Chris Kranky

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A WebRTC application? Just try and leave Gmail

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

256px-Email_Shiny_Icon.svgI am triangulating a bunch of ideas and finding a big gap. Recent posts by Tsahi and Dean Bubley gasp at the lack of any real WebRTC initiatives. For many of us, we’re just happy Dean has finally managed to move past his complaints about RCS (Rich Communication Services) which like a dead cat continues to find bounce on quiet country roads. I add in a  conversation with &yet’s CTO Peter St. Andre, a heavenly name if there ever was, where I started to raise my own privacy concerns as he provided a well educated vision of the future. A future where some companies will simply know too much. Privacy is going to quickly become a Top 10 item at some point. I was immediately worried, because I’ve got plenty to hide.

With all that I started to think about lowly email. Radicati (a research group) reckons by 2017 we’ll be sending 132 billion emails a day which works out (for those with email) to 120 emails a day or roughly 4 per minute. Many of us are already at that volume today. Email must be very important, or otherwise why is the volume increasing. It also must be valuable, or why would we spend so many hours a day pouring through it.

I use Gmail and it works great. Fast with features for chat/IM, it manages my contacts and calender and is fully integrated with my mobile phone and the integration of Google Voice means I’ve nearly stopped using my corporate voice client. It’s one browser tab that does nearly everything and I can live the entire day here. In fact, it’s not really about email anymore, it is my real time communications interface (RTCI – a new abbreviation for Dean to bubble on). Did you know all this? Likely yes. In fact, more than 60% of the people who registered for the past Kranky Geek Event did so with an email address from one of the big box email providers. I know, you’re not the least bit surprised.

So I decided that in the interest of my privacy and considering how valuable and important RTCI was to me that I wanted to spend real $$ to get a RTCI service away from the prying eyes of {insert name of free service}. After hours of searching, testing, trialing I have concluded that there is no viable alternative that anywhere matches the features, speed and integration of Gmail. I went thru dozens of websites and likely made Google hundreds of dollars as I clicked on various ads based upon my searches. But nothing turned up even remotely close. America has always been about choice, and right now in email, your choice is limited.

Surely, I am not alone in my quest. While free is a tough business model to go up against, there must be an opportunity to grab some  Gmail users away. Google reports they have in excess of 425 million active Gmail users (this data from 2012 and certainly is now old). If you could convince 0.5% of these users to pay for email and charge them $40 a year for the privilege – that’s an $85 million revenue business. When the big boys stumble on privacy as they no doubt will (time is not in their favor) there will be a mad rush to the gates even from those with nothing to hide. Thus the business could quickly be a $850m a year business. Hello AT&T, I’ll save you a McKinsey fee, your opportunity is to be the trusted RTCI provider.

I don’t think anyone should start a company based upon a technology. WebRTC is no different. In my mythical Gmail competitor company I would certainly use WebRTC for things like replicating the voice features and providing a data pipe for file sharing. But that’s way below the fold.

Trying to dream up pure WebRTC applications is not productive, a “let’s build a business around JavaScript” (sounds equally silly). Trying to dream up new category applications borders on impossible. Stealing from existing markets is however, a well proven way to riches.

Email, it’s gonna be big.