We all have a fascination with the billion dollar startups. Venture Capitalists try and identify them early, media laud them (or bring them down to earth), and early adopters claim discovery. One new technology innovation has the potential to spark the creation of more billion dollar companies, and markets are starting to pay attention. So what is WebRTC, and why is there so much interest?
It begins with recognizing the emergence of two massive trends. The first is the increasing appetite for ‘on demand’. This is evident in everything from movies to car rides, hotels, relationships to groceries to well, everything. And communications is a core part of this, just look at Meerkat and Twitter’s latest acquisition, Periscope, bringing
on demand video broadcasting to the social web.
The second major trend is the contextualisation of communications. The desire and ability to talk and share outside of a walled garden environment. To date live communications have either been text/image-based, or video-based within a standalone application like Skype or FaceTime. But thanks to WebRTC, the ability to bring rich communications within the application or website is now possible. And that opens a world of opportunity.
As a result, WebRTC represents the most meaningful breakthrough in communications and the construct of the web from the last 10 years – maybe more.
Think of it this way. Remember the first time you encountered the Internet? I do – the firm I was working for had set up a secured room with connected machines for doing research. When I logged in the first time to find something for a project, I was struck by how much information was out there and how easy it was to sift through it. It was fun, and it made you wish that all of your work could be that that interesting and that easy.
Most of the content on the web then was text – just numbers and letters. A lot of it was from universities or the government. But within a little bit of time, people figured out how to post images and pictures. A little after that you could view videos (and then HD videos!). Before much longer PCs connected to Internet could function more or less like phones and TVs.
Underlying all of those functionality improvements were technology advancements, most notably HTML, which powers what most people think of as the modern Web. It’s been said that before HTML nobody had even thought about companies like Yahoo, Google, eBay or LinkedIn. The technology wasn’t in place to make them possible, so nobody spent too much time thinking about it. Today it feels like they’ve been around forever, but it took a steady stream of technology breakthroughs – starting with HTML – to make them reality.
WebRTC adds another facet to our modern web: in-browser communications. Voice and video directly in the browser. No downloads, no plugins, no barriers. Consider the opportunity for the world as developers create and proliferate web apps leveraging this technology – how will we be communicating in ten years?
So what does WebRTC bring to the table that can really change the way we use the web?
It takes the functionality that was previously offered by a telco or cable provider – with the packaging and economics they determined – and puts it in the browser, for free, for any web developer to use. As a result, WebRTC is changing the way people can use something as intrinsic to humans as how we communicate. It turns what used to be locked-down functionality into a flexible ingredient for websites and apps. Developers and organizations big and small can now use all of their imagination and creativity to come up with new ways to use communications in their websites and mobile apps. This has huge implications across all sectors: banking, education, healthcare, entertainment, ecommerce – to name only a few.
The multiplier effect in all of this is that we are doing so much more of everything online. We shop for cars, plan vacations, bank via mobile apps, take classes, and consult with our doctors. Somewhere out there are the next amazing companies that none of us have thought of yet. Their products, websites and applications will incorporate communications in ways that are limited only by the imaginations of their founders, engineers, and web developers, and with them will come the Googles and eBays and Amazons of tomorrow.
That is what WebRTC is really about: unlocking creativity around something as fundamental as communicating with each other.
Here are a few examples of how innovative companies are leveraging WebRTC in their respective industries:
- Banking – The UK’s Coutts Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has launched video-enabled consultations for their customers and advisors around the globe. Financial institutions around the world are looking to bring live video assistance to branches, ATMs, and mobile apps this year.
- Education – Minerva’s Active Learning Forum™ technology platform enables educators to conduct each class via live video. Students benefit from in-context communication, including collaborative breakout clusters, debates, quizzes and polls as well as more traditional tutorial discussions.
- Health Services – BeMyEyes is an iOS app matching blind people who need assistance with a network of volunteers willing to help. The helpers can see and describe in words exactly what is in front of the visually impaired person.
- Field Services – Fluke created a mobile app to keep teams connected both in the office and out in the field, consulting in realtime to solve issues on site.
- Retail – Bridgestone Golf’s online video consultation kiosk “B-FIT” lets golfers talk live to product experts to learn which Bridgestone golf ball would be best for them.
- And perhaps the greatest example of WebRTC application to date, Mozilla, who recently introduced ‘Firefox Hello’, making it possible for users to have free video and voice calls directly from their Firefox browser without having to set up an account.
So yes, WebRTC is pretty important, because of what it touches and who can use it to make the next wave of amazing things. That “who” is basically all of us. And, it is big! Faster than all other communications endpoints in history, WebRTC enabled endpoints achieved 1bn within the first 12 months of launch and is projected by the experts at Disruptive Analysis to exceed six billion by 2019.
Now that the web can see and talk there is the opportunity to create the new waves of services and companies that change the way we engage on a global scale. It’s up to you, the innovators, to create this new future. As we sit here in the relatively early days of a WebRTC-enabled world we’re already seeing the innovation. But even now it’s difficult to predict who the Facebooks, eBays, and Yahoo!s will be, but you can bet they’re coming.
Originally posted on Wired Innovation Insights