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appear.in – Don’t call us, we’ll call youChris Koehncke
Many WebRTC applications to date have been “meet me points.” You go to a specific URL, I go there and suddenly we’re connected. It’s that exciting! Simple, works as long as we pre-arranged a time/place but that’s about it and certainly doesn’t replace the notion of a ringing telephone jarring me awake. You wanting to reach me.
Developed as part of an incubator program at Norway’s Telenor, appear.in has done an excellent job in the execution of this WebRTC “meet me point” for a quick voice/video conference. They recently added a Chrome extension which allows you to receive a notification when someone has connected to your personalized appear.in room, even if you’re not on the appear.in page at that moment. This is the beginning of a new phase of client side notifications and I spoke with Svein Willassen, CTO of appear.in about his thoughts for the future.
Svein’s main goals for appear.in are to make it easy and reduce the friction in communications. Sounds noble, but the execution to achieve this is one of experimentation, caution and perhaps luck. Svein pointed out that today’s phone communications aren’t terribly effective.
You know the drill. I make a decision to call you. It’s my decision and you have initially no power. Your phone rings, you look at the display, who is it, you think what do they want, you formulate a strategy on the fly of how you’re going to respond (even not responding requires you to do some thinking). Even if you answer, you’ve already predetermined how you want the call to go (“I’ve only got a minute”). Dissecting this transaction reveals all sorts of inefficiencies.
appear.in is taking the first initial step with an extension which uses Chrome notifications to post a pop-up window whenever someone goes to your dedicated appear.in URL. It’s not perfect, the sidebar notification pops up with no sound and disappears after a few seconds, meaning you could easily miss it. This is fine for a random incoming email, or game notification but perhaps not acceptable for a real-time “must take action” event.
The limitation here is, big surprise, the browser. Apple started the entire topic of notifications with IOS and carried on with implementing it into Safari, this article highlights the good/bad elements of the Mac implementation. It’s not perfect but Google’s own implementation in Chrome has both the user and the developer wanting. Is Google a bit behind in their own thinking or perhaps mulling how to improve?
Notifications are outside the scope of WebRTC per se, WebRTC is about a communication path, however notifications are a key concern. How do you wish to be notified and is the current interrupt driven mode of a phone ringing the solution? WebRTC reduces the friction of developing a communications application. But the real winnings will be for the app that figures out how I want to communicate and be contacted. Right now, I can’t explain what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.
For the moment, appear.in has done an excellent first implementation but clearly Svein has a larger goal in mind and we should look to this app for future enhancements in this quest to improve our daily communications.