large HR departments are now incorporating video screening of job applicants into their process. Along with sending in a resume, the candidates are required to answer a number of the standard job questions by video. This keeps the interviews themselves more efficient and the tools profiled in the article allow for sharing and commenting around the videos.

Imagine building a custom job applicant screening process directly into your website. Applicants can upload their resume, and them immediately record their video answers to your standard interview questions from the browser. Naturally you can use WebRTC to build this out, and make it very custom tailored to your companies HR process.


Disruption Déjà vu – Western Union

bitcoinAs is common in blog posts about WebRTC, I’ve given the first bit of attention to video chat applications. But what about our friend the Data Channel? Just to make my point that a single issue of CIO magazine inadvertently provided a lot of WebRTC inspiration, I’ll point to the cover story.

In the story Disruption Déjà vu, author Kim Nash writes how Western Union is trying to adjust its 150 year-old business model to meet more contemporary ideas for sending money. Digital payment providers like Dwolla, TransferWise, and Barclays PingIt are all mentioned as startups looking to disrupt the space that Western Union used to own. The hottest topic in this space are cryptocurrencies like Bitcoins.

How could we apply WebRTC in this domain? One of the great powers of WebRTC is that you are setting up an encrypted peer to peer network via the browser. Once you have done the necessary handshaking to establish a connection with another browser, then there is no more third party involved. It’s directly peer to peer, and it’s encrypted. This means that the WebRTC DataChannel is perfectly suited for an application like BitCoins or digital payments in general. There’s no risk of the third party signaling server stealing your Bitcoins if it never even sees them!


WebRTC applications are everywhere if you look for them

This is why I am so excited about WebRTC, and more broadly speaking, why I am so excited about real time communications and messaging applications in general. I’ve stopped at these three examples, but other stories in that same issue also mention on-demand video, mobile chat, and more. Unified Communications advertisements abound.

Yes, there is a lot of hype about WebRTC. It’s easy to dismiss it as “just an easier way to video chat.” But the transformational power of these standards is not in trying to replace Skype or GoToMeeting. It’s that you can integrate all types of communications more seamlessly into your application, and once developers realize this, it’s going to mean disruption to a lot more companies than just Western Union.

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